Review: In the beginning, there was MSI. Then there was Atomic. And suddenly, a motherboard was being overclocked.
Military Class II. Sounds pretty swanky, doesn’t it? That’s the claim MSI stamps onto its motherboards, describing the longevity and reliability of the components which make it up. It’s all about solid state, starting with the capacitors and their ten year lifespan – we’re sure it’ll get replaced well before that! Hi-c CAPs made from Tantalum, and Super Ferrite Chokes (SFC) tick off the remaining Military requirements. Atteeention!
‘Massive’ describes this board precisely. It’s an XL-ATX design, with similar aesthetics to the new MSI Z68A-GD80 bar an extra heatsink on the Lucid HYDRA chip. In fact, they have quite a bit in common. Layout is very similar with the exception of small things like the CMOS battery and on/off/OC Genie button position.
We overclocked the Big Bang Marshal to 5GHz immediately, with voltages we knew were overkill, then started winding them back. With LLC set to ‘low vdroop’ in ClickBIOS (there’s only one level of LLC), we noticed that 1.5v would be reported by CPU-Z as 1.56v load and 1.512v idle. That’s quite a jump! Toning down vCore to 1.45v also saw a large boost under load with 1.456v idle and 1.504v load. Effective load line calibration should be giving us a value close to 1.45v!
In the end we settled with 1.39v which gave us 1.4v idle, 1.44v load, Prime95 stable. Unfortunately, just as the Z68A-GD80 didn’t want to play nice with our RipJaws, neither did the Big Bang Marshal, so we resorted to lower latencies instead of higher clock rates. The result? Pretty much identical results between the two boards in our benchmarks, as you can see by comparing the results in the table below.
This doesn’t surprise us. The gap between the high and low end is becoming negligible for anything but competitive overclocking. Fortunately the Marshal has other attractions to lure consumers to their products, namely, their bundle.
Two USB 3.0 brackets, each with a pair of USB3.0 ports are supplied, including M-Connectors, 2-way SLI connector, SATA cables, an eSATA bracket with two ports, and various power cables. MSI’s OC Dashboard is also included, which allows the modification of the BCLK and multiplier with various readings on the LCD screen. The quality of said unit is terrible; it feels and looks cheap, but it does the job.
Competition is rife in the top end, which may explain why MSI tried to differentiate itself with a Lucid Hydra chip to get around the bandwidth limitations of the P67 chipset – GIGABYTE and ASUS have opted for the NF200 chip instead. The reality is, the NF200 is the better solution in majority of situations. The Hydra will allow quad-Crossfire at 8x-8x-8x-8x, but only 2-way SLI! Note that although this motherboard appears to have eight 16x expansion slots, four of those are only 1x electrically!
On the bright side, you’ll never be short on ports. The rear I/O panel houses eight NEC powered USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, two Gigabit LAN ports, two eSATA ports, audio jacks powered by a Realtek LAC892, and a clear CMOS button. Eight SATA ports, four of each 3Gb/s and 6Gb/s, are situated along the edge of the motherboard.
Enthusiast features of the board include four PEG switches, to debug GPU configurations without resorting to replacing cards constantly. The 24-phase power design boasts superior power delivery to the CPU, whilst OC Genie functionality gives you an immediate 4.2GHz overclock. V-Check points are handily available to ensure CPU-Z is giving you sane readings.
Judging the motherboard individually, we’d say that it’s a good product, with a slightly inflated price tag, with the unfortunate choice of a Lucid Hydra over Nvidia’s NF200. However when pitted against the likes of the cheaper P67A-UD7 and Maximus IV Extreme, we can’t help but expect more for the price-tag. That, and the fact that their newer, smaller, MSI Z68 based board can match on the overclocking front.