When the AMD Athlon 64 (A64) was released, the VIA K8T800 was the only viable option for home users. The chipset allowed for plenty of features, with plenty of performance behind it. Soon after, the nForce 3 Pro 150 was released, but it didn't generate the same interest as the nForce 2 did for the Athlon XP community. It didn't offer much in the ways of next-gen technology, and the 600MHz Hypertransport interface paled when compared to VIA's 800MHz.
With the MSI K8N Neo Platinum, sporting the new nForce 3 250Gb chipset, MSI and NVIDIA have an enthusiast level A64 motherboard that supports a number of features such as SATA RAID, Gigabit Ethernet and the NVIDIA Firewall. The Firewall is perhaps the most interesting addition, given the network security issues all users face on a daily basis. Of course, this wouldn't be an enthusiast mainboard if it didn't include 8-channel sound, support for the latest Socket 754 CPUs, USB 2.0 and an overclocking friendly environment, which in the case of the K8N Neo Platinum, all those features are present. Finally, the new chipset bumped the Hypertransport interface up to 800MHz, putting it on par with VIA's best.
" Supports 64-bit AMD® Athlon" 64 processor (Socket 754)
" Supports 3400+ or up
" NVIDIA® nForce3 250Gb Chipset
- Supports Athlon" 64 processor (Socket 754), 800MHz Hypertransport interface.
- Supports single memory channels, DDR 400/333/266 without ECC support.
- Supports external AGP 4X/8X
- Integrated Serial ATA interface: dual channel 4 SATA RAID controller and dual channel ATA 133/100/66/33 master mode EIDE controller.
- Integrated an NVIDIA MAC for Gigabit LAN.
- Supports 8 high speed USB2.0 ports.
- AC'97 2.3 compliance.
" Supports 3 slots for 184-pin DDR SDRAM DIMM modules.
" Supports the memory size up to 2GB.
" Supports DDR 400/333/266.
" One AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) 1.5V 4X/8X slot
" Five 32-bit v2.3 Master PCI bus slots (support 3.3v/5v PCI bus interface).
" An IDE controller on the NVIDIA nForce3 250Gb chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA133/100/66 operation modes.
- Can connect up to 4 IDE devices
" 4 S-ATA RAID controller and dual channel ATA 133/100/66/33 master mode EIDE controller.
" Support up to 4 SATA plus 4 ATA133 Hard drive
- RAID 0 or 1, 0+1
- RAID function work w/ATA133 + SATA H/Ds, SATA H/Ds or ATA133 H/Ds
" The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
" The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface (DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.
" 7.1 channel audio codec RealTek ALC850.
- Compliance with AC97 v2.3 Spec.
- Meet PC2001 audio performance requirement.
" NVIDIA® nForce3 NV Gigabit LAN controller
- Integrated Fast Ethernet MAC and PHY in one chip.
- Supports 10Mb/s, 100Mb/s and 1000Mb/s auto-negotiation operation.
- Compliant with PCI v2.2.
- Supports ACPI Power Management.
" Supports up to 3 x 1394 ports.
- Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps
- Controlled by VIA VT6306 chipset
The MSI K8N Neo Platinum
The box art is flashy, though the cardboard used is not as glossy as some of their previous boxes. We received a late production board, so the retail boards may slightly differ in their packaging. Inside, we have rounded IDE and floppy cables, SATA cables, SATA power splitter, and the D-Bracket2 which has two USB 2.0 ports and 4 diagnostic LEDs for troubleshooting motherboard problems. We received a CD-R with drivers, and a product sheet, but no manual or rear IO shield. I have been assured by MSI that the retail boxes will of course have a manual and commercially pressed driver CD. It's important to mention this, as it does influence benchmarks and stability, but the actual motherboard we received will be the same revision you'll find on store shelves.
The layout of the K8N Neo Platinum is different from what we're familiar with, but in a good way. For one thing, there is absolutely no worries about large video cards interfering with ram installation as with some other motherboards. There is plenty of clearance around the CPU 754 socket, and we had no problems installing our monstrous Cooler Master Hyper 6.
The nForce 3 250Gb (nF3-250) is a single chip solution. Traditionally, motherboards had a North Bridge and South Bridge, but NVIDIA did away with that with the new MCP. The immediate benefit is improved latency, as data would only have to travel from one side of the chip to the other, rather than from one chip to another. During testing, the MCP did get fairly warm, though under normal conditions, this shouldn't be a problem. For those of you planning to overclock, it may be wise to consider an active cooling solution, or at the very least, a larger heatsink than the one MSI provides.
There are three DIMM slots, which support up to a total of 2GB of PC3200 (or lower) memory. Like the initial nForce 3, the nF3-250 only supports Single Memory Channels. For those of you who are confused, yes, Dual Channel memory will work, but only in Single Channel Mode.
The MSI CoreCell is situated right by the ram, and it offers a number of "intelligent" features for the board. The is a proprietary MSI chip that has the following four features: Speedster (Maximum overclocking), PowerPro (powersaving), LifePro (constant temp control, smart FAN ) and BuzzFree (noise management). Basically, the chip allows for dynamic overclocking, and keeps your system running at peak efficiency at all times.
Located next to the CPU socket are the IDE and power connections. Putting these connections along the edge of the board was a wise decision as it keeps the cables away from the main working areas of the motherboard.
Between the CPU socket and the rear IO are the capacitors and mosfets to regulate the power throughout the board. The majority of the capacitors are from Japanese manufacturers Rubycon and Sanyo, though there are a few made by a manufacturer (RLX) who I am not familiar with. As with some of MSI's past performance boards, they have installed heatsinks to passively cool the mosfets. Next to the mosfets, near the edge of the board is the ATX12V power connector.
Towards the center of the board, near the CPU socket corner are a couple of SATA (SATA3 and SATA4) connections, as well as a fan header for your heatsink's fan.
Along with the previously mentioned SATA connections, we have a couple more (SATA1 and SATA2) located right by the MCP. The floppy connection is located right next to it and would be my only complaint about the layout of the board. The floppy, being where it is, may make it difficult to install a drive if you have a full tower where the floppy needs to be installed on the top of the case.
The connections for LEDs, case speaker, power and reset are located in this area along the edge of the motherboard. Right next to it are the external USB connection for the D-Bracket2.
For your expansion needs, there are five PCI slots and one AGP. There are also a couple FireWire connections next to PCI slot #5, and the onboard sound's connections between the PCI slots and the rear edge of the motherboard.
While the nF3-250 chipset handles a lot of features, there are still a number of 3rd party chips that handle a variety of tasks. Although the chipset supports Gigabit Ethernet, the Alaska 88E1111 by Marvell handles the physical layer of the networking (PHY). Gigabit Ethernet is done through an integrated 1.25 GHz Serializer/Deserializer (SERDES).
The VIA VT6306 controller handles the IEEE 1394 (FireWire) chores for the motherboard. Realtek's ALC850 is a AC'97 Rev 2.3 Audio CODEC with support of up to 8-channels of sound.
Rounding things out are the rear IO connections. Here we have the mouse and keyboard PS/2 connections, a serial and parallel connection, one FireWire, four USB 2.0, one Gigabit Ethernet, and 5 audio ports with a RCA and S/PDIF output port.