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MSI GNB Max Motherboard
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Date: Dec 07, 2002
Section:Motherboards
Author: HH Editor
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The MSI GNB Max Motherboard - Page 1

The MSI GNB Max-FISR Motherboard
Intel's Granite Bay With Dual Channel DDR and AGP8X

By, Dave Altavilla
December 8, 2002

It seems as though the entire PC world has been waiting for a Dual Channel DDR chipset to come to the Pentium 4.  Although RAMBUS and RDRAM technology certainly had its merits, as the highest available bandwidth memory architecture for Intel's flagship processor, the technology has been riddle with controversy over RAMBUS' monopolistic tactics.  In addition, with its higher price point of entry, the end user community has been very slow to adopt it.  On the other hand, even the low latency single channel i845PE DDR chipset from Intel, didn't quite have the horsepower to outpace Dual Channel RDRAM, in memory bandwidth intensive applications and benchmarks.  It would take nothing less than a dual channel DDR solution to rival PC1066 RDRAM's 4.2GB/sec of bandwidth feeding the Pentium 4.

MSI's new GNB Max-FISR is the first Intel E7205 (Granite Bay) based motherboard to hit the HotHardware Labs and it brings with it 4.3GB/sec of Dual Channel DDR at 266MHz.  Now, drop down AGP8X support and Intel's new ICH4 with USB 2.0 as well as a host of features like integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet, courtesy of Intel's 82540 MAC/Phy chip and you get the idea on what this board is all about; as in WWF style "no holds barred" with all the tricks.  First let's run down the feature set and design of this new board from MSI.  Then we'll get down to what you come here for, a comprehensive performance analysis versus other top solutions in the field.

Specifications / Features of the MSI GNB MAX-FISR
Dual Channel DDR For The P4

   
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN FULL VIEW
 

CPU
- Supports Socket 478 for Intel® Pentium 4 (Northwood only) processor
- Supports up 3.06G/533MHz and higher speed


Chipset
Intel® E7205 Chipset
- Supports single processor up to 533MHz
- Supports 144bit wide DDR 2100 memory interface, with the
  memory bandwidth of 4.3GB/s or 3.2 GB/s
- Supports AGP 8x or 4x at 0.8V (AGP 3.0) or 4x at 1.5V
 

Intel® ICH4 Chipset
- AC'97 Controller Integrated
- 2 full IDE channels, up to ATA100
- Low pin count interface for SIO
- Integrated USB 2.0 controller


Bus Frequency
- Supports 100/133MHz FSB
- Supports 400/533MHz Intel NetBurst micro-architecture bus

Memory
- Supports Dual channel (144-bit wide) DDR 266 memory
  interface. Each channel supports 2 DIMM Sockets
- Supports four 184-pin DDR DIMM sockets up to 4GB.
- Supports non-ECC(x64) or ECC(x72) DIMMs DDR PC2001
  DIMM using 128Mb, 256Mb, 512Mb and 1GB SDRAM.


IDE
- An IDE controller on the ICH4 chipset provides IDE HDD/ CD-ROM with PIO,
  Bus Master and Ultra DMA66/100 operation modes.
- Can connect up to four IDE devices.
- Promise 20376 controllers 2 Serial ATA ports in 150 MB/s
  operation mode and 1 Ultra DMA port. (optional)


Audio

- C-Media 8738MX supports 2/4/6 channel speaker + SPDIF out

System BIOS
- 2Mb Award BIOS w/ PnP, ACPI, SMBIOS 2.3, Green and Boot Block
- Provides DMI2.0, WfM2.0, WOL, WOR, chassis intrusion, and SMBus for system management

Expansion Slots
- One 8X/4X AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) universal slot
- Five PCI v2.2 32-bit master PCI bus slots

LAN
Intel® 82540EM
- Integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet MAC and PHY in one chip
- Supports 10Mb/s and 100Mb/s auto-negotiation operation
- Compliance with PCI v2.2, mini PCI 1.0 and LAN on Motherboard (LOM) standard.

- 1 PC2PC Bluetooth connector for WLAN connection (optional)

Internal I/O Connectors
On-Board Peripherals include:
- 1 floppy port supports 2 FDDs with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M
  and 2.88Mbytes
- 2 serial ports (COM A + COM B)
- 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
- 6 USB 2.0 ports (Rear x 4 / Front x 2)
- 1 Line-In/Line-Out/Mic-In port
- 2 PS/2 connectors
- 1 LAN RJ45 connector
(Optional)
- 1394 port controlled by VT6306, with up to 400Mbps transfer
   rate.
(Optional)

Back Panel I/O
2 PS/2 connectors (keyboard and mouse)
2 9-pin Serial port
1 25-pin SPP/ECP/EPP Parallel port
4 USB 2.0 ports
3 Audio connectors (Line-out, Line-in, Mic-in)
1 Gigabit LAN port

Miscellaneous

ATX form factor
30.5 cm(L) x 24.7 cm(W) ATX Form Factor
Nine mounting holes


Package Contents
MSI GNB Max-FISR Motherboard
Drivers and Utilities CD
Installation Manual
ATA 133 IDE Cable
Floppy Cable
D-Bracket?2 (Optional)
S-Bracket? (Optional)

I/O shield
MSI Case Badge

Special Features
Fuzzy Logic 4?
Live BIOS? / Live Driver?
Live Monitor?


