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MSI P4N Diamond nForce4-SLI Motherboard
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Date: Jan 12, 2006
Section:Motherboards
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

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. 

      
CLICK ON ANY IMAGE FOR A CLOSER VIEW

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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Layout and Features

  

Layout and Features of the MSI P4N Diamond
Is the P4N a diamond in the rough?

MSI's strategy in regard to layout and color scheme with the P4N Diamond tie together perfectly.  With some other boards, there's little rhyme or reason when it comes to putting all of the pieces together.  One look at the P4N Diamond, and you can see otherwise.  The board itself is dark; possibly a dark brown mixed with black.  Major slots or ports, however, are brightly colored, which allows the builder to quickly find the slot they're looking for.  Anyone who works in low-light conditions can appreciate the neon-like colors that are used for the DIMM slots, IDE ports, and to a lesser degree, the six SATA ports along the front of the board.  Even the pins for the front panel are color coded, which means no more hunting down a manual when it's time to re-build.  One issue we did have with the color scheme, however, was with the DIMM slots.  Usually, when using dual channel memory, it's more convenient to have both slots for one channel in one color, to help signify where the RAM should be correctly placed.  MSI's take is to have the channels colored together, so that Channel A is Green and Channel B is Orange.  Thus, one installs a DIMM into a Green and an Orange slot to propagate both channels.

       

There's nothing overly fancy when it comes to cooling down the North and South bridges.  A smaller, actively cooled heatsink with fan was placed on the NorthBridge, while a larger, passive heatsink sat atop the SouthBridge.  To allow for better heat absorption, this heatsink has a copper core with aluminum fins, but we noticed that it was still running quite hot during our testing.  It's nothing like the heatpipes that we've seen lately or like advanced cooling techniques on other boards.  Still, proper placement of case fans and clean cabling techniques can keep the board running cool and stable, and the methods MSI employs add little to overall noise output.

        
        

Although the layout of the board seems optimal, the lower left edge of the board is particularly crowded with connectors and other motherboard devices.  Sitting close to the SouthBridge are all six SATA ports, as well as the front panel pins, and three USB 2.0 connectors which can be used for front panel access.  Nestled in the same area are the MSI Core Cell and AMIBIOS chips, as well as the VIA VT6306 FireWire controller.  Just about the only chip not found here is the Creative SoundBlaster Live 24-bit on-board audio, which is found on the other side of the board, between the PCI slots and the chassis.  One last addition, which is easy to overlook, is a small red button that's used to clear the CMOS should any problems occur that prevent normal booting.

       

Of course, no review of an nForce4-SLI board would be complete without taking a look at the layout of the PCI and PCI Express slots.  Clearly advertised by the blue sticker placed between the x16 slots, the P4N Diamond was one of the first boards to use what MSI calls a Digital SLI Switch.  This basically means that the board automatically detects when a second graphics card has been added, and allocate 8 lanes for each.  No slots come between the two PCI-e x16 slots, preventing any conflicts with larger heatsinks that come on some of the 7800GTX models.  A single PCI-e x1 slot is placed to the right of the primary x16 slot, directly adjacent to a 4-pin MOLEX power connector.  On the other side are two standard PCI slots, one in white and the other colored orange.  The orange slot is colored so, as it can be used to install a communications card as well as standard third-party PCI cards.

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BIOS and Overclocking Results

 

Examining the BIOS of the MSI P4N Diamond
Tinkering with this and that...

There's plenty of room for tweaking in the AMI BIOS that MSI provides for the P4N Diamond.  Whether it's basic functions like adjusting memory timings or more advanced overclocking tools, this board's BIOS has got it all.  Starting with the Standard menus, we've got options used to configure anywhere from 1 to 8 drives on either the two IDE channels or the four SATA channels controlled by the SouthBridge.  Even more impressive, once one enters the NVIDIA RAID setup feature from the Integrated Peripherals screen, hard drives installed to any of those eight channels can be used in the creation of that RAID array.  Think an 8-drive JBOD and RAID 0 array spanning both IDE and SATA channels.

