While the VIA K8T800 was a solid chipset for the Athlon 64, if you've read our K8T800 based reviews, you'll notice a common problem that plagued all our boards and that was overclocking. Although the chipset was certainly capable of overclocking, the amount of overclocking was something many enthusiasts were simply not satisfied with. Granted, the CPU does play a big part in this equation (especially the first batches of Athlon 64s), but the K8T800 itself was not overclocking friendly. Add the two together, and a mere 215FSB overclock isn't something we here at VL got all that excited about.
The VIA K8T800 Pro aims to change all that though. Unlike the previous chipset, you now have the ability to lock down the AGP and PCI bus. As even casual overclockers know, raising the FSB will also raise the AGP and PCI bus speeds unless they can be locked. By not locking them, peripherals not suited to run out of spec will create an unstable environment which isn't something anybody wants.
The MSI K8T Neo2-FIR we'll be reviewing today features the newer VIA chipset, and along with being able to lock the AGP/PCI bus, the K8T800 Pro supports AMD's latest Athlon 64, the Socket-939. Of course, the other features enthusiasts have come to expect are present. This includes the ability to adjust memory ratios, a new 1000MHz bus, SATA, RAID, support for up to 4GB of ram, and Gigabit Ethernet.
" Supports 64-bit AMD K8 Athlon 64/Athlon 64 FX Processor (Socket 939)
" Supports 64-bit AMD K8 Athlon 64 3500+ and higher CPU
" Supports 64-bit AMD K8 Athlon 64 FX processor FX-53 and up
" VIA® K8T800 Pro Chipset
- HyperTransport connection to AMD K8 Athlon 64/Athlon 64 FX processor
- 8 or 16 bit control/ address. data transfer both directions
- 1000/800/600/400/200MHz "Double Data Rate" operation both direction
- AGP v3.0 compliant with 8X transfer mode
" VIA® VT8237 Chipset
- Ultra DMA 66/100/133 master mode EIDE controller
- Integrated dual channel native Serial ATA/RAID controller that will supply 150MB/s and support RAID 0, RAID 1
- ACPI & PC2001 compliant enhanced power management
- Supports 8 USB2.0 ports. (Rear x4/ Front x4)
" Supports four 184-pin DDR SDRAMs up to 4GB memory size
" Supports DDR400*/DDR333/DDR266 DDR SDRAM (*Refer to MSI recommended modules)
" Note: PC3200 (DDR400)
" One AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) 1.5V 4x/8x slot
" Five PCI 2.2 32-bit Master PCI Bus slots. (support 3.3v / 5v PCI bus interface)
" 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.
" An IDE controller on the VT8237 chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA 66/100/133 operation modes. It can connect 4 Ultra ATA drives.
" Serial ATA/150 controller integrated in VT8237
- Up to 150MB/s transfer speed
- Can connect up to 2 Serial ATA drives
- Support RAID 0, RAID 1
Promise 20579 Onboard
" Supports ultra ATA, Serial ATA, Ultra ATA RAID 0 or 1, Serial ATA RAID 0 or 1, Ultra/ Serial ATA RAID 0+1
" Connect up to 2 Serial ATA devices and 2 Ultra ATA 133 devices
" VIA VT6306 IEEE 1394 controller
" Provides onboard one 6-pins port and one 4-pins port
" Transfer rate up to 400Mbps
" 8 Channel software audio codec Realtek ALC850
" Compliance with AC97' v2.3 Spec
" Meet PC2001 audio performance requirement
" Provide onboard SPDIF out
" Realtek 8110S Dual layout
" Integrated Gigabit Ethernet MAC and PHY transceiver, auto-negotiation operation.
" Supports single-port 10MB/s, 100MB/s, 1000MB/s Base-T application.
" Compliance with PCIv2.2 and LAN on Motherboard (LOM) standard.
