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MSI K7N2G-ILSR: MSI pulls no punches with their flagship nForce 2 motherboard. Featuring almost every conceivable technology available for motherboards, they're doing everything they can to standout on paper. Let's see how it does in reality.
 
 
Date: April 16, 2003
Manufacturer:
Written By:

The Board

To breakdown the MSI K7N2G-ILSR naming convention, the K7N2 indicates it's an Athlon nForce 2 motherboard. The "G" stands for graphics, courtesy of the nForce 2 IGP. The "I" is for IEEE1394 (FireWire), "L" for LAN, and the "SR" is Serial ATA RAID.

As with all of MSI's motherboards, the K7N2G-ILSR sports the trademark red PCB. Case window fans will appreciate the extra touch by MSI of colouring the memory slots purple and green. Other than looking fancy, the colour scheme serves a somewhat functional purpose, which we'll get into later on.

Focusing on the CPU area, the first observation we can make is the lack of the four mounting holes for the installation of some heatsinks, notably the Swiftech and Alpha. This follows AMD's newer specifications, which do away with this method of installation. Although the omission of the holes is a bit of a downer, there are a few heatsinks out right now that perform on par with the Swiftech MCX462+. I am also aware that some water cooling setups will not work now since the mounting holes are gone, but the Swiftech H20-8500 kit will work without any problems.

The capacitors surrounding the socket are a little close for comfort, but I had no problems fitting our Thermalright SLK-800, arguably one of the larger heatsinks on the market. For power, there are two connections to be aware of. MSI has included both the standard ATX power connection, as well as the auxiliary connection typically found in P4 motherboards. Considering the number of integrated features, as well as the power demands of overclocking, this was a wise decision on MSI's part to add the extra power connection for the CPU.

The one criticism I do have is the fact that the positioning is somewhat awkward. To begin with, the power is in our least favorite position as it will cause your main power cables to be within proximity of the CPU heatsink/fan. I also had a bit of trouble disconnecting the main connection since it rested in between the capacitors and the back I/O panel. You don't need to do anything like removing the motherboard to disconnect power, but those of you with larger hands will probably curse a couple times as I did when trying to jimmy the power cable out.

The nForce 2 IGP, which provides GeForce 4 MX graphics, is actively cooled by a nice heatsink and fan. This will add a bit of noise of course, but active cooling is a better choice than passive cooling when it comes to overclocking. Speaking of passive, the heatsinks on the Mosfets are a nice touch since I guess there's no such thing as too much cooling.

I liked the fact that the AGP slot was red, but am at a loss at why MSI didn't used coloured PCI slots as well. The AGP slot has the typical AGP card clip to help secure your video card if you tend to move your PC around a lot. Unlike past motherboards, MSI included, the clip doesn't interfere with the memory slot clips. There's plenty of clearance where even if you used a Ti4600, you won't have to remove it to get the memory out.

As mentioned before, the memory banks are colour coded. These colours are mostly for cosmetic purposes, but they also serve to help indicate how you should install ram. Since one of the big features of the nForce 2 is the DualDDR architecture, you'll want to install two DIMMs, rather than one. Having two purple DIMMs side-by-side doesn't make it obvious where the ram should go though (but it is explained in the manual). At first glance, some people may think both modules go into the purple slots, but in fact, one goes into the purple, and one goes into the green.

In the bottom half of the board, we have the IDE connections. There are three connections, one of which is reserved for RAID. I don't know if they ran out of ink or something (note the sarcasm), but only IDE1, and IDE3 are marked, but there isn't anything that says IDE2. I suppose it's obvious anyways, but what do I know?

For integration, we have the nForce 2 MCP-T Southbridge, and the Promise PDC20376 SATA150 controller. The MCP-T is responsible for Ethernet 10/100 support, FireWire, USB 2.0, ATA133, and AC'97 Audio. The Soundstorm Audio Processing Unit is also included, which is a nice touch on MSI's part. The Soundstorm APU is capable of producing 5.1 stereo surround sound, doing all the Dolby Digital encoding in hardware.

The Promise PDC20376 SATA150 controller allows you to plug in up to two Serial ATA drives, and setup a RAID configuration. Though SATA hasn't exactly become the mainstream desktop standard, the industry is moving in that direction, so this addition to the MSI K7N2G-ILSR will only further future-proof your board.

Rounding things out is the back I/O panel. We got your standard PS/2 connections, four USB connections, a LAN port, serial and parallel connections, and the sound and VGA connections. MSI also includes brackets for two more USB connections, a TV-out and FireWire, which was mentioned earlier.

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