A few months ago we reviewed MSI's K9AGM2 which was a board based on the AMD 690 chipset and geared towards the HTPC enthusiast. It was among the first to offer HDMI support out of the box, as well as being very power conscious, and the recommended platform when AMD released their BE series of CPUs. The board we'll be looking at today offers many of the same features but is a full sized ATX rather than being Micro-ATX as was the K9AGM2.
The MSI K9AG Neo2-Digital motherboard we'll be reviewing today is based on AMD's 690G/SB600 chipsets. The 690G features the Xpress 1250 graphics controller and this particular board features both RGB, DVI and HDMI output. Designed for the AM2 platform, this board supports all current AMD AM2 CPUs and is Vista ready.
MSI MSI K9AG Neo2-Digital Motherboard
Like it's smaller brother, the K9AGM2-FIH, the MSI K9AG Neo2-Digital doesn't come with what we would call an enthusiast package. There is the user manual, which is sufficient in pointing out to the user the basic functions of the motherboard. There is also one SATA and IDE cable as well as a SATA power adapter. MSI's D-Bracket contains extra USB connections as well as LED indicators to troubleshoot the system. Rounding things out are the driver CDs for XP and Vista as well as the rear IO shield.
The MSI MSI K9AG Neo2-Digital is an ATX board and for the most part it is well laid out. It is slightly smaller than the usual ATX board, needing only 6 motherboard screws as opposed to the typical nine. We tested the board with our two favorite AM2 coolers, the Zalman CNPS 9500 and the Thermaltake Big Typhoon. Neither cooler posed any problems with clearance with our Corsair ProSeries memory. Some of the KZJ capacitors between the rear IO and the CPU socket are kind of close, so depending if your cooler tends to flare out in that direction, it may pose some problems.
As this is not marketed towards the hardcore gaming enthusiast, MSI does not attach any heatsinks to the MOSFETs in this area. To the left of the capacitors is a three pin CPU fan header and the JPWR1 connection which is used to supply additional power to the CPU. We did have a few problems getting to this power connection with our Zalman cooler in place, but were able to do so without breaking anything. Due to the 120mm fan on the Big Typhoon, getting to this area is more difficult, but can still be done.
Both the 690G and SB600 chips on the MSI K9AG Neo2-Digital are passively cooled with aluminum heatsinks. The 690G's heatsink is much larger than the SB600's. Naturally, save for the case and CPU cooling, there is the potential of setting up a silent system. The SB600 did not get too warm during testing, but the 690G did. We recommend adding some air cooling to it if you end up cooling the CPU with a water block.
The memory banks are colour coded to visually assist the ram installation process. System support is officially DDR2-800 and lower. The board supports a maximum of 8GB.
Just below the memory slots is the 24-pin ATX1 power connection. You can use a 20-pin PSU, but for any high-end system, we would recommend against it. 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 K9AG Neo2-Digital uses the AMD SB600 South Bridge which handles most of the storage and connectivity needs. Four SATA connections are grouped together near the edge of the motherboard between the PCI Express graphics slot and the last PCI slot. The layout is also logical, with SATA1 followed by SATA2 and so on. It's always irritated me when boards put SATA ports out of sequence.
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. There is one IDE1 connection in this area as well, with support for up to ATA133.
Moving on to the peripheral slots, we can see the single PCI Express graphics x16 (PEG) slot as well as 2 PCIE x1 and the three PCI connections. The CMOS battery and jumper reset are located between the PEG and PCI slots. Right next to the last PCI slot is the floppy connection as well as one other 3-pin fan connection.
Near the edge of the motherboard, between the first PCI slot and PCI_EX2 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, HDMI, RGB and DVI video connections, FireWire, four USB, one Gigabit LAN and the 8-channel sound connections. HDMI does away with multiple video and audio cables and allows for HD resolutions up to 1080p.
We won't get into a long technical discussion about HDMI, will provide more information should you seek it. High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) is supported by the board and provided you have a HDCP decoder on your output device, you will be able to enjoy the full HD experience.
Unlike the barebone BIOS for the MSI K9AGM2-FIH, the MSI K9AG Neo2-Digital is a lot more featured and offers more for those who wish to squeeze a little extra out of their systems.
The basic layout of the AMI BIOS is straight forward with each screen being an accurate description to what each page can do.
The Advanced BIOS Features page gives some of the basic options you can enable or disable, though not much here directly impacts performance.
The Integrated Peripherals page allows you to change the options of all of the key components that are integrated into the motherboard. 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.
The Cell Menu is the key page for all of the performance tweaks for the chipset, CPU and memory. If your CPU is unlocked, you can edit the multiplier. Otherwise, the frequency options hit a ceiling at 500MHz, which isn't anything we'd imagine most people would hit no matter the CPU they use.
The Advanced DRAM Configuration page allows the user to make memory adjustments which will vary depending on the quality of the memory being used. By default, the timings are set to automatic, but setting them to manual will allow the various options shown above.
The last page of note is the H/W Monitor which can let the user glance at the CPU and system temperatures as well as monitor the fan speeds.