When manufacturers started putting out motherboards with SLI support from there was quite a lot of interest about the technology. As time went on, a lot of folks questioned if the nForce 4 SLI chipset would ever be updated to support two 16x PCIe Graphics ports rather than two ports sharing 16x lanes (8 each). NVIDIA responded by releasing the NVIDIA SLI-16x, a two chip solution, which manufacturers have started to update their product line-ups with.
2005 was an ok year, but they were not at the top of their game. Towards the end of 2005 and the beginning of this year, new products have emerged from them that look set to change that. One such product is an update to their Flagship K8N motherboard, released as the . With an almost overflow of features including SATAII and an nForce4 SLI x16 chipset, we thought it was time we got a good look at this motherboard.
Supports Socket 939 for AMD® Opteron™, Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual-Core / Athlon™ 64 FX / Athlon™ 64 processor
Supports up to 4800+ or higher CPU
Supports AMD® Cool'n'Quiet technology
NVIDIA® GeForce nForce4 SLI x16 SPP(C51D) Chipset
HyperTransport link to the AMD Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64X2/ Athlon 64 CPU
HyperTransport supporting speed up to 1GHz (2000MT/s)
Supports 1 PCI Express x16 interface
Supports dual channel DDR 266/333/400, using four 184-pin DDR DIMMs. Supports two PCI Express x16 slot
Supports two PCI Express x1 slots
Supports 1 PCI Express x4 slot interface, supports PCI Express x2 transfer rate
Two 32-bit v2.3 Master PCI bus slots
Can connect up to 4 IDE devices (ATA133)
NV RAID supports 4 SATA II ports
Silicon Image's SATA RAID supports another 2 SATA II ports
Supports dual LAN jacks (PCIe Gb LAN)
Supports up to three 1394 ports
Creative sound Blaster Audigy SE audio
Click for larger image
The MSI K8N Diamond Plus motherboard is based on the updated NVIDIA SLI chipset with support for two 16x lanes for Graphics cards. To add support for the extra lanes needed, NVIDIA went back to a two chip design, with an SPP high and an MCP low. You'll note that the two graphics ports are actually split; one on each chip. MSI have also seen fit to add a Silicon Image SATAII controller as well as a Creative Audigy SE High Definition 7.1 Audio chip.
The motherboard comes in a reflective black box that is quite understated at first glance. However, a read of just some of the features gives a heads up on just how feature packed it actually is.
Included in the box are quite a few extras including rounded cables for IDE and Floppy, four SATA cables, two 4 pin Molex to two 15pin SATA Power adapters, an SLI bridge board and a rear grilled PCI bracket. Also included are the manual and quick start guide, two floppy disks with the drivers for both SATA controllers, two CD's with the boards drivers and utilities; one of which contains the drivers and software for the onboard Audigy sound. MSI have also thrown in a couple of PCI brackets to support extra firewire and USB ports, along with a 4 LED Diagnostic indicator.
The motherboard itself is based on a black PCB which I like, although I do think that the overall look of it is one that is a little crowded; not surprising considering the amount of features packed in. Despite being crowded it is quite efficiently laid out with only a few areas that might be improved upon. The rear of the board shows a bracket on the rear of the CPU socket, no doubt to help distribute the weight of some of the hefty coolers available on the market.
Let’s start our tour at the CPU socket, which is of course a standard socket 939. Next to the cooler bracket we find the 8 pin AUX Power plug. The previous K8N Diamond board used a 4 pin AUX power so an improvement for the Plus, but in what seems a step back, the previous board also had a heatsink and fan assembly for cooling the mosfets; a shame that the Plus has dropped this set-up.
The 4 ram slots are colour coded (and clearly marked on the board) purple and blue to indicate dual channel operation. One thing I would have liked to see is a gap in the middle between the slots, to split them into two; this would aid in cooling and provide more room for the ram. The 24 pin power, Floppy and the 2 IDE ports are in probably the best places they can be for a motherboard; next to the ram slots and on the edge of the board.
Directly below are the 6 SATAII ports, colour coded purple (4 of) and blue (2 of) to indicate the different controllers. The top four belong to the NVIDIA MCP (southbridge) while the bottom two are run from a Silicon Image 3132 controller. The MCP is cooled by a heatpipe cooler that we will go into later on.
Along the bottom of the board are the headers and pins for connecting front panel audio, Firewire, USB, LED’s, Power/Reset switches and the like. All are colour coded and/or labeled which makes it very easy to wire everything up with barely a glance at the manual. Also of note is the fact that this board supports both 2 pin and 3 pin Power LED headers. MSI have also done away with the traditional CMOS clear jumper and instead used a push button switch to facilitate the same function.
The PCI/PCIe slot area has an Orange PCI slot at the bottom to indicate that this slot will run the optional Wireless and Bluetooth card (not included); it also functions fine as a standard PCI slot. Above this is a yellow 4x slot that supports 2x transfer rates. Directly above this is a white PCI slot followed by the first of our SLI capable PCIe 16x graphics slots. MSI have chosen to put a large gap between the two PCIe 16x graphic slots which will be a big boon for those running cards with large coolers. In between the two graphics slots are two PCIe 1x slots.
Before we take a look at the rear IO options, I want to take a quick detour to the SPP 'northbridge' area. The cooling for this is provided by a vertical copper heatsink and a small clear bladed fan. Coupled to this is the copper and aluminium cooler found on the MCP 'southbridge' chip via a singular heatpipe. The advantage here is that the MCP can have 'active' cooling without the need for another fan adding to the noise of the system. Speaking of which, the small clear bladed fan used on this motherboard is inaudible over the other noises found in a typical system. Using heatpipes in this way is not a new concept but it is a good one, and one I hope to see on more motherboards as time goes on.
The rear IO panel sports (from left to right) the standard PS2 ports for mouse and keyboard, a parallel port, a serial port, a Firewire port, an SPDIF, four USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, five 3.5mm sound jacks for 7.1 HD sound and an Optical sound out.
There is an awful lot to like from a visual inspection of the board; the only area that really stands out as a negative is the location of the P8 Aux power header and the Graphic power header. Both of these are below the mosfets meaning you will likely need to drape cables across your CPU heatsink. However it is a common place to put these headers and with a board as heavily laden with features and perihperals as this one, it is understandable that something would have to be put in a less than ideal location. One thing I would have liked to have seen is MSI keep the mosfet cooling assembly used on the previous K8N Diamond board.