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MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum SLI MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum SLI: The K8N Neo 4 Platinum SLi packs everything that you could onto an enthusiast motherboard, but does it perform up to par?
Date: July 22, 2005
Manufacturer:
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MSI in recent years has been stepping up their entire product line in order to more fittingly suit enthusiasts. Back during the days of the VIA kt266a and with the nforce 1 & 2 MSI was used only by a hand few of enthusiasts and the results for them were hit or miss. Fast forward to the past year and a half or so and MSI has really been stepping up to the plate with the multi award winning K8N Neo 2 Platinum using the nForce 3, and the K8T Neo-2-FIR using the VIA K8T800 Pro chipset. MSI realizes that selling an enthusiast board means more than just marketing, it's making a piece of hardware that enthusiasts are willing to stand behind. Now utilizing the next generation of chipsets MSI now offers a series of board using the nForce 4. Today we're looking at the top of the line as far as those series of boards are concerned, the MSI K8N Neo 4 Platinum SLi.

The folks at MSI have helped me a lot with working with this motherboard, originally I got a preproduction sample which did have problems (which is of course to be expected, at least a little bit), all the way up to this production sample. I've been using this board for over a month now and it's allowed me to get much more familiar with this board than if I had completed this review in a significantly shorter amount of time. That said I would like to talk about a few of the differences between the production sample and the pre-production sample.

CPU AMD Socket 939 FX/64
Chipset NVIDIA nForce4 SLI
Memory - 4 x 184-pin DIMM Sockets support max. 4GB DDR400/DDR333/DDR266 ECC/ non-ECC un-buffered DDR SDRAM memory
- Dual Channel Memory Architecture
Expansion Slots - 2 x PCI Express x16 slot
*SLI mode : x8 , x8
*Default(Single VGA) mode : x16, x1
- 3 x PCI
LAN nForce4 built-in Gbit MAC with external Marvell PHY :
- NV ActiveArmor
- NV Firewall
Marvell 88E8053
Audio Creative sound Bluster Live 24-bit H/W audio
24-bit / 96KHz audio quality
100db SNR clarity
Up to 7.1 CH Surround Sound, Dolby Digital ready

Box Contents & Board Layout
Being MSI's flagship motherboard for AMD processors, the box features a shiny box cover which is sure to gain attention. The back of the box shows the features of the motherboard, as well what it supports and what it comes with.

Opening the box actually reveals two separate boxes, the top box contains all of the accessories, and the bottom one contains the motherboard.

The accessories are really packed in there with this motherboard. MSI spared no expense with making sure that it comes with everything that could be thought of for this motherboard.

Breaking it down the motherboard comes with (from left to right) a rear mounted USB dongle with diagnostic LED's, a floppy cable, an IDE cable, 2 SATA cables, and 1 molex to SATA power Y splitter. Although it would have been nice to have a second IDE cable, the amount of cabling the bundle comes with was very nice. Note that the cables were rounded (even though these particular ones are nothing special). The rear mounted USB ports with the diagnostic LED's can be useful for figuring out why your particular system isn't booting. There is a diagram as well as a list that explains all of the "error codes".

It also comes with a good amount of documentation and software. Most of the things in this picture are nothing significant, but I will point out the manual, bracket, Drivers disks (nforce and creative live drivers respectively) and SATA drivers.

This next picture shows all the gear needed for SLi. On the top left there is the SLi bridge connector, then the SLi card adapter, and finally that PCI slot bracket holds down the SLi bridge connector. It isn't necessary, but still useful none the less.

On to the board itself. The board is a standard ATx board that supports the new v2.0 24pin ATx power specification. All the capacitors on the board are Japanese manufactured, and instead of being MSI red, the PCB is black in color. The board is laid out very well, and I would like to go over some of the major points of the board.

At the top right hand portion of the board are the RAM slots, the ATx power connector, the IDE connectors and the floppy connectors. You'll note the RAM slots color alternate, with this particular motherboard the two Ram channels alternate meaning that placing the RAM into the slots directly next to one another to use Dual channel. MSI has a long list of recommendations in order to use dual channel the most effectively, stating that both the 3rd and 4th DIMM slots should be populated first. I found the placement of the IDE connectors and the ATx connectors to be very well located and generally out of the way. It's always the worst when having to route an ATx cable to the left hand side of a CPU socket.

In the bottom right portion of the board is the southbridge with fan, 4x SATA ports, and 3 pin fan connector. On the bottom there is USB external ports, the SATA raid ports, and external Firewire ports. Of course the power on, reset, etc pins are located down here too. The southbridge and the fan itself were placed in a semi-precarious position. When the second PCI-E x16 slot is populated, virtually any video card will extend over it. However during testing this seemed to have no ill effect, still it would have been nice if this had been placed elsewhere.

This next picture is to demonstrate one of the physical differences between the production board and the pre-production board. That button is a BIOS reset button which came in real handy during testing. It allows resetting of the BIOS by simply pressing the button. Of course the reset jumper is also on the board just in case, but this is a much more elegant solution.

This next shot shows the bottom left portion of the board including the PCI-E 16x slots, 3x PCI slots including the orange special communications slot. That white slot between the two PCI-E slots is where the SLi bridge adapter was placed, but removed in this particular shot. It proved to be annoying to change constantly. But for most people whom are going to use it, it only needs to be set once. Just as a side note, above the orange communications slot is the board number and revision number of the board. Mine states "Ms-7100 VER. 1"

Next to the CPU socket is where mosfets are as well as some other capacitors which are passively cooled by a single piece of metal zig-zagged. I can't really speak of how effective this particular solution is, but it seemed to work well enough. If nothing else it looks nice. The space between this and the motherboard socket was more than enough for even the largest of CPU coolers to fit, more on that later.

The rear ports are plentiful and should be more than enough for all connection needs. It has the two standard PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, the LPT1 printer port, serial port, firewire and coaxial digital audio port, 2x gigabyte LAN connections above 4x USB ports, and then the 5x audio ports not including an optical digital output.

There were only a few points on the board that bothered me with their placement. The only glaring one however that was difficult for me in particular was the proximity of the RAM to the CPU socket. I use a Zalman 7700Cu to air cool my processor, and using that solution forced me to sacrifice two of my DIMM slots. Luckily MSI's recommendation is to populate the 3rd and 4th DIMM slots anyway. While it isn't exactly MSI's fault for having the RAM position where it is, most coolers should fit in just fine. Still it would have been nice to have more room.

I noted earlier about the SLi bridge adapter being annoying to install. I eventually did it enough times to get good at installing it, but the first couple of times it was awkward at best. Many manufacturers now are using adapter-less solutions or are using "jumper brick" solutions that I think are a little bit easier to use. However I don't think that was a breaking point with this board at all, just a little bit of a hassle.

The ATX12V power connector is located near the CPU socket on the upper left hand side. This proved to be an annoyance to have to route my cables over to that area. It wasn't nearly as bad as my experience with Winfast's board but if it could have been moved to the upper right hand side of the CPU socket that would have been much better.

Physically that's my only qualms with the board, considering the overall make of the board, that's very few. Kudos to MSI for having overall good design and quality.

NEXT

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