Over the past few years, MSI has made quite a name for themselves producing quality products, and often within a favorable price point when compared to their direct competion. From motherboards and optical drives, to mini PCs and video cards, for consumers, they cover a lot of bases. Not only is their quality level impressive, but the performance of their products is usually in the upper tier.
MSI was one of the first out of the gate with motherboards sporting support for the Athlon 64, and today, we'll be looking at their flagship VIA K8T800 based solution, the .
• Supports 64-bit AMD® Athlon64 processor (Socket 754)
• VIA® K8T800 Chipset
- HyperTransport connection to AMD Next Generation of CPU
- 8 or 16 bit control/ address. data transfer both directions
- 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 three 184-pin DDR SDRAMs up to 2GB memory size
• Supports DDR400*/DDR333/DDR266 DDR SDRAM ()
Note: PC3200 (DDR400) maximum 4 banks (2 double-sided) only
• 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 20378 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 VT6307 IEEE1394 controller
• Provides onboard one 6-pins port and one 4-pins port
• Transfer rate up to 400Mbps
• 6 Channel software audio codec Realtek ALC655
• 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.
• 1 floppy port supports 2 FDDs with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes
• 1 serial ports COM1
• 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
• 8 USB 2.0 ports (Rear x 4 / Front x 4)
• 5 audio ports in vertical (Left, Center, Right, Line-in, MIC)
• 1 SPDIF out
• 2 IEEE 1394 connectors
• 1 RJ-45 jack
• 1 IrDA connector for SIR/ASKIR/HPSIR
30.5 cm(L) x 24.5 cm(W) ATX Form Factor
As we can see from the specifications, MSI really packs it in with the K8T Neo-FIS2R. There is support for AMD Socket 754 CPUs (only), AGP8x, 4 SATA connections, 2GB of memory support (in Single Channel), RAID support with two controllers, Gigabit LAN and six channel audio.
The Neo-FIS2R comes in MSI's usual slick packaging which clearly points out the hardware features. Inside, other than the motherboard, we get a user's manual, a RAID setup manual, driver disks for both the VIA and Promise controller, as well as a driver/utility CD. Given the number of back IO connections, we also get a custom backplate, and an AMD mounting bracket. There's an adhesive sticker for the support bracket, which you use to install under the motherboard. Afterwards, you drop the heatsink bracket on top, and secure with the included screws. There are also two SATA cables, a SATA power splitter, as well as rounded IDE and floppy cables. Curiously, MSI chose a mesh/rounded cable for the floppy, rather than a plastic wrap as they used on the IDE cable. There are no flat ribben cables included.
The D-Bracket is used to add a couple more USB ports, as well as providing diagnostic LEDs for troubleshooting system problems. The user manual outlines the LED codes quite clearly, and is very useful if you're having problems with your setup.
The MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R
As with all of MSI's motherboards, the K8T Neo-FIS2R sports the trademark red PCB. Layout-wise, MSI did a fine job here, giving each area enough room where you shouldn't have any issues installing and removing components. A traditional problem spot, the AGP slot and ram slot, is nonexistent here as there is plenty of space between them.
Focusing on the CPU area, the first observation we can make is the changes in AMD's mounting specifications. Unlike the majority of Socket 462 boards, the Socket 754 specs do not call for the four mounting holes. Granted, they were not part of the Socket 462 specification, but with AMD's new mounting scheme (and CPU heat output), the four holes wouldn't work. This will cause problems for those of you who have water blocks, or high-end air coolers that needed these four holes. I should point out that AMD's new HSF mounting has reached Intel levels in terms of ease of installation.
The mosfets are passively cooled by a pair of aluminum heatsinks, which is a nice touch as they do produce a fair amount of heat. The capacitors are lined up between the mosfets and CPU socket, and do not interfere with AMD recommended coolers. I don't have any aftermarket coolers, other than on from AVC, so I cannot confirm if future coolers will have problems with clearance. Not pictured, but to the left of the mosfets above is the AUX power required for the CPU.
Anti-noise freaks will appreciate the use of a passive heatsink on the Northbridge, but power users will likely be somewhat put off by the lack of active cooling. It isn't hard to replace, and for serious overclockers, I would certainly suggest changing it for a heatsink and fan combo. To MSI's credit, the heatsink does do a fair job, as swapping the heatsink with a Waterchill chipset block only resulted in a 2 MHz improvement in OCing.
There are a number of quality onboard components, so the five PCI slots should be sufficient for the majority of users. The AGP slot is 3.0v compliant, but forget about plugging in AGP Pro cards unless you like frying equipment.
There are three ram slots, with support up to 2GB. The board's chipset supports single channel only, so you don't need to stress all that much if you don't have matched pairs. MSI suggests you use the first two slots for maximum performance, as well as following their list of recommended ram modules. Let me just say that it would be a good idea to follow their list, especially if you plan on occupying all the slots, because I had some major fits getting some ram modules to work. I can confirm Corsair's PC4000 ProSeries doesn't, but their PC4000 (non-Pro) does. Other ram modules that passed our tests were TwinMos' PC3200, Crucial's PC3200 and Kingston HyperX PC4000. OCZ's PC4000 EL Gold worked half the time, as booting up the PC was fine, but installing Windows would continuously reboot while detecting hardware. This did NOT happen when we changed ram modules.
Editor's Note: Just to avoid any confusion, the Athlon 64 has its own memory controller. The incompatibilities are likely not the result of the motherboard itself, and chances are, any A64 platform will likely be a bit picky about the ram.
Just beneath the ram slots lie the two PATA, floppy, and ATX power connection. The placement of these items was well done, as they are kept to the edge of the board, and you don't need to deal with an ATX power cable dangling across a CPU heatsink and fan.
Above, we get a look at the four SATA connections, as well as VIA's VT8237 Southbridge controller. The Southbridge handles the lower level functions of the board, and through testing, I found it got quite warm to the touch. Though I don't find it necessary, a heatsink on top of it may be a good idea.
The above center pic shows the VIA enabled SATA connections, which support 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, fifteen seconds to your boot time. We also can get a look at the three pin fan connections (four total) on the board. The jumper for the CMOS reset is smack in the middle of all this, and too be honest, I found it to be extremely frustrating to pull out given it's location. It also didn't help that there are additional pins right above the CMOS reset, making a simple task such as pulling a jumper all the more frustrating. A jumper pull tab would make pulling it a lot easier, but for those with larger hands, you'll likely be annoyed as I was trying to hold it.
Above, to the right, we get a look at the Promise 20378 SATA controller. We have support for RAID-0/1/0+1, and like the VIA VT8237, support for standalone SATA (up to two). The Promise controller also supports up to two PATA drives with a single IDE connection. Unlike the VIA controller, the Promise can be disabled if it is not needed.
Controlling the rest of the onboard components are a series of soldered chips. The VT6307 controller handles the IEEE 1394 (FireWire) chores for the motherboard. There are two connections handled by this controller.
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.
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 speed, compared to 100MB/s, is quite amazing.
Six channel sound is provided by the Realtek ALC655. Past Realtek solutions have provided decent quality, but they tend to rely on the CPU for a lot of tasks... more so than other onboard solutions.
The IO backpanel contains your PS/2, four USB, one FireWire, sound, LAN, and legacy connections. As mentioned earlier, the D-Bracket has an additional two USB connections, bringing the total to 6 connections out of the box.