By now, most of you are probably very familiar with the AMD Phenom and their partner in crime, the AMD 790FX chipset. The latest platform by AMD shows a lot of promise, though a lot of work is still to be done on the processor front. In a nutshell, the system will lock up in specific, albeit rare, instances. The current translation lookaside buffer (TLB) issue affects all launch Phenoms, but a fix is available. The problem is the fix impacts the performance overall, but depending on the motherboard, you can toggle the fix on and off.
This isn't a CPU review today, but it is relevant to our review motherboard as the BIOS flashed on to the MSI K9A2 Platinum AMD 790FX motherboard during the review addressed some stability issues we've had under "unusual" circumstances. This will all make sense as we move through the review.
The MSI K9A2 Platinum AMD 790FX motherboard we'll be reviewing today is based on AMD's 790FX/SB600 chipsets. The SB600 we've seen before with earlier AMD motherboards, but the 790FX is new. It features a number of enhancements and is geared towards the enthusiast who wants nothing but oodles of tweak options. Despite performance in mind, the chipset is relatively miserly in power consumption and runs very cool.
MSI K9A2 Platinum AMD 790FX Motherboard
The MSI K9A2 Platinum is part of MSI's premium products, though their ultra high end typically carry the Diamond designation. That said, the bundle is extensive, though rather mundane. We have MSI's D-Bracket, several storage related cables, a custom IO shield and driver CDs for XP and Vista. There's a user manual and quick start guide, as well as a couple of CrossFire bridges should you wish to assemble a multi-GPU setup.
The layout MSI K9A2 Platinum for the most part is acceptable, but with a few potential problem areas.
The CPU area near the main cooling assembly and the nearby DDR2 slots is a bit tight. We didn't have any issues with our Zalman CNPS9500, but be aware that if your cooling requires more than a half inch of clearance immediate to the heatsink retention bracket, you might have an issue. Furthermore, any large heatsinks that use 120mm fans will make maneuvering to install or upgrade ram quite tricky.
Other connections are awkwardly placed. The JPWR1 connection between the rear IO and circular cooling block is wedged in pretty tight. The SYSFAN4 connection just beneath it is even tougher to get to. The other power and fan connections have enough clearance that we don't think installation will be an issue.
The Circu-Pipe cooling used on the MSI K9A2 Platinum is similar to MSI's Intel based P35 boards. The chipset cooler is loaded out with cooling fins, thus generating more surface area than traditional heatsinks. The Circu-Pipe is passive, so no noise. The 790FX does not run very hot as it is, so the Circu-Pipe is very effective. Under load, the heatsinks were warm, but not hot to the touch. We were using air cooling for the CPU though, so the residual airflow helped out. This wasn't really the case when overclocking though, and some additional fans will help. MSI doesn't include any extra motherboard fans, but it may be a good idea to keep a case fan or two on if you choose to use water cooling for the CPU or overclocking it.
The memory banks are colour coded to visually assist the ram installation process for dual channel. System support is officially DDR2-1066 and lower. The board supports a maximum of 8GB.
Just below the memory slots is the 24-pin ATX1 power connection. Just above to the right of the DIMM slots is the 4-pin CPU cooling fan connection. Some more capacitors line around this area, but these should not interfere with installation of any other parts.
The MSI K9A2 Platinum uses the AMD SB600 South Bridge which handles most of the storage and connectivity needs. Six SATA connections are grouped together near the edge of the motherboard between the SB600 and PATA connection. The SB600 supports SATA-II and all of these connections are SATA 3Gb/s compatible as well as being backwards compatible with the older 1.5Gb/s spec. RAID 0, 1, 0+1 are all supported by the AMD SB600. The SB600's SATA connections are #1 through #4. SATA5 and SATA6 as well as the lone IDE1 connection are handled by the Promise T3. The two onboard eSATA connections are also handled by the Promise controller. RAID 0, 1, 0+1 is supported by the T3 for SATA5 and SATA6.
The CMOS battery and onboard power and reset buttons are located next to the SB600 chip. This location can be difficult to access if you're using CrossFire and the video card installed into EX4 has a double size cooler. In these cases, the cooler will end up just over these two buttons.
Moving on to the peripheral slots, there are 4 PCI Express graphics (PEG) slots, all of which are compatible with the PCIE 2.0 spec. The K9A2 Platinum also supports 4-way CrossFireX. In order to enable CrossFire, the AMD video cards need to be installed into slots EX1 and EX4. The blue PCIE slots support PCIE2.0 x8 speeds. Rounding out the expansion slots are the PCIE x1 and the two PCI connections. Right next to the last PCIE slot is the floppy connection. Another 3-pin fan connection, and all the USB and Firewire pins are located along this edge.
Near the edge of the motherboard, between the first PCIE_EX4 slot and PCI_EX5 is the Realtek ALC888 audio chip. The chip is Azalia 1.0 compliant and is a flexible 8-channel audio solution that is also jack sensing. This the board can detect which jack you plug a speaker or headphone into.
Rounding things out are the external inputs and outputs. From left to right we have; two PS/2 ports, FireWire, SPDIF-out, two eSATA, four USB, one Gigabit LAN and the 8-channel sound connections.
The basic layout of the AMI BIOS is straight forward with each screen being an accurate description to what each page can do. The Standard CMOS Features is the basic page to modify system time and date. You can also disable detection of SATA drives if needed. The Advanced BIOS Features page gives some of the basic options you can enable or disable, though not much here directly impacts performance. You can modify the logo display, boot sequence and specify the PCIE port modes.
The Integrated Peripherals page allows you to change the options of all of the key components that are integrated into the motherboard. If you're not using onboard audio for example, you can turn it off here. The Extra RAID Controller here is referring to the Promise T3, so if you're like me and have an optical drive attached, this will need to be enabled. This is also the page that you can go to to setup various storage options if you wish to change how the system communicates with the storage devices.