This board has it all.  What other features could you possibly want in a new P4 board?  The MSI GNB MAX-FISR has 6 ports of USB 2.0, integrated Gigabit Ethernet, Firewire and sound.  The sound chip is a C-Media 87398MX which provides excellent 6 channel surround sound capabilities.  Finally, the icing on the cake, is the board's on board Promise 20376 SATA RAID Controller.  Now we just need one of these foolish drive OEMs to release some SATA Hard Drives and we'll be styling.

 

        
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

Intel's E7205 chipset, as you can see, provides 4.3GB/sec of memory bandwidth to the Pentium 4's 533MHz system bus.  The chipset supports up to 4GB of RAM, so server implementations can easily be supported with the cost effectiveness that DDR DRAM offers.  In addition, AGP8X support is provided and we are happy to report that our Radeon 9700 Pro, that we used for testing, worked flawlessly throughout our benchmark runs.  Finally, above you'll see that MSI puts a nice touch on the motherboard, with an active heat sink and fan combination cooling the Granite Bay chip itself.

Layout, Quality and BIOS Setup 

 
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The MSI GNB Max Motherboard - Page 2

The MSI GNB Max-FISR Motherboard
Intel's Granite Bay With Dual Channel DDR and AGP8X

By, Dave Altavilla
December 8, 2002

Features and Setup
Granite Bay with all the creature comforts

The layout of the MSI GNB Max-FISR is very nicely done, with power connectors at the edge of the board.  However, there are a fair number of large metal can capacitors around the CPU socket, which may inhibit some larger heat sink installations.  This is not a show stopper however, the retention brackets are unobstructed and for the most part there is ample room to get by.

   

Also, notice the fairly large heat sinks attached to the power MOSFETs near the CPU socket.  This is a big plus in our opinion.  We've had more than one Pentium 4 board here in the lab, go meta-stable due to overheated MOSFETs during overclocking.  As a matter of fact, we would go so far as to say, that if you don't have these attached to the FETs on your P4 board, it is cheap insurance to add them and it may very well bring you better over-all stability, especially if you like to overclock.

     

   
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR FULL VIEW

As we noted earlier, this board has a myriad of bells and whistles with all the latest features in connectivity technology.  As a matter of fact, it is as if EVERYONE came to this party.  Winbond, VIA, Intel, Promise, C-Media, and ICS all provide the latest gizmos, from USB 2.0 to Gigabit Ethernet and SATA (Serial ATA) RAID.

MSI GNB MAX-FISR BIOS Setup
So plain for such a feature packed board, it's a shame

Then we hit a bit of a brick wall.  At first, the BIOS on the board that we received was ridiculously bland.  There were only limited Front Side Bus speed selections to chose from and no voltage adjustments whatsoever.  However, we did obtain a new BIOS from MSI and here are a few screens from the setup that is available.

 

 
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR FULL VIEW

This version of the MSI GNB Max-FISR BIOS is still pretty boring.  It's a shame, with all the features and capabilities of this board and the chipset that powers it, that MSI doesn't give the enthusiast the tools to work with, like they have in virtually all the other boards they have released in the market today.  The only real tweaking features that are available, as of right now, are memory timings and FSB selection in 1MHz increments up to 200MHz.  There are still no voltage tweaks for DRAM or CPU adjustments.  One word... bummer.  We're very hopeful that MSI will release a BIOS for the GNB Max-FISR, that will unlock its full potential and give the end user full control over performance optimizations and tweaks.
 

Sandra and Winstones

 
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The MSI GNB Max Motherboard - Page 3

The MSI GNB Max-FISR Motherboard
Intel's Granite Bay With Dual Channel DDR and AGP8X

By, Dave Altavilla
December 8, 2002

Performance Comparisons with XMPEG - Divx 5.02 Conversion
Video Conversion Performance

If there is one test that truly exercises overall system bandwidth, it would have to be a Divx conversion with XMPEG.  Here we've taken a 20MB MPEG 2 file and converted it to Divx format with an installed Divx 5.02 CODEC.

 


 
             

Here the Granite Bay based MSI board shows the same relative scale in performance, that we saw in the previous Winstone tests.  The GNB Max-FISR is some 5% faster than the i850E with PC1066 RDRAM and some 10% faster than the i845PE board.
 

Performance Comparisons with 3DMark 2001SE
A very Mad Onion

MadOnion's 3DMark 2001SE is up next and it too likes it's healthy share of memory bandwidth but not at the expense of overall CPU performance.  Let's see how things stack up here.

               1024X768 - 32 Bit Color

            

Well, it's nip and tuck for the i850E PC1066 system and the MSI GNB Max-FISR, however the photo finish goes to the Granite Bay board once again.  This edge is most likely due in part to the AGP8X timing that is driving the Radeon 9700 Pro and giving it a few more clock cycles of bandwidth.  We ran the default benchmark, since it is a well known metric that most folks use.  However, a better test may have been a low resolution mode, where the graphics pipeline would not be the limiting factor.
 

Quake 3 Arena Time Demo Benchmark
Old, crusty but still relevant

So, here's an example of a test setup where the graphics pipeline will be running flat out and open, barely breaking a sweat at 640X480 resolution.  We set up our Quake 3 Time Demo run at the "Normal" setting with low 640X480 resolution.  This will help to isolate the CPU and showcase overall System Bandwidth as well.

               640X480 - 16 Color and Textures

Get a good look at the scores here.  This is the first and last time in this review, where you'll see the i850E with PC1066 RDRAM, outpace the Granite Bay Dual Channel DDR MSI board.  Although the GNB Max passes by the i845PE board with a 10% lead, it is then surpassed by the i850E system by a small margin of 3.7%.  It's hard to say why this is the case but perhaps it could be that Q3 is heavily weighted by memory bus speed, where the 1.06GHz (533 clock doubled) RDRAM bus gives it the edge.

 Unreal Tournament 2003 and the rating

 

 
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The MSI GNB Max Motherboard - Page 4

The MSI GNB Max-FISR Motherboard
Intel's Granite Bay With Dual Channel DDR and AGP8X

By, Dave Altavilla
December 8, 2002

Performance Comparisons with Unreal Tournament 2003
High End Direct X Gaming Performance

We feel this next round of testing is really where the rubber meets the road.  Unreal Tournament 2003 is definitely a CPU resource hog.  However, it is also a system bandwidth and memory bandwidth hog, with it's large detailed textures transferring across the AGP bus from system to local memory.  We did however, try to minimize the amount of effort the Radeon 9700 Pro had to put forth in this test, with a low quality 640X480 resolution benchmark run.  Will Dual Channel DDR and AGP8X be enough to push past the i850E PC1066 setup?  We think so but check the numbers here.


 
         640X480 Resolution

 

   640X480 Resolution

In both the Bot Match and Fly By runs, the MSI GNB Max-FISR pulled ahead of the i850E PC1066 system by about 3%.  Perhaps this isn't a huge increase in performance but it did scale in both types of testing here and was consistent and repeatable.  Is the average user going to notice a few extra frames per second?  Absolutely not but a performance lead is a lead regardless and the AGP8X, Dual Channel DDR MSI GNB Max-FISR, shows it's got one up on it's siblings.  Now, think about what this chipset could do with DDR333 behind the wheel or even DDR400.  We hope to prove this out with a new BIOS from MSI or as other Granite Bay boards come into the HH Lab.

 

Final Analysis:

We were thoroughly impressed with the overall performance of the GNB Max-FISR from MSI.  This board took the lead from our i850E/PC1066 test bed in almost every test, with the exception of Quake 3.  Remember, this is a new chipset from Intel, so as it matures we should see incremental performance enhancements and more OEMs like MSI delivering various flavors and incarnations of the product.  The feature set and pack in kit of this board, are second to none and we love to see SATA RAID and Gigabit Ethernet on board.  If only SATA Hard Drives would ship to the retail channel.  On the downside, this board is fighting with one hand tied behind its back, with it's lack luster BIOS and no real overclocking features beyond FSB adjustments.  Once again, we want to urge MSI to do the right thing and release a BIOS update, that turns this board into the tweaked out power-house it wants to be.

All told, Intel's new Granite Bay chipset shows enormous promise with DDR DRAM driven performance that will put another nail in RDRAM's coffin.  If you are in the market to pick up a Pentium 4 board, there is really no reason to look at the i850E chipset any longer, even though a few months ago we would have advised you otherwise.  Intel's E7205 with Dual Channel DDR266 memory, although it will be a tad more expensive than the i845PE, is a better value on the price/performance curve.  The MSI GNB Max-FISR is a great board with aspirations for near perfection, that is only a BIOS revision away.  In it's current state, we'll give it a HotHardware Heat Meter Rating of...

  • AGP 8x Support
  • Gigabit LAN
  • 6-channel on-board audio
  • Faster than even i850E with PC1066
  • Firewire, USB 2.0 and SATA RAID
  • BIOS tweaking options are minimal
  • Didn't overclock well
  • Lack of official DDR333 support

Discuss This, Or Any Other Review in the PC Hardware Forum!

 

 

 
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MSI GNB Max Motherboard Page 5


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