Storage, ports, and the little things
All the X99S MPower's internal storage ports are consolidated in the bottom right corner. The SATA cluster faces the edge, which makes clean cable routing a little easier, while the orphaned SATAe jack sticks out like a new standard begging for attention. Ahem.
The SATA Express connector doubles as dual Serial ATA ports, bringing the 6Gbps total up to 10. Only six of those ports can be combined in RAID arrays via Intel's drivers, though. The remaining ports operate in single-drive IDE or ACHI mode and can only be used in RAID arrays managed by third-party software. That limitation is baked into the chipset—MSI can't do anything about it.
On the USB front, the MPower serves up internal headers for four SuperSpeed ports. Another eight ports are accessible in the rear cluster.
All the MPower's internal USB 3.0 headers are fueled by the chipset, as are two ports at the rear. The rest are supplied by a two-port ASMedia controller and a four-port Via one. Each of those third-party chips is tied to a single Gen2 PCI Express lane, so I wouldn't recommend plugging too many high-speed devices into the associated ports. Our tests indicate that the native ports are faster, anyway.
MSI doesn't provide a guide for which ports go where, so we've whipped up a legend for the connections in the rear cluster:
|1 Gigabit Ethernet via Intel I210-AT|
|8-channel audio via Realtek ALC1150 and amplifier|
|2 USB 2.0 via X99|
|4 USB 3.0 via Via VL805 controller|
|2 USB 3.0 via ASMedia ASM1042AE controller|
|2 USB 3.0 via X99|
Intel's Gigabit Ethernet controllers can be less finicky than other solutions, so kudos to MSI for making the right choice on the networking front.
The onboard audio is based on the latest Realtek codec, complete with the usual enhancements. MSI's Audio Boost upgrades include Chemi-Con capacitors, dual amplifiers, isolated traces, and additional codec shielding. Surround-sound virtualization is available through Realtek's drivers, but there's no real-time DTS mojo for multi-channel digital output.
At least the analog output is passable. The sound quality is acceptable, and my ears didn't detect any hissing or other interference even with the system pinned by a combined CPU, GPU, and storage torture test.
One element of the port cluster not shown in our legend is the CMOS reset button next to the black USB ports. It lights up when the onboard LEDs are enabled, making the switch easier to find when peering around the back of a case. That's one of a handful of little features that deserve special attention.
The MPower has a cushioned I/O shield that matches the blacked-out theme, port blocks that simplify front-panel wiring, voltage probing points for hardcore overclockers, and buttons for a range of different functions, including the OC Genie auto-tuner. That FASTB1 button on the right is one of two direct-to-firmware shortcuts. Hitting it boots the board into the UEFI without requiring the user to mash the delete key. The same effect can be achieved by holding the power button for four seconds.
The cable labels are a little cheesier, I'll admit, but they do make sense for a board with this many SATA ports. Too bad there are only enough labels to cover six drives rather than the 10 supported by the board.
Next, let's check out the tweaking interfaces and see how well the MPower overclocks.