It didn't seem that long ago when Intel unleashed their enthusiast X38 chipset. In just a few short months, we now have the X48 trickling into the market. What has changed between the two? Not a whole lot as it turns out. All of the X38 features have carried over to the X48. The only real change that will affect the end user is the official support for the 400/1600MHz system bus. DDR3 will also get a bump to this speed and newer modules with XMP requiring 1.8v will also be supported. Sure, the X38 was capable of all of this in some motherboards, but the ability to manage this relied on the board vendors as well as the ingenuity of the user.
The MSI X48 Platinum motherboard we'll be reviewing today is one of the first boards on the market armed with Intel's latest X48 chipset. All of the performance minded features we've come to expect from MSI's Platinum line are present and accounted for. While the extras are all nice and dandy, the board will be scored on its performance and stability.
The MSI X48 Platinum
The Platinum series of MSI boards are one step under their top-of-the-line MSI Diamond products. As such, I believe the only thing you are really missing out on is the Creative X-Fi sound chip. Otherwise, the package contents are generally similar. For the MSI X48 Platinum, what you'll get is a quick start guide, manual, driver CDs for XP and Vista, a rear IO shield and storage related cables.
The MSI X48 Platinum supports CrossFire, and thus a couple required connections are part of the package. In the resealable bag, we have some custom "M-Connectors". What these connections will do is that you can install the internal case front IO to these connectors and place them right on to the motherboard itself. This makes the install, and if needed, reinstall much easier as it's quite a hassle sometimes trying to fish your fingers into this are and connect the wiring.
The MSI X48 Platinum is a full sized ATX board and for the most part it is well laid out. There are a couple areas of concern in terms of placement, but come into play only if you need to make component changes after installation. We'll point these areas out shortly.
At the center of the action is the Socket-T area. The capacitors and MOSFETS line the surrounding area, but should be a non-factor for heatsink installs.
The CPU area, despite appearances, is relatively free and clear. While we mentioned the capacitors and MOSFETS shouldn't be an issue, we had some reservations about the surrounding Circu-Pipe cooling. Our fears were put aside though as one of our largest coolers, the Thermaltake V1 had no issues with the Circu-Pipe cooling.
The Circu-Pipe cooling is an array of passive heatpipes that pass through key areas of heat. The design uses a high number of heat fins, arranged vertically which allows for larger coolers, such as the aforementioned V1, and effectively cools the chipset and MOSFETs silently. Thus, for those of you looking for a HTPC or quiet PC application, this board can be a viable option.
Amongst the heat pipes, to the right of the main Circu-Pipe block is the JPWR2 connection. This is my preferred location since it's out of the way and should prevent the power cable from having to pass over the CPU cooler. It's also an improvement over MSI's first P35 board where it placed this connection between the heatpipes.
To the left of the power connection and to the left of the first turn of the heatpipes are additional power connections for system fans and JPWR1. The CPU fan header is in this are, which we though was a bit awkward since it seams rather far away. If you tend to tuck your CPU cooler's cable to make things neat, make sure you account for the distance here.
The four memory banks are colour coded to visually assist the ram installation process, though at the same time a bit misleading. In our opinion, it would have made more sense to colour code the odd DIMM slots one colour and the even slots another. This will make it perfectly clear how to setup dual channel. System support is officially DDR3-1600 and lower, and includes support for Intel's XMP. The board supports a maximum of 8GB.
Just below the memory slots is the 24-pin ATX1 power connection. Some more capacitors line around this area, but these should not interfere with installation of any other parts. There is one system fan header in this area nest to the power connection. Another system and CPU fan connection is located near the edge of the motherboard, right next to DIMM1/2.
The memory slots run nearly flush with PCIE#1, which can make the changing of ram modules a bit tricky if you have a longer PCI Express video card in this slot.
The MSI X48 Platinum uses the ICH9R South Bridge which handles most of the storage and connectivity needs. Four SATA connections are grouped together near the edge of the motherboard and are setup facing away from the board. The nice thing about this is it keeps SATA cables directed away from the board (SATA cables don't bend well), but if you have a small ATX case, it can be tricky working with these connections if you have drive bays aligned in this area. Along with these SATA slots, the ICH9R takes care of the two eSATA connections. The chip supports 300MB/s transfer rates as well as AHCI, RAID 0/1/5 and 10.
A Silicon Image 5723 chip handles SATA7 and 8. The default config is RAID 1 support, but RAID 0 and JBOD is also supported. A Marvell 88SE6111 takes care of the IDE port. DMA 66/100 and 133 mode is supported.
Moving on to the peripheral slots, there are two PCI Express graphics x16 which supports PCI Express 2.0. There are two PCI Express x1 slots sandwiched in between. For legacy devices, one PCI slot is nested between PCI_E4 and PCI_E5. The two yellow PCIE slots support PCIE x4 speeds.
The CMOS battery is located between the two primary PCIE slots, and the board power and reset buttons are located in front of PCI_E6.
Near the edge of the motherboard, between the first PCIE x1 slot and second PCIE x1 slot is the Realtek ALC888 audio chip. The chip is Azalia 1.0 compliant and is a flexible 8-channel audio solution that is also jack sensing. This the board can detect which jack you plug a speaker or headphone into provided you install all the required sound software.
Rounding things out are the external inputs and outputs. From left to right we have; two PS/2 ports, FireWire, four USB, S/PDIF, two eSATA (controlled by the ICH9R), CMOS reset, two LAN, four more USB, and the audio block. The CMOS reset is a nice feature as it lets you reset the CMOS without having to open up the case and do this the old fashion way.
The MSI X48 Platinum uses the AMI BIOS which over the years has become quite the favorite around here. The menu is very intuitive, with each option opening a new page with further options for modification. Most of the items are straight forward, but there are a few areas of note. The Advanced BIOS features page is the first place you would go to to configure the boot order and some of the basic chipset features. You can enable or disable the boot logo as well as choosing a quick boot or something more verbose.