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MSI K8N Neo Platinum - a Mainboard Based on the NVIDIA nForce3 250Gb Chipset



This is the top mainboard, the most functional product of the company for Socket 754. This processor socket is gradually leaving the stage (to be more accurate, it is moving to low-end according to AMD marketing guys), but at present it still allows to get the fastest system on the desktops market. This top model from the MSI K8N Neo series is intended for those who want to assemble a high-performance computer on this platform.




Unusual PCB layout with the memory slots placed in parallel to the AGP/PCI slots. However, it only contributes to the convenience of computer assemblage. The disadvantages of this layout are the placement of some connectors along the left PCB border (it's difficult to attach cables), FDD connector (too far from 3" slots in high cases), and two SATA connectors close to the rear PCB panel (inconvenient for cabling). Access to the only jumper can be hampered by the installed expansion cards, its short description is provided right on the PCB. The 2-phase switching CPU voltage regulator incorporates 8 capacitors of 1500 F and 4 capacitors of 820 F, field-effect transistors in this circuit are covered with heatsinks (brand feature of MSI mainboards). The PCB also contains voltage regulators for AGP (incorporating two capacitors of 1000 F) and memory (2 capacitors of 1000 F).

Socket 939 mainboards from this company are obviously of a different design (at the minimum they have 4 DIMM slots for a dual channel memory controller of corresponding processors), and at present MSI has only two Socket 754 mainboards based on NVIDIA chipsets. It's interesting that the network controller space provided by the PCB layout (and its RJ-45 connector) is left empty in both models - these mainboards use a gigabit chipset adapter with an external PHY. K8N Neo-FSR differs from the other mainboard only by the lack of the FireWire controller and the use of 2 SATA ports completely implemented in the chipset. Board dimensions - 305x245 mm (full size ATX, nine-screw mount, all mainboard edges are firmly fixed). The Winbond W83627THF chip is used to monitor:

  • CPU and battery voltage, +3.3, +5, +12 V and +5 V Standby
  • RPM of 2 fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (using corresponding embedded sensors)

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • CPU Socket (Socket 754)
  • 3 x DDR SDRAM DIMM (up to 2 GB DDR400 or 3 GB DDR266/333)
  • 1 x AGP (with a latch)
  • 5 x PCI slots (the orange slot is preferable for proprietary network expansion cards)
  • Power connectors: standard ATX and a 4-pin connector for 12 V
  • 1 x FDD
  • 2 x IDE (Parallel ATA) in the chipset, connected disks can form RAID 0, 1, 0+1 together with SATA disks
  • 4 x SATA (Serial ATA) in the chipset (two of them are implemented with an additional PHY controller), possibility to organise the connected disks (together with PATA disks) into RAID 0, 1, 0+1
  • 2 connectors for brackets (including D-Bracket 2) each with 2 additional USB (2.0) ports
  • 2 connectors for the bracket with 2 additional FireWire ports
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • 1 x IrDA connector
  • Connector (informational) for D-Bracket 2
  • Headers for additional Audio-Outs
  • 3 x fan connectors (all with RPM control)

Back panel (left to right, blockwise)




  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 1 x LPT, 1 x COM, 1 x FireWire, S/PDIF-Out (Coaxial type)
  • 2 x USB and 1 x RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet)
  • 2 x USB
  • 3 x Audio (Mic-In, Line-In, Front)
  • 3 x Audio (Center/Sub, Rear, Toslink S/PDIF-Out)

Package Contents (our preproduction sample)




  • Bright design box with a handle
  • Documentation: user's manual in English
  • Cables: 1 x ATA66/100/133 and 1 x FDD - both rounded, in red cambric, 1 x Serial ATA (with a SATA power converter)
  • D-Bracket 2 pinheader (2 x USB + 4 LEDs indicating system startup errors)
  • CD with software:
    • necessary drivers
    • Adobe Acrobat Reader
    • AT&T VNC
    • E-Color 3Deep
    • PC-cillin 2002
    • Xteq Systems X-Setup 6.0
    • MSI CoreCenter
    • MSI DigiCell
    • MSI DMI Browser
    • MSI GoodMem
    • MSI InfoView
    • MSI i-Speeder
    • MSI Live Update
    • MSI LockBox
    • MSI PCAlert
    • MSI PWKeeper
    • MSI SecureDoc
    • MSI SmartKey
    • MSI WMIinfo
    • DirectX 9.0

Integrated Controllers

  • Audio, based on AC'97 Avance Logic ALC850 codec (7.1 ch Audio) with front Audio I/O and S/PDIF-Out (Coaxial and Toslink) jacks
  • LAN controller based on the chipset and on the Marvell 88E1111-RCJ PHY controller supporting 10/100/1000 Mbit/sec Base-T (Gigabit Ethernet)




  • SATA [RAID], based on the chipset and on the Marvell 88SR3020-TBC PHY controller, which support 2 additional SATA ports




  • FireWire, based on the VIA 6306 chip supporting 3 ports

The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bits, 44 kHz, using the RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.2 test program and the Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

FR passband ripple (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
+0.09, -0.89
Good
Noise level , dB (A):
-78.6
Average
Dynamic range, dB (A):
78.3
Average
THD, %:
0.039
Good
Intermodulation distortions, %:
0.097
Good
Channel crosstalk , dB:
-81.6
Very Good

General performance: Good (details). Though this mainboard incorporates 8-channel audio, it does not claim to outstanding quality.

Proprietary Technologies

  • MSI DigiCell (Windows utility allowing system finetuning and overclocking using specific CPU functions)
  • MSI D.O.T. (automatic system overclocking when the CPU load increases, and the return to the default state when idle)
  • MSI Live Update (automatic drivers and BIOS updates via Internet)

Settings

Jumpers and switches Clear CMOS jumper  
BIOS based on AMI v2.51 Memory timings + CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, Min RAS Active Time, Row Precharge Time, 1T/2T Memory Timing
Memory frequency selection + Auto, DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR400
HT bus setup + frequency (x1-x5)
AGP bus setup +  
PCI bus setup -  
PCI frequency divider setup + AGP(PCIx2) = 66-100 MHz at 1 MHz steps
PCI IRQ manual assignment -  
FSB frequency setup + 200-300 MHz at 1 MHz steps
CPU multiplier + x4-x10
CPU core voltage control + Auto, 1.55-1.8 V at 0.05 V steps
Memory voltage control + Auto, 2.5-2.85 V at 0.05 V steps
Chipset voltage control -  
HT voltage control -  
AGP voltage control + Auto, 1.5-1.85 V at 0.05 V steps

We used BIOS 1.1, the latest available version for the moment of testing. The mentioned BIOS parameters are available in the version, but the viability of non-standard settings hasn't been tested.

Performance

Test results:

This model on the manufacturer's web site




Dmitry Majorov (destrax@ixbt.com)
29 July, 2004



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