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K8N Neo Platinum MSI K8N Neo Platinum: We take look at MSI's latest Athlon 64 board sporting the NVIDIA nForce 3 250Gb chipset.
Date: May 31, 2004
Manufacturer:
Written By:
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The BIOS

The MSI K8N Neo's BIOS is based off of the Pheonix AwardBIOS. All the usual suspects are present, such as Standard CMOS and Power Management features, but MSI did make several changes in favour of the enthusiast, most of which are accessible in the Cell menu page.

In the Cell menu, all your CPU and memory adjustments can be made here. For those of you who don't wish to dig through the BIOS, setting the System Performance to High Performance and enabling the Aggressive Timing option will optimize the system chipset's timing. Depending on how conservative (or aggressive) the rest of your tweaks are, you can gain a performance boost although stability may be suspect.

In the DRAM Configuration page, you can configure the maximum memory speed depending on the ram you have. Setting it to Auto will default to to the CPU's FSB. If you have anything slower than PC3200, such as PC2700, you can hard lock it to 166MHz and so forth. Other than the memory speed, you can adjust the CAS latency (Tcl), RAS to CAS delay (Trcd), Min RAS active time (Tras) and the RAS precharge Time (Trp). Lower numbers will result in better memory performance at the expense of stability, depending on your ram's willingness to be tweaked.

For the overclocking newbies, the D.O.T. Ranger option is the CoreCell's dynamic overclocking function. There are six options available, with the Private giving a 1% boost and the Commander providing a boost of up 11% over the set FSB.

The CPU Overclock option allows you to make adjustments to the FSB. The current shipping BIOS caps at 250FSB, but there will be a future BIOS that caps at 300FSB. We received this BIOS, which we'll outline in more detail in our overclocking discussion, but whether or not you can attain a 300FSB overclock will depend on your cooling and ability to unlock the CPU (all retail CPUs are locked) via the CPU Ratio option.

Speaking of overclocking, the great thing about the K8N Neo is the ability to lock down the speeds of several peripherals. We already talked about the memory, but I should add that once you push the FSB past 200, you can manually set the memory speed to 200 (a number not present unless you overclock). The AGP Overclock allows AGP adjustments to be made (up to 100MHz), and keeping it in spec (66MHz) will also keep the PCI in spec at 33MHz.

The HT Frequency configures the speed of the HyperTransport link between the CPU and the system memory. The equation is FSB x HT Freq, and the default is 4x. The maximum is 5x.

Your voltage options are decent, though nothing over the top. For DRAM, it caps at 2.85v, which should be enough for all brands of PC3200 ram. Unless you're dropping PC4400 in, this should be all you'll need. For your AGP, you can move up to 1.85v, which is quite a bit and it's unlikely you'll need anymore than this for current and upcoming AGP cards. CPU voltage caps at 1.81v, which for Socket 754 A64s, should be plenty.

Overclocking

With the ability to lock in the AGP/PCI and memory ratios, we had some high hopes for the K8N Neo Platinum. Armed with the new BIOS we talked about earlier, we went for broke, lowering the multiplier to 7 and dialed in a 300FSB. After rebooting, we noticed during POST that the clock speed read 1400MHz. A quick look in CPU-Z showed our A64 running at 7x200. After speaking with MSI, they suspect it has something to do with the board's watch dog feature where if the CPU is overclocked out of spec, it defaults to 200MHz.

That being said, at a multiplier of 10, and PC4000 ram running at relaxed settings, we managed a stable 232FSB overclock at stock voltage. Anything past 232FSB was too unstable, regardless of the voltage adjustments. Dropping the multiplier didn't improve matters, though our system required a CMOS reset a few times while we played with the multiplier.

Our experiences were somewhat mixed. We did manage the highest OC out of our test CPU with the K8N Neo Platinum. I have seen some other reviews where they've managed 300FSB overclocks, but unfortunately, this was not something we were able to reproduce, despite using water cooling.

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