NVIDIA caught the chipset renaming virus. Indeed, consumers associate nForce4 chipsets with something ancient. But they are wrong, because this family possesses quite competitive characteristics. For example, variety of RAID modes in the integrated SATA controller, gigabit network adapter with a proprietary hardware firewall, etc. Only the AC’97 support looks anachronic these days. What concerns the number of PCI Express lanes for graphic ports in nForce4 SLI limited to x8, it's a virtual drawback. We have recently proved that even cutting it radically down to x1 has no catastrophic consequences for video performance in games (given a video card has enough on-board memory).
So, NVIDIA decided to prolong the life of the distinguished nForce4 family and renamed it accordingly. "Regular" nForce4 is named nForce 500 (unlike other models, it offers SATA 1.0 and no RAID 5), nForce 4 Ultra is called nForce 500 Ultra (SATA II, a single graphic port works in x16 mode). nForce 4 SLI is renamed into nForce 500 SLI. It differs in the above mentioned pair of graphics ports supporting "x8+x8" mode. Lanes cannot be reallocated, if you use a single video card. Besides, only nForce 500 SLI offers hardware acceleration for unpacking TCP/IP traffic.
Considering that motherboard manufacturers did not wait for NVIDIA's approval to use nForce 4 for Socket AM2 and such motherboards were offered by all manufacturers right from the start, we did not test them for a simple reason - no time. It's much more interesting to review motherboards on fresh chipsets. But it won't hurt to review at least several typical models. No changes on the chipset level do not mean that motherboard manufacturers cannot (or should not) modify designs. Quite on the contrary, it would be good to pay heed to users' comments on similar models for Socket 939. About the noisy cooling system in particular.
What do we see? Unfortunately, the chipset cooler is the only gripe with this motherboard. It's the same design - a small heatsink with purely nominal finning. Considering the fact that this chipset is not notable for being cool, engineers have to use a high-speed fan. As we know, along with noticeable whistling, it will eventually start "rumbling" for several minutes after startup. The noise usually stops as it warms up. But on the whole, such a cooler should be evidently avoided.
Especially as MSI offers an excellent solution for a motherboard on the modern nForce 570 SLI - the new heatsink is enlarged (we can also see that there is still empty space between the graphics ports). However, we don't know the answer as to why it's done this way — the motherboard is intended for the most unpretentious and tight-fisted consumers, while the others have an excellent opportunity to cater to their demands and buy the above mentioned motherboards on nForce 570 SLI - MSI K9N SLI Platinum with passive cooling. So let's proceed to other peculiarities.
The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of the processor incorporates three field-effect transistors per channel, six 1800 uF capacitors and four 1500 uF ones. All capacitors come from the same manufacturer, but not from a first-tier one (we couldn't identify it). The motherboard has a spacious layout, there are no empty seats. MSI offers only one motherboard on nForce 500 SLI. Motherboard dimensions — 305×245 mm (full-size ATX), nine-screw mount, all corners are firmly fixed.
System monitoring (Winbond W83627DHG, according to BIOS Setup)
Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors
Back panel (left to right, blockwise)
Click the image to open the rear view of this motherboard
The set of proprietary MSI utilities includes:
General performance: Good (Details). What we have here is the standard (and forgotten) audio quality level of AC’97 codecs. However, we have seen better IMD results.
Proprietary technologies and peculiarities
We used BIOS v1.21 dated 05.01.07, provided by the manufacturer. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in this version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.
In order to evaluate the motherboard and its BIOS, we overclock our testbed processor to a maximum stable level. We use all features of the motherboard in this test, including raising CPU voltage and adjusting multipliers and frequencies of system and peripheral buses, if necessary (but if, for example, reducing Hyper-Transport frequency does not improve overclocking, we leave the default multiplier). Memory is set to the standard frequency for a given memory module (multiplier correction), if a manufacturer does not publish any ways to improve memory overclocking. Otherwise, we analyze their efficiency as well. In order to evaluate stability of the overclocked system, we load Windows XP and run WinRAR performance test for 10 minutes (Tools — Benchmark and hardware test). As overclocking potential is an individual property of a given motherboard sample to some degree, we don't set the task to determine overclocking potential to within a single MHz. In practice, we are to find out whether CPU overclocking will be limited by a motherboard as well as to evaluate its behavior in non-standard modes, including automatic restoration of a correct frequency after a failed overclocking attempt, etc.
This result is typical of inexpensive motherboards, which have advanced BIOS settings, including options to raise CPU, memory, and chipset voltages. In other words, you can squeeze a significant share of your processor's overclocking potential, if you provide efficient cooling for a processor and good ventilation inside your PC case, because the chipset does not have a wide safety margin for heat removal.
We decided to compare our motherboard under review with ASRock AM2XLI-eSATA2 on ULi M1697, which also caters for entry-level SLI systems.
The motherboard demonstrates model performance.
Inexpensive motherboards with functions of the nForce4 SLI chipset are definitely an advantage of Socket AM2 in general. MSI K9N4 SLI is a good example, although it has some drawbacks (to be more exact, a single drawback — it inherited a bad chipset cooler from similar motherboards for Socket 939). However, this cooler has a standard retention module. So it'll be easy to find an efficient replacement, especially if you like to perfect cheap models.
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