MSI P4N Diamond nForce4-SLI Motherboard

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There is a current trend in PC hardware to have two of everything.  Whether it's two (or more) drives in a RAID configuration, dual-core CPUs, dual-channel memory, or adding an additional video card to increase frame rates; it's apparent that doubling-up is here to stay.  Up until recently, running two video cards simultaneously meant one thing: NVIDIA cards running on NVIDIA motherboards.  It was a logical step for the graphics leader to support only their own chipsets, as it brought more prestige to the platform.  More prestige, and of course, more profits through more sales of their own chipsets.  While ATi has only started to gain some ground in this area with full CrossFire support on Intel's 975X Express chipset and wider availability of master cards and Radeon Xpress 200 based mobos, manufacturers using the nForce4-SLI chipset have had time to refine their products, and work through some of the initial bugginess that a new product inevitably brings.  

Although the nForce4-SLI X16 chipset has been available for some time now, an update to the original that offers double the number of dedicated PCI Express lanes for graphics, we're going to go back and take a look at a non X16 motherboard, the MSI P4N Diamond.  In some ways, it might seem like a step backward, as we won't really be covering any new ground with the P4N Diamond.  In fact, some of you might notice that we actually ran numbers against this board when looking at the Asus P5N32-SLI a few weeks back, and we were quite impressed with its competitive performance.  In turn, we intend on giving the P4N Diamond it's full due this time around. 

      
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Specifications of the MSI P4N Diamond
Shine on, you crazy diamond!
Processor
- Supports Socket 775 for Intel P4, P4EE, Pentium D, Pentium XE, and Celeron D processors
- Supports Intel 05B/05A processors

- Supports FSB 1066/800MHz
- Supports Intel
Hyper-Threading

Chipset
- NVIDIA nForce4 SLI Intel Edition

Memory
- Four 240-pin/1.8V DDR2 DIMM sockets
- Supports Dual channel DDR2 667/533
- Supports memory capacity up to 4GB

Storage/RAID
- IDE controller on the MCP04 chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master, and Ultra DMA133/100/66 operation modes
- MCP04 supports 4 SATA II ports, with transfer rates up to 300MB/s

- Also supports RAID 0,1,0+1, RAID 5 or JBOD mode

- Silicon Image SATARAID controller supports another 2 SATA II ports

- RAID 0 or 1 mode are supported
- Supports External SATA II devices by SATA II Extend bracket

Audio
- Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit H/W audio
- 24-bit / 96KHz audio quality with 100db SNR clarity

- Up to 7.1 channel surround sound, Dolby Digital ready
- Supports S/PDIF digital interface
- PCI 2.3 specification compliant

LAN
- Supports dual LAN jacks

- 1st LAN supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Marvell 88E1111 phy
- 2nd PCI-e LAN supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Marvell 88E8053

Slots
- Two PCI Express X16 slots:
- Normal mode: Primary PCI-E slot is compatible with PCI Express x16 and Secondary Slot with PCI Express x1

- SLI mode: Primary and Secondary PCI-E slots are both compatible with PCI Express x8
- One PCI Express x1 slot
- Two 32-bit v2.3 Master PCI bus slots
- Supports 3.3V/5V PCI bus interface

IEEE 1394
- VIA 6306 chipset

- Supports up to 3x 1394 ports with transfer rate up to 400Mbp

Onboard Peripherals
- 1 x Floppy port supports 1 FDD
- 1 x PS/2 keyboard, 1 x PS/2 mouse

- 1 x Serial port
- 1 x Parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
- 10 x USB 2.0 (Rear x 4 / Front x 6)
- 2 x RJ-45 Gigabit LAN jacks

- 1 x audio jack (5-in-1), coaxial/fiber S/PDIF out
- 3 x IEEE 1394a connectors (Rear x 1 / Front x 2)

BIOS
- Mainboard BIOS provides "plug&play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards
- Mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface (DMI) function which records mainboard specifications
- Supports boot from LAN, USB device, or SATA HDD

Dimensions

- ATX form factor 12in. (L) x 9.61in. (W)

Mounting
- 9 mounting holes








The Bundle:
Befitting a motherboard package labeled "Diamond", MSI has really given the P4N the royal treatment.  In our estimation, nothing is left out in the collection of cables and media that comes in the box.  Starting with the expected, there were two rounded IDE and one rounded floppy cables, all three sheathed in red rubber.  In addition, four orange SATA data cables are placed in the bundle, with two SATA power cables splitters that can be used to power two SATA devices each.

For external connections, two case brackets are provided.  One has a single FireWire port while the other contains two USB 2.0 ports and a four-LED diagnostic system that MSI has employed for many years now.  Deciphering the number and position of the lights allows the user to get a reading of what might be troubling the system without having to crack open the case.

It might seem that the number of ports on the brackets is few, but the external connections on the rear I/O panel have a full array already placed there.  4 USB 2.0 and another FireWire port intermingle with the legacy PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports with legacy serial and parallel ports thrown in as well.

The MSI P4N Diamond is based on the nForce4-SLI Intel Edition chipset, and as such, a bridge comes in the package that is used to connect the two GeForce cards.  Unlike some of the earlier ribbon cable connectors, MSI uses a rigid PCB that spans the two slots.  Final additions to this robust package are a custom CPU puller and one final bracket that not only holds the SLI bridge in place, but has vents as well to allow more air in or out of the system to help cool the graphics cards.

 

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