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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
Written By:


The Pheonix AwardBIOS makes another appearance, and provides a good number of options for the user to play with. You have your typical screens for the Standard CMOS Features, Advanced BIOS Features, Power Management Setup, as well as the ability to default to the BIOS defaults or the performance defaults. For the tweakers, you'll be interested in the next few screens we'll be demonstrating.

The Advanced Chipset Features is where you'll find the first steps in tweaking out your box. You'll have to switch the System Performance tab to "Manual", which will unlock the factory defaults. The FSB options are pretty good, allowing for 1MHz changes, up to 200MHz. Although that should be enough for most people, I would have liked to have seen a higher FSB ceiling for those of you who wish to be extremely adventurous. The only thing that did annoy me here is the fact that you cannot key in a FSB value, and you'll have to scroll through the FSB numbers until you get to the one you want.

The memory settings are very flexible, allowing the user to set their ram to run synchronous to the FSB, or asynchronous if they're only concerned about overclocking the ram itself. You also have access to four memory timing options, which will let you run either with aggressive timings, or something more conservative if stability becomes a concern.

You'll also have access to your AGP setting here. A tip for those of you with game crashes… disable the System BIOS and Video Ram Cacheable options. We're not using DOS anymore, and there's no reason for those to be enabled.

Being able to mess around with multipliers and frequencies is great, but it won't do you any good if you can never get by the POST screen. This is where the Frequency/Voltage Control comes in. First of all, if you're going to be serious about overclocking, you're going to have to unlock that multiplier. One sore spot was where the Epox 8RDA+ unlocks the Tbred CPU without modification; it wasn't the case for the MSI K7N2G-ILSR. I'll explain how to get around this when we get into the overclocking.

Voltage options are a mixed bag. The CPU voltage can go as high as 1.8v, which isn't bad, but it's not the greatest. The DIMM voltage adjustments were a disappointment, as we couldn't go any higher than 2.7v. As all enthusiasts know, tweaking the voltages are a necessity when trying to get the most out of their system, and I felt that MSI held back a little here.


Given the voltage adjustment limitations, I wasn't expecting too much when we got down to overclocking our TBred 2400+. As mentioned earlier, the MSI K7N2G-ILSR will not unlock an unmodified TBred. Sure, you can make multiplier changes in the BIOS regardless, but your system won't boot. I will write up a future unlocking article, but in the meantime, you'll have to connect a bridge as pictured below.

The L3, #5 bridge is the one you're interested in. Bridging that will unlock the multipliers 13 and under.

The first order of business is to lower the multiplier to a level that we can maximize our FSB. As usual, we move the FSB in small increments until we reach a point of instability. At a multiplier of 8x, we were able to hit 198. The system would POST at 199, but Windows became so badly corrupted, a reformat was in order. After the reinstallation, I tried a multiplier of 7x, but we were not able to get by 199. Seeing how the ceiling is 200FSB, I called it a day for FSB overclocking, and begun pushing the multiplier up (at 198FSB) to see what was the maximum multiplier/FSB overclock we were able to manage.

11x198 was the best we were able to manage with the 2400+. Although I was satisfied that we managed a decent FSB overclock, I had hoped for better luck with the multiplier. 11.5 would not POST, but I should note that things were rock solid at 11x198.

Important Note: During the course of overclocking, we ended up killing the K7N2G-ILSR while doing some memory overclocking. During the overclocking attempts mentioned earlier, our Corsair TWINX PC3200 was running syncronous with the FSB. This didn't cause any problems, and I should note that we had an ATi 9700 Pro installed during this time (I'll get to why this is important in a minute).

Soon after, I needed to do some testing with the onboard video, so the 9700 Pro was removed. By default, the K7N2G-ILSR has the DDR running at PC2700. Naturally, I wanted to run the ram at its rated speed, so I set the memory timings at 400MHz. This wasn't a problem, until I started pushing the ram harder.

When you are overclocking, there can be serious problems with the K7N2G-ILSR if you choose to overclock the ram with the IGP enabled.

Basically, if you intend to use the IGP, you are limiting your memory FSB at 333MHz... at least, you are supposed to. Running your memory at 400MHz is essentially overclocking, since that memory is needed by the IGP. What you're supposed to do if you plan on overclocking the memory is to plug a video card into the IGP slot, thus disabling the IGP. When I killed the first review board, I only went for a 205MHz (410MHz DDR) memory overclock with 200MHz Corsair PC3200. Hardly what I would call extreme.

In short, if you are going to use onboard video... you should run your memory at PC2700. This is not to say it won't work at PC3200, but I wouldn't chance it. I was able to run a number of benchmarks with the ram at PC3200, but with the jump to 410MHz, it was enough to PERMANENTLY kill the BIOS. Trust me, no amount of resetting fixed this. MSI even followed nVidia's specifications by including a 100/133FSB jumper reset, but this did not help at all.

Update: I wanted to add that this problem isn't addressed in the manual, but MSI does state only DDR266/333 is supported when using the IGP. However, it is my opinion that there should be safety measures in place should one wish to use DDR3200 and up. Perhaps hard locking the ram at PC2700 or something. Ultimately, this was an error on my part, but judging from the responses we've gotten the last 24 hours, I'm not the only one who did this.

You're going to have to keep in mind that this is not necessarily a MSI issue, but rather, it seems to be a common problem for any nForce 2 with IGP. Don't take my word for it though, as you can find this problem documented in , at , and at .

Test Setup

MSI K7N2G-ILSR nForce2: Athlon XP 2400+ provided by (15x133: 2.0GHz, 12x166: 1.992GHz), 2 x 256MB Corsair TWINX PC3200 Ram, ATi Radeon 9700 Pro, 120GB Western Digital SE 8MB Cache, Windows XP SP1, nForce 2 Unified Driver Package 2.0, ATi Catalyst 3.2

Epox 8RDA+ nForce2: Athlon XP 2400+ provided by (15x133: 2.0GHz, 12x166: 1.992GHz), 2 x 256MB Corsair TWINX PC3200 Ram, ATi Radeon 9700 Pro, 120GB Western Digital SE 8MB Cache, Windows XP SP1, nForce 2 Unified Driver Package 2.0, ATi Catalyst 3.2

Test software will be:

SiSoft Sandra 2003
PC Mark 2002
3D Mark 2001SE
Unreal Tournament 2003
Quake 3: Arena
Jedi Knight 2

We're going to be doing our game benchmarks a little differently than we normally do for motherboard reviews. We will be running all the game benchmarks first, with the 9700 Pro, at 640x480, at low quality settings. The exception will be 3D Mark 2001SE, which will be run at 1024x768, default settings. The second group of tests will be at 1024x768 and up with the built in IGP. Games will be run at high quality settings, with the exception of 3D Mark, which will be at default.

Comparison motherboard will be the Epox 8RDA+ nForce 2. Benchmarks will be run at the 2400+ stock speed of 2GHz (133FSB), as well as at a 166FSB with a 12x multiplier.

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