MSI Big Bang XPower II
The Big Bang Xpower II is, as the name suggests, the successor to the Big Bang Xpower. This was MSI's high-end Socket 1366 X58 motherboard launched at the end of 2010. This first Xpower made a lasting impression because of a record number of PCI-Express x16 slots and the remarkable amount of overclocking options. The same concept returns to the Xpower II. It has so many features that MSI opted for the Extended ATX format. MSI has positioned the motherboard as a direct competitor to the ASUS Rampage IV Extreme and the Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7, the latter of which is no longer available. The average price of £302 is about £30 cheaper than that of the ASUS motherboard.
It is not a new phenomenon that the Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers participate in friendly industrial espionage. As soon as ASUS, Gigabyte, or MSI implements a new feature that's received well, you can bet on it that the other two will have the same feature on an upcoming motherboard. For consumers, this is advantageous, unless the idea is one that should have stayed on the drawing board.
Last year Gigabyte introduced the G1 series of motherboards, geared toward gamers. The manufacturer thought it would be a fun gimmick to design the heat sink in the shape of an AK-47 magazine, and even incorporated a bullet in its design. Yes, pretty cheesy, but they thought it would appeal to the target group.
So what do we see on the MSI Big Bang Xpower II? A chipset heat sink in the shape of six golden bullets, and a heat sink on the CPU power supply in the shape of a Gatling gun. It just gives the impression that they were not able to think of something more original themselves. It's a shame, because with its all-black components the rest of the motherboard looks very sharp.
But enough about the looks, let's go on to the hardware itself. Above and below the CPU socket we find eight RAM slots. The motherboard comes with what looks like seven PCI-Express x16 slots. Appearances can deceive, however. Slots two, four, and six only have one PCI-Express 2.0 lane, originating from the X79 chipset. These could also just have been normal PCI-Express x1 slots, but then the board would have looked much less extreme. Slots one, three, five, and seven are intended for video cards and share the 40 PCI-Express 3.0 lanes available to the processor. Depending on the number of video cards used, the lanes are partioned as 16/0/16/8 or 16/8/8/8. There is support for dual-, triple-, and quad-SLI and Crossfire. MSI does not include a quad-SLI bridge, however.
We find 10 Serial ATA connections on the motherboard, six of which are Serial ATA 600. The four connections not controlled by the X79 chipset, are controlled by two ASMedia ASM1061 controllers. The board lacks eSATA, but with the included bracket you can make two internal SATA ports external. There are six USB 3.0 ports, four of which are external. The three USB 3.0 controllers are by NEC/ Renesas. The internal USB 3.0 header is mounted at a right angle just like all the Serial ATA ports. This is ideal for those wanting to hide all the cables as much as possible. There are 10 USB 2.0 ports, of which six are external. Two of the internal USB 2.0 ports are able to provide extra power, very handy for charging smartphones and tablets. Firewire is also supported.
The two Gigabit LAN connections are both controlled by an Intel chip, which is an excellent choice. The onboard audio is provided by a Realtek ALC892 chip. Not the best possible choice, but this is compensated for by the inclusion of Creative X-Fi MB2 drivers with support for EAX5.