MSI Z77 MPOWER Mainboard - Military Class Burn-in Test Passed (Part 3)

4/9/2013 2:54:32 PM

We carried out all the tests built with the following components:

·         Mainboard: MSI Z77 MPOWER, MS-7751 ver.4.1 (LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS version 17.5B7)

·         Intel Core i5-3570K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Ivy Bridge rev.E1, 22nm, 77 W, 1.05 V, LGA 1155)

·         2 x 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R (1866 MHz, 9-10-9-27 timings, 1.5 V voltage)

·         Gigabyte GV-T797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 384-bit GDDR5 3072 MB)

·         Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps)

·         Scythe Mugen 3 Revision B (SCMG-3100) CPU cooler

·         ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface

·         Enermax NAXN ENM850EWT PSU

·         Open test-bed built using Antec Skeleton system case

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) OS, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility ver., AMD Catalyst graphic card driver ver. 12.4.

Install basic program and restore BIOS

All of the most convenient functions and well-treated design of mainboards are considered as reason that makes assembly test system based on them easily. MSI Z&& MPOWER mainboard is not an exception: we assembled the system very fast and it operated fully at first start. However, a short time later we faced various challenges. First, after initial effort of re-installing BIOS, one of BIOS chips failed. Here, we must point out BIOS re-installation was performed with slightly adjusted M-Flash. Earlier, there was a single parameter offering you to select a BIOS file. Now, there is a second parameter which allows simultaneous updates for BIOS and ME (Intel Management Engine). We selected the second option, as the list of changes introduced in the newest BIOS version 17.4, which we were going to re-install with, including “Update ME firmware”. Everything started well. We got warning about the importance of uninterrupted re-flashing process, and a continuous progress report in percent.

Uninterrupted re-flashing process

Uninterrupted re-flashing process

However, right after we reached 50% of the process, another warning appeared to remind us of not moving the drive with BIOS file, because Intel ME would be updated after the system reboot.

Another warning popup

Another warning popup

After the system reboot, the process continued and we finally got a success confirmation.

A success confirmation

A success confirmation

I have to mention that we went through a similar two-step re-flashing process on other manufacturers’ boards, Asus, for instance. However, there’re some crucial differences among them. First, user doesn’t have to choose between two options that eliminate each other – update for BIOS or for BIOS and ME. There is only one option – BIOS update. In this case, BIOS performed update as usual, and if the profile also contains Intel ME update, it will do it right after system reboot. The second crucial difference is after the first successful step, you can remove USB drive, as BIOS update file has been backed up in the memory and the process would continue without any interruption. However, you can easily ignore the second warning on MSI mainboard at 50% mark. The only way to keep an eye on it is to watch the status bar continuously. I can easily imagine a situation when the user walks away from the system for a minute and then comes back when it has already rebooted. He or she may guess that the re-flashing has been completed and remove the USB drive, which will result in a failure and leave the user with a non-operational system. In our opinion, the new BIOS updating process on Micro-Star mainboards is quite confusing, with higher risk of error caused by users.

However, a non-functional BIOS chip doesn’t mean the world’s end since we have a spare which could help to restore the primary one. Description of BIOS restoration is quite simple and visual. Using changes in the board to choose the operating BIOS chip, reboot the system, and if necessary, save the image of running BIOS in a USB flash drive. Then, switch to the non-functional chip and restore it.

Description of BIOS restoration

Description of BIOS restoration

Everything is simple, but unfortunately, it was not effective. If we chose “Update BIOS” option, the process was completed but the board didn’t start. If we chose “Update BIOS and ME” parameter, the first step finished well but after the system reboot, the board couldn’t complete the second step. Seemingly, BIOS restoration process of MSI continued to fail. Previously, we had problem with two BIOS chips on MSI X79A-GS (8D), as you can remember in our review.

However, we didn’t lose hope. We still had an operational back-up BIOS chip which we can still use. And we were right not to give up: the latest BIOS version was ready at the timing of the review, 17.4, we successfully re-flashed, and we continued to research on mainboard’s functions. Nevertheless, we still got stuck with other challenges. First, we had difficulty saving BIOS configuration in the profile with numbers, although this time was different from the last one. As you might remember, when reviewing MSI Big Bang XPower II and MSI X79A-GD65 (8D), we were confused when realizing that configuration saved even in profile had just disappeared after the system reboot. This time, the profile was there but the system was frozen after our effort of restoring the second installation profile, and in case of the fourth profile, the setup restored differently from what we had saved.

The system was frozen

The system was frozen.

Semi-operational setting profile system is an issue, but not a large one for studying the mainboard’s functionality. Unluckily, we soon discovered a more serious problem: the first graphic card slot didn’t work properly. The card inserted into it could work but with low productivity, and it was sometimes half as slow as usual. The second slot worked well, but it was designed for a second slot, meaning that it had half of the number of the pins. As a result, a single card installed in the second slot could work only at PCI Express 3.0 x8 speed, making direct comparison with other boards unfair. Thus, we had to report the problem to MSI until we managed to find a solution.

Thanks to fast and active response from MSI team, we soon managed to restore the non-operational BIOS chip with the help of Intel Flash Programming Tool. We even re-flashed a beta version (17.5B7) of the BIOS. But the recovery process was a little complex (we had to save the unique ID of our network card before the process), it wasn’t difficult at all

Restoring non-operational BIOS chip

Restoring non-operational BIOS chip

It turned out that the beta BIOS version didn’t have any matter involving setting profile and the first graphic card slot worked well once again. We confirmed that there was no physical problem with the card slot by switching to the backup BIOS chip with version 17.4, when we once again witnessed a low graphic performance. Now with BIOS perfectly corrected, we finally could carry out the tests with the real performance of efficiency of the mainboard.


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