MSI Z97 MPower Max AC
Last year MSI debuted its elite MPower, MPower Max and XPower series exclusively for Intel's LGA1150 platform, and while the series has expanded since then, the focus has remained on LGA1150.
At $380, the Z97 XPower AC is a little out of our price range for this roundup so we have opted for the humbler $250 MPower Max AC. Cheaper still is the standard Z97 MPower at $185 and for costing a little over 25% less you don't miss out on much.
Absent are a few USB 3.0 ports and the 'AC' feature which includes Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and Intel Wireless Display.
Regardless, we have the slightly more feature packed MPower Max AC and at $250 it is in direct competition with the Asrock Z97 Extreme9, while it is slightly cheaper than the Asus Z97-Deluxe.
In terms of features, the MPower Max AC is well equipped and compares decently with the Asus Z97-Deluxe despite a few missing features -- most notably SATA Express, which is entirely absent. Hard to believe a Z97 motherboard priced in excess of $200 is missing this feature.
The MPower Max AC does boast M.2 (NGFF) support and will cater for 42mm, 60mm and 80mm long devices. MSI has also upped the SATA 6Gb/s support to eight devices through the use of the ASMedia ASM1061 chipset which provides an extra two ports.
Like Asrock and Asus, we find that MSI has let the marketing team run wild with the audio solution, calling it Audio Boost. That said, its implementation of the Realtek ALC1150 is generally impressive, offering all the cool features found on the other boards plus a glowing PCB for the win! The dual AMPs provide 600Ω loads support for headphones while Nippon Chemi-con Filtering capacitors have been used to clean things up. MSI has also used gold plated connectors with the intention of improving the connection of the 3.5mm jacks.
The wired network solution is pretty basic with a single Intel I218V PNY, the same setup as the Asus Z97-Pro WiFi/AC. Like the Asus Z97-Pro WiFi/AC, the key networking feature of the Z97 Mpower Max AC is its Intel dual band wireless-AC 7260 module which also supports Bluetooth v4 and Intel WiDi (Wireless Display). To purchase separately with antennas in PCIe form costs around $45, so that goes a long way in explaining why the Z97 MPower Max AC costs $65 more than the Z97 MPower.
The Z97 MPower Max AC is rich with USB 3.0 ports, offering eight at the I/O panel and four via an onboard header. Just four are provided by the Z97 chipset while the ASMedia ASM1074 has been included to provide an additional six and the Renesas ASM1042 for another two supporting the MSI Super Charger feature.
Overall, the Z97 MPower Max AC is a solid looking Z97 motherboard despite the missing SATA Express. If you want the wireless features, then it's an even better buy, though be aware the Asus Z97-Pro WiFi/AC offers those features at a much more affordable price.