Features and possibilities
Big boards, that is something the MSI XPower and ASUS Apex are with their Extended-ATX-format. Nevertheless there are quite a few differences, even in terms of their basic functionality. For example the ASUS leaves out the secondary memory slots and only offers four, while MSI offers all eight. Overclockers will never use two memory banks per channel, because it has a negative impact on the overclockability of the memory, so the idea of only offering one bank per channel is not all that strange. Instead of this, ASUS offers two DIMM.2-slots, which allows you to place two M.2-SSDs vertically.
When running 3DMark or other graphic benchmarks an overclocker of course does not want to be limited by the amount of available bandwidth for the graphics cards. This is why both ASUS and MSI choose four PCI-Express 3.0 x16-slots that always at least receive eight lanes. With 4-way SLI or CrossFire, one of these slots still receives the full sixteen lanes. Aside from that ASUS offers an x1-slot, while MSI offers an x4-slot for the additional expansion slot.
With a 28-lane CPU, like the Core i7 7800X and 7820X, 3-way SLI/CrossFire is the maximum achievable.
|44-lane CPU||28-lane CPU|
|ASUS Rampage VI Apex||x16/x8/x8/x8||x8/x8/x8|
|MSI X299 XPower Gaming AC||x8/x8/x16/x8||x8/x8/x8/x4|
In terms of USB-connectors both overclocking boards are pretty much identical. Both of them are equipped with two ASMedia-controllers, one of which is used for USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C, while the second one controls the internal header. On the back we find six USB 3.0-connectors and two times USB 2.0. Internally we find two USB 3.0-headers and two USB 2.0-headers. The only difference is that one of the USB 2.0-headers on the ASUS-board can only supply one instead of two connectors, but that is a small detail.
MSI goes all-out when it comes to storage with ten SATA600-connectors,, while ASUS keeps it fairly modest with six connectors. Because of the cut-out near the chipset heatsink, they are angular. The manufacturers have a different take on the M.2-slots as well. On the Apex itself we do not find M.2-slots, but you can place two SSDs in each of the DIMM.2-slots. This means that there are four places to mount an SSD; the vertical orientation should offer better airflow.
With MSI the SSDs are mounted in-between the PCIe-slots. One slot has a special ‘M.2 Shield Frozr’, that should keep a fast NVMe-SSD cool without issue. The other two slots are covered by regular shields, that we have seen before on MSI-boards. In total you can mount three SSDs, that of course all have a bandwidth of four lanes. Aside from that we find an expansion slot in the accessories that allows you to mount two extra M.2-SSDs with shields. Furthermore we also find a U.2-connector on the XPower, which is not present on the Apex.
Audio and network
The Realtek ALC1220-codec is found as audio solution for nearly every high-end motherboard, the same goes for these ASUS and MSI boards. Both boards have an S/PDIF-output, but only the MSI allows you to output surround sound using DTS Connect. Both the Apex and the XPower have a lot of audio capacitors, but we will test which one has the best audio quality further on in this article.
ASUS offers a single Intel-based Ethernet connector that operates at gigabit speed and adds WiFi by using a Realtek-chip, which offers a theoretical maximum speed of 867 Mbit/s with its two antennae. MSI uses an Intel Wireless-AC 8265 for a comparable wireless connection and also implements a second Intel gigabit Ethernet connector.