The motherboard is based on the AMD 790GX chipset (AMD 790GX Northbridge + SB750 Southbridge). Chipset functionality is implemented completely, except for the video buffer for an integrated graphics core, which is not installed here. However, the board still has an empty seat for this element (this option is available in the Platinum Edition). The set of connectors on the rear panel makes sense: a full bundle of video outputs, optical S/PDIF Out, and even eSATA. Along with the chipset features, the board offers the following:
- Integrated audio (10-channel (7.1+2) HDA codec Realtek ALC888), 7.1-channel audio and an extra stereo output for the front panel, optical S/PDIF-Out port on the rear panel
- Gigabit Ethernet (Realtek RTL8111C, PCIEx1) 10/100/1000 Mbps
- System monitoring (ITE IT8716F-S). BIOS allows automatic CPU and system fan control, you can choose a target temperature of a processor and a minimal CPU fan speed (full stop supported). But it depends on a cooler, whether it can stop or it will just slow down to minimum. A system fan can also be slowed down to 50% or 75%. Fan control is supported only for 4-pin fans.
The integrated audio quality was tested in 16 bit 44 kHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0.5 and the ESI Juli@ sound card:
|Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:
||+0.03, -0.20||Very good|
|Noise level, dB (A):
|Dynamic range, dB (A):
|Harmonic distortion + noise, dB(A):
|Intermodulation distortion + Noise, %:
|Channel crosstalk, dB:
|IMD at 10 kHz, %:
General performance: Very good.
- CPU: AMD Phenom X4 9550
- RAM: 2 x Corsair CM2X1024-6400C4 (2GB, DDR2-800, 5-5-5-15-2T)
- HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 (SATA, 7200rpm)
- Graphics card: ATI Radeon HD3870, 512 MB GDDR4
- PSU: AcBel ATX-550CA-AB8FB
- OS: Windows XP SP2 32-bit, Catalyst 8.5, latest chipset drivers
- WinRAR 3.70
- XviD 1.0.2 (29.08.2004)
- Doom 3 (v1.0.1282)
- FarCry (v18.104.22.1687)
- Unreal Tournament 2004 (v3339)
To assess performance we measure time required to archive a 297MB set of 277 files of various types and convert a 636MB MPEG2 video using XviD; we also measure frames per second in game demos run at 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768 and 1600x1200 (DOOM3 - built-in demo, FarCry - Regulator second run, Unreal Tournament 2004 - ONS_dria). Note that if a motherboard has no integrated graphics, performance tests are only used to check for serious layout or BIOS flaws and can be reduced to minimum. Vice versa, performance tests are indicative for motherboards with integrated graphics. And if a certain motherboard review lacks certain details, we might add respective test results to make up for it.
To assess capabilities of a motherboard and its BIOS, we overclock test CPUs (which ones depends on board's market segment) to a stable maximum with the help of Zalman CNPS9700 cooler. At that we use all motherboard features, like CPU core voltage adjustments and, if needed, bus multiplier and clock adjustments. At that, if changing a certain option (e.g. reducing Hyper-Transport clock) doesn't improve overclocking, the multiplier is left default. For RAM we select a clock rate typical for this class of modules by adjusting its multiplier. The stability of an overclocked machine is assessed in Windows XP with the help of AMD OverDrive stability test (all tests are run for 5 minutes). Note that since overclocking potential somewhat varies from one board to another, we are not focused on finding board's exact overclocking potential accurate to 1MHz. We just try to find out if a board hampers in CPU overclocking (due to insufficient voltage stabilizer power, etc.) and see how it performs in atypical modes, including automatic BIOS recovery in cases of overclocking issues (not requiring CMOS reset) and such.
|BIOS overclocking settings
||Note (adjustment range)
|HT bus frequency (multiplier)
|Reference CPU clock
||Two options: for cores and CPU NB
|Int. graphics core clock
||1.25-1.60 V (CPU)
1.25-1.60 V (CPU NB)
1.10-1.25 V (CPU VDD)
1.10-1.25 V (CPU NB VDD)
||1.20-1.50 V (for Northbridge)
1.20-1.50 V (for HT bus)
Adjustment ranges of CPU multiplier and voltage, as well as HT bus in BIOS, depend on a given processor. We publish results for our Phenom X4 9550. We used BIOS 1.3B3 dated 10.09.08, provided by the manufacturer.
Every setting employed even by experienced users is available, including individual control of multipliers and voltages for CPU cores and NB (memory controller). There is an interesting extra function: detecting timings from SPD (Memory-Z) for each memory module installed. BIOS help is very useful -- it displays resulting frequencies (of a CPU, buses, memory). So you don't have to bother calculating coefficients (e.g. for memory).
||CPU Clock, MHz
||Reference clock (multiplier), MHz
||Core voltage (according to BIOS), V
||HT bus frequency (multiplier), MHz
||CPU NB frequency (multiplier), MHz
|Athlon X2 4850e (2.5 GHz)
|Phenom X4 9550 (2.2 GHz)
||Increased reference clock
||Decreased CPU NB multiplier
|Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition (2.5 GHz)
||Increased reference clock
||Decreased CPU NB multiplier
||Increased multiplier (ACC OFF)
||Increased multiplier (ACC +2%)
It's a discrepant result. On the one hand, Phenom X4 9550 overclocks very well. We must admit that decreasing the CPU NB multiplier can be really useful (it does not hold true for all motherboards with this BIOS option, only for those that can provide further overclocking, which depends on power stability and circuitry in general). We also overclocked our Athlon X2 almost to the top level we've ever managed. But what concerns Phenom X4 9850, it's result is unexpectedly low. With other motherboards we managed to overclock it (ACC enabled) up to 3400 MHz. But in this case the motherboard just powered off, when we tried to increase the multiplier any further. It's apparently the weak VRM heatsink to blame.
Passive heatsinks are good, but traditional measures shouldn't be forgotten either. If the manufacturer had to save on the board, it could have done well without a heat pipe between the chipset heatsinks, using the pipe to connect heatsinks on the Northbridge and the VRM instead. The motherboard might have broken all records in this case, its power stability being praiseworthy (judging by results obtained with other processors). You can remove the MSI plate from this chipset to improve cooling a little (it apparently fails to contribute to driving the air through plates of the heatsink, it's too short to count on this effect, but it interferes with natural circulation of the hot air).
Frequency of the graphics core can be raised with a corresponding option in BIOS. We used it to increase its clock rate to 850 MHz, voltage increased by 0.15 V, which is a safe thing to do in a general case. It's an unremarkable result, but only in comparison with other motherboards on this chipset. In fact, just a year ago, before the 780G/790GX chipset rolled out, we couldn't think of raising the integrated GPU frequency by 200 MHz. In this case, games ran faster without any other consequences, even the heatsink did not grow that much hotter.
When the motherboard froze, it had to be restarted manually. It's easy to do though, even if it's not installed into a PC enclosure, or you didn't plug cables to the front panel, because the board itself has its own buttons. Sometimes the motherboard would take time to respond after that, reboot several times, and only then prompt to reset BIOS or just open BIOS Setup. This response looks like a clever find of MSI engineers (when you play with overclocking, you don't have to remember everything). However, the motherboard would sometimes reboot to default settings, or scare users with a message about battery failure. Don't worry, this behavior is just another consequence of a failed overclocking attempt. Fortunately, you can save two profiles with settings into CMOS, which are preserved during of types of incorrect reboots or manual BIOS reset with a button.
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