" 30.5 cm(L) x 24.5 cm(W) ATX Form Factor
The MSI K8T Neo2-FIR
MSI packs a lot of goodies into their box, and pretty much everything you'll need for setting up a base for your system is all included. Inside, we have the motherboard, a couple manuals (one for the board and one for RAID), a driver CD, a round IDE cable, a couple SATA cables with one SATA power splitter, and MSI's D Bracket 2 (which offers addition USB connections and troubleshooting LEDs).
The layout of the K8T Neo2 is very clean, though the orientation of the CPU socket may cause issues with certain kinds of coolers and ram modules. The raised hinge, or keyed area, for heatsink installation is directed towards the ram, rather than the edge of the motherboard. It is possible that if you have a cooler that uses side mounted fans facing the ram, it may have clearance issues, especially if you use ram with large heatsinks.
Now, this isn't an accurate image on the above, but it's to illustrate a potential issue depending on the heatsink orientation, and large ram sticks. Now it happens we did not have these problems with our Hyper 6 and Corsair TWINX XL, but it's impossible to say if there will be no issues with future coolers.
The VIA K8T800 Pro is cooled by a rather smallish heatsink. Noise conscious users will appreciate the passive cooling as it eliminates one source of noise by not using a cooling fan, but more serious overclockers may want to consider an active cooling solution, or at the very least, a larger heatsink than the one MSI provides. During our tests, the heatsink never got scalding hot, so this may not be a priority for some of you, but it does get fairly warm.
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, which are of high quality. As with some of MSI's past performance boards, they have installed heatsinks to passively cool the mosfets. Next to the mosfets, above the North Bridge, is the ATX12V power connector.
There are four DIMM slots, which support up to a total of 4GB of PC3200 (or lower) memory. Dual Channel support is present, thanks to the new memory controller in the Socket-939 CPUs. We did not experience any problems with our Corsair, Kingston, and Crucial memory sticks, but it would be a good idea to review MSI's recommended list to see if your ram is qualified. One problem that we experienced was that when populating all four slots, our Kingston HyperX was capped at 333MHz. According to MSI's documentation, only single sided 400MHz ram will work at 400MHz when all the slots are filled. This can be a problem for many of you, as most ram modules over 256MB are double sided, such as the HyperX we used.
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.
The VT8237 South Bridge handles most of the board's I/O functions, which include IDE, SATA, sound and USB. Located to the right of the chipset are a couple of SATA connections which support single disks, RAID-0 and RAID-1, but cannot be disabled in the BIOS. Why would you want to disable them? Well, if you do not have any SATA drives, the VIA VT8237 adds, on average, five seconds to your boot time. This chipset unfortunently does not offer native SATA, which means you will need to press F6 during a Windows install if you're planning to use a SATA drive. You can read more about this topic in our forum thread here.
Along with the previously mentioned SATA connections, we have a couple more (SER1 and SER2) located right by the Promise PDC20579. The Promise controller supports single disks, RAID-0 and RAID-1, and can be disabled in the BIOS if you do not need it. It also supports up to two PATA drives with the single IDE connection right above it. As we can see, coupled with the Promise controller and the VIA VT8237, you can potentially run up to 10 drives with the built in controllers on this board.
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 four PCI slots and one AGP. The onboard sound's connections are between PCI slots #3/#4 and the rear edge of the motherboard. In place of where a standard PCI slot #5 would be is a Communication Slot for an optional wireless card.
The Realtek 8110S is the network controller used on the Neo-FIS2R, supporting up to 1000MB/s. You can expect a lot more boards in the future to sport Gigabit support, and if you got the CAT-5E wiring in place, the difference in data transfer speed, compared to 100MB/s, is quite amazing.
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. With the Doom 3 sound engine being more CPU dependent than sound card dependent, the onboard audio should be sufficient as according to id Software, a fancy $100 sound card won't really sound any better or be any faster.
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, one IrDA connection, four USB 2.0, one Gigabit Ethernet, and 5 audio ports with a RCA and S/PDIF output port.