If you want your new PC to run Intel's newest and most powerful ever Broadwell-E processors, you need an equally powerful motherboard. This high-end gear is usually somewhat more expensive than mainstream tech -- you have to pay to play -- but it comes with a bunch of extras that make it worth the extra asking price. That's a very accurate summary of the MSI X99A XPower Gaming Titanium, a $700 motherboard that integrates every single feature you could possibly need from a powerful gaming or content creation rig. Here are five things you need to know about it.
It's the best-built motherboard I've ever seen. The X99A XPower Gaming Titanium is finished in a thick coat of silvered paint on top of its silicon PCB, with black accents and the occasional bit of actual metal around the PCI-Express slots. Motherboards are, by and large, pretty damn fragile things, but this feels like a board that you could screw into a case and change cards and CPUs and coolers in and out of repeatedly without affecting the integrity of its construction one iota; there's a shroud around the rear panel and lower board. Even this construction alone goes a long way towards justifying the Titanium's extra price. If you want components that will last a few different generations, it makes sense to buy a board like this.
It supports USB 3.1 Gen 2 from the back panel, and USB Type-C on the front. Type-C is becoming more and more of a thing, and that's excellent -- not only is it a fully reversible plug, but the standard supports 10Gbps data transfers, a whole bunch of different I/O types like display and networking, and can supply up to 100 Watts of power in specific scenarios. It's a weird thing to want in a new motherboard, but if it's a machine that will be used for years of content creation, having that high speed future-proofed connectivity is a huge advantage.
Integrated AC Wi-Fi, great LAN and great audio make for the perfect all-in-one board. There's really no reason to buy any kind of external or add-in audio or networking cards for the X99A Titanium -- everything is onboard, which you'd expect for a motherboard of its price and market position. Not only is it onboard, but the onboard versions are of an exceedingly high standard -- you get Intel's I218-V gigabit LAN, known for its very low CPU overhead, and Intel's Wi-Fi AC 8260 which supports 2x2 MIMO, and there are a total of 11 USB 3.1 Gen 1 and two USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports available for future-proofed I/O connection.
It supports four-way SLI, even if newer GPUs don't -- explicitly. The X99A XPower Gaming Titanium's 40 PCI-Express lanes when using one of the higher-end Broadwell-E chips -- like the Core i7-6850K or i7-6950X -- means it can support up to four Nvidia or AMD graphics cards running in four-way SLI or CrossFire. The problem that immediately presents itself is that DirectX 12 only supports two cards simultaneously for explicit SLI, but you can use four cards with non-SLI multi-display adapter modes. And, on top of that, more PCI-Express lanes mean faster support for M.2 and U.2 SSDs and other simultaneous PCI-E devices.
It's very, very expensive. I said before that you pay to play, and that's very true with higher-end components. You will spend exponentially more to buy a X99 board than a Z170 or Z97 version that works with regular Intel Core i CPUs, and exponentially more for a high-end X99 board at that -- and the X99A XPower Gaming Titanium is an example of that. You could buy a couple of cheaper boards for the price of this one, but you're getting those extra features like four-way SLI or CrossFire graphics support and 40 PCI-E lanes and a pair of U.2 and M.2 storage ports, as well as that bulletproof design. If you want a high end machine, the XPower Gaming Titanium would make a pricy but powerful centrepiece for it.