        

        

The rest of the on-board components are handled from the Integrated Peripherals screen, which allow the user to determine interrupt addresses for the various devices, or disable them entirely.  These options include enabling or disabling the on-board Creative audio as well as the Silicon Image SATA RAID controller, which supports another two SATA hard drives.  There's also a handy PC Health Status screen, which keeps user apprised of the Temperature, Fan Speed, and Voltages of the vital components.

The real jewel of the BIOS focuses on the Cell Menu, controlled by the Core Cell chip on the board itself.  It's within here that the real power of the P4N Diamond can be unlocked, either manually or automatically.  While we would normally stick with manually adjusting our rigs, CPU Dynamic Overclocking is a good way for some users to get some extra power from their system without having to worry about the details.  MSI has a peculiar way of assigning their overclock levels, preferring to use military titles with associated percentages.  Choosing 'Private' means a conservative 1% boost while going up the ranks to 'Commander' will increase clock speeds by 15%.

        

        

Manually setting the FSB and Memory clocks can provide greater speeds than the Dynamic Overclocking will allow for, but it requires a bit more insight and fine-tuning.   As it is with all nForce-4 SLI boards, CPU and Memory clock speeds are adjusted independent of each other.  Instead of dividers which force higher memory clock speeds in relation to the FSB chosen, one can raise the FSB solely, leaving the memory at stock speeds, if this was desirable.  For our purposes, we will be raising both of them, but at the same time locking in the PCI-E Frequency, to minimize any instability that could occur with the graphic card.  Raising speeds often requires raising the voltages, and this too is covered under the Voltage Control Function within the Cell Menu.  Separate from the Cell Menu, however, is an additional option to overclock both the GPU and Memory of the video card itself, but only using MSI's built-in options.

Overclocking Tools
Reaching deep into the Core

      

Even with all of the tools available to us within the BIOS, we wanted to take a crack at some of the utilities that come with the P4N Diamond, and specifically test the CoreCenter application.  CoreCenter is a GUI implementation that gives Windows users a quick look at many BIOS related functions, all at once.  Temperatures, fan speeds, and voltages are displayed on the main part of the screen and are updated dynamically.  Click on the arrows on either side to provide advanced functions including raising the FSB speed, boosting the CPU, DDR, or NorthBridge voltages, or setting alarm thresholds.  Not shown above, an additional SLI Mode button appears when two GeForce cards are installed, which can even allow the user to move in or out of SLI Mode at the click of a button.  We clicked on the 'Auto' button to get a feel for how well the P4N Diamond would take to overclocking.  Unfortunately, while the FSB pushed up to some nice speeds, it caused the system to crash without us being able to verify the top speed reachable.  

SANDRA CPU Results
Overclocked to 4.04GHz
CPU-Z Details with CPU
Overclocked to 4.04GHz

Back to ol' faithful, or the BIOS in this case, we began to duplicate the CoreCenter's efforts by raising the FSB 5MHz at a time.  Once we reached 230MHz, we found that we needed to boost the CPU Voltage an extra 0.75V to keep the system stable.  We also gave the memory an extra 0.5V, but didn't want to push too much here since the Corsair XM2 sticks we were using were already set at 2.1V.  At this point it was largely hit or miss with overclocking, and we noticed some higher temperatures than expected on the CPU.  We took a look at our setup, took it apart, and made sure that the connection between the CPU and heatsink was tight, with some Arctic Silver 5 used as the TIM. After reassembly, the system topped out at 237MHz for the FSB, and about 4.04GHz for the CPU.  This is just about the highest we've reached with this CPU, and the gains are obvious:  SANDRA scores jumped up about 20% over their original values.

 

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Testing Setup and SANDRA Scores

  

How we configured our test systems: When configuring the test systems for this review, we first entered the system BIOS and set each board to their "Optimized" or "High-Performance Defaults".  The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 was installed. Then we installed all of the necessary drivers, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were disabled, and we setup a 1536MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance", installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives and ran all of the tests.

NOTE: By default, the front side bus of the Abit AW8-MAX was shown as 204MHz in CPU-Z.  As this would give an immediate advantage over the other boards, we opted to manually lower the bus speed to 200MHz in the BIOS to level the playing field.  

Test System Specifications
Intel and NVIDIA come out of their corners!
Motherboards Tested:
MSI P4N Diamond (nForce 4 SLI Intel Edition)

Asus P5N32-SLI Deluxe (nForce 4 SLI X16 Intel Edition)
Abit AW8-MAX (Intel i955X)
Asus P5WD2 Premium (Intel i955X)


Common Hardware:
Intel Pentium 4 550 Processor @ 3.4GHz
2x512MB Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2-667 (CL 4-4-4-12)
nVidia GeForce 7800GT

On-board audio & LAN
Seagate Barracuda V SATA Hard Drive

Software / System Drivers:
Windows XP with Service Pack 2
DirectX 9.0c
nVidia nForce4 SLI X16 Chipset Drivers, v6.82
nVidia ForceWare Drivers v78.85

Intel INF Chipset Drivers, v7.21.1003

Preliminary Benchmarks With SiSoft SANDRA 2005 SR2
http://www.sisoftware.net

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. SANDRA consists of a set of information and diagnostic utilities that can provide a host of useful information about your hardware and operating system. We ran three of the built-in sub-system tests (CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth) that partially comprise the SANDRA 2005 suite of benchmarks.  All of these tests were run with the MSI P4N Diamond powered by an Intel Pentium 4 550 3.4 GHz CPU with 1GB of Corsair XMS2 Pro DDR2 and compared against similar systems from SANDRA's database.



CPU Arithmetic Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)


Memory Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)


CPU Multimedia Benchmark
Pentium 4 550 @ 3.4GHz
1024MB DDR2 (CL4)

SANDRA's CPU Arithmetic and Multimedia benchmarks show that the MSI P4N Diamond is running very much on par with a reference Pentium 4 550 from the internal database.  Memory bandwidth, however, was slightly lower than what was seen with 955X boards such as the Asus P5WD2 and AW8-MAX that we will be using in this review.  When compared to the i955X boards, the bandwidth was nearly 200MB/s lower.  These results did not hold up in further testing as the PCMark05 Memory module had the nForce4-SLI boards performing at equal, if not better, levels.

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PCMark05 Comparisons

 

Futuremark's PCMark05
http://www.futuremark.com/

For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and Memory performance modules built into Futuremark's brand new PCMark05.   In the course of working with PCMark 05 we have found it to be even more robust in terms of test features than its predecessor.  That said, the CPU and Memory test modules we use for comparison are very similar to the '04 version of the test suite.  For those interested in more than just the graphs, we've got a couple of quotes directly from Futuremark that explain exactly what these tests do, and how they work:

"The CPU suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. The CPU Test Suite also includes multithreading: two of the test scenarios are run multithreaded; the other including two simultaneous tests and the other running four tests simultaneously. The remaining six tests are run single threaded. Operations include, File Compression/Decompression, Encryption/Decryption, Image Decompression, and Audio Compression" - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

The PCMark05 CPU module's results were a close grouping of the Abit and Asus boards with the only notable distinction being the MSI P4N Diamond, which was about 50 points off the pace.  The overall lead, if you will, goes to the Asus P5N32-SLI.  However, with such a small difference between it and the nearest board, the AW8-MAX, we won't be able to make any early calls on CPU performance.


"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."  - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

The memory module performance was also quite close, although once again the Asus P5N32-SLI barely held onto a very scant lead over the MSI P4N Diamond and the other boards.  Only 36 points separated the top board from the bottom, measuring out to a margin of less than one percent.  Synthetically speaking, CPU and Memory performance is on par for both the i955X and nForce4 SLI boards.

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World Bench 5.0 - Photoshop 7 & Office XP Modules

PC World's World Bench 5.0: Photoshop 7 & Office XP Modules
http://www.pcworld.com/pcwtools/worldbench.asp

PC World Magazine's WorldBench 5.0 is a new breed of Business and Professional application benchmark, poised to replace the aging and no-longer supported Content Creation and Business Winstone tests. WorldBench 5.0 consists of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of, popular applications to gauge performance