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MSI K9N SLI Platinum Motherboard MSI K9N SLI Platinum Motherboard: MSI's latest 570 SLI based motherboard makes its way into our labs. How does it fare against the top-of-the-line nForce 4 boards?
Date: September 8, 2006
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A few months ago, NVIDIA released their 5th generation of nForce chipsets to the market. While all the hype and fanfare went to the nForce 590 SLI, the nForce 570 SLI has quietly made a name for itself by providing excellent performance at a much lower price point. From a feature standpoint, the only item that is glaringly missing is support for dual x16 SLI support when comparing the 570 to the 590. The other item is LinkBoost, which isn't important unless you have two 7900 GTX cards. Otherwise, both chipsets offer the same features, and it's up to board makers to make the most of it depending on how they want to position it on the market.

As you can probably guess, the MSI K9N SLI Platinum motherboard we'll be reviewing today is based on NVIDIA's "performance gamer" minded nForce 570 SLI for AMD's AM2 CPUs. Luckily for the consumer, MSI doesn't skimp on the features and still offers a nice bundle at a competitive price. While money is always a factor, performance is where it really counts, so let's explore the board in more detail as we move into the review.

The MSI K9N SLI Platinum Motherboard

MSI includes a nicely designed user manual that covers most of the basics. It doesn't go into great detail in the BIOS area other than mentioning the function of each BIOS page, so I guess they leave it up to the tweaker to explore. They also include a handy quick install leaflet, driver disk and CD. 4 SATA cables are included and they are the ones with the 90° bend to make. I've always preferred these connections as they are less likely to pop off if your case is cramped inside. MSI also includes rounded floppy and IDE cables in case you need them.

A couple of rear brackets are included for extra USB and FireWire connections. The D-Bracket has both USB and LED diagnostic lights, which can be very useful if you're experience system issues. MSI includes a SLI bridge as well as a PCI support bracket to help keep the bridge in place.

Overall, MSI did a pretty solid job with the K9N SLI Platinum. Those of you bored with the older red PCB will be happy with the black one (unless black isn't your favorite colour...). The CPU area is pretty clear of obstructions, and we managed to fit the gigantic Zalman AM2 CNPS9500 without any problems. We do anticipate issues with large coolers and large memory modules (such as Corsair's ProSeries memory). We did not experience issues, but in the past, we would occasionally lose the use of the DIMM slot(s) closest to the CPU socket. We don't have much of an inventory of performance coolers, but as long as the cooler follows AMD's specifications, you should be good to go.

Between the CPU socket and the rear IO are a series of capacitors and MOSFETs. The heatsink present for the area is certainly doing its job as it was searing hot during testing. Our case fan and CPU fan were configured to move air right through this area, so keep this in mind if you go with water-cooling. Typically, capacitors and other components do not get the same cooling with water-cooling as they would with air, so you may need to add some additional cooling if you go the water-cooled route.

Right next to the capacitors are a couple power connections. The PWR3 is used to supply power to the CPU. The Molex connection (PWR2) is used to provide additional power to the upper range of video cards and SLI.

The memory banks are coloured coded and the K9N SLI Platinum officially supports DDR2-800 and lower. For dual channel, you will have to used match memory pairs in each channel bank (ex: DIMM 1+3 or DIMM 2+4).

Just below the memory slots is the PWR1 24-pin ATX power connection. You can use a 20-pin PSU, but for any high-end system, we would recommend against it.

Six SATA connections are grouped together near the edge of the motherboard between the two PCI Express graphics slots. The great thing about this location is that it should minimize any issues one may have with cables interfering with long PCIE cards. At worst, the nearest connection to PCI Express slot #1 may be closed off with a long two slot video card, but the rest are still useable. The MSI K9N SLI Platinum supports SATA-II, and with NVRAID, RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD are all supported. These connections are SATA 3Gb/s compatible and backwards compatible with the older 1.5Gb/s spec.

Right next to the SATA connections is the new . As before, this chip allows for a number of performance options that is custom to MSI. While NVIDIA does spin the 590 SLI as having an enthusiast BIOS, the K9N SLI Platinum has plenty of options thanks to the new CoreCell.

Moving on to the peripheral slots, we can see the two PCI Express graphics (PEG) slots sandwiching two PCIE connections. The added space (two slots between the PEG slots) will allow for specialized cooling for SLI setups. Of course, you'll likely lose the use of the adjacent PCI and PCIE slots, but this will not be the case if you stick with single slot cooling. Next to the second PEG slot are three PCI slots for additional expansion.

Between the PEG slots is a wider than usual chipset cooler. The cooler is low profile so it shouldn't interfere with video cards that have two slot coolers.

There are a total of 28 PCI Express lanes offered by the 570 SLI. Therefore, SLI support is limited to two x8, which is the same specs as the first generation of nForce 4 boards of the past. The 590 SLI is the only model that offers dual x16. PEG #1 is a full x16 when used in single card mode.

Round things out are the external inputs and outputs. From left to right we have; two PS/2 ports, parallel, FireWire and serial connections, two Gigabit LAN, four USB and the 7.1 sound connections. While AC'97 may be just "good enough" for some, the MSI K9N SLI Platinum supports HD audio. If you're missing the Creative Audigy MSI has been adding in some of their recent boards, you'll need to wait for their K9N SLI Diamond (based on the 590 SLI chipset) for that.

The BIOS

Typically we're used to seeing the AWARD BIOS with MSI boards, but this particular one uses the just as popular AMI BIOS. Like most enthusiast boards, there are a large number of options for those who like to get their hands dirty in the BIOS. We'll skip directly to those areas since we figure most of you know how to fiddle with items like system time and boot order.

In the Advanced Chipset page, there are two options for Hyper Transport configuration. User configurable options for HT settings for the South Bridge to CPU are Enabled and Disabled.

Setting it to Disabled will create another option called MCP55 (SB) to AM2 (CPU) Frequency, where it starts at 200MHz and maxes out at 1000MHz.

Not much of note in the Integrated Peripherals page, but this is the place to go to disable onboard devices you do not plan on using. By default, everything is enabled onboard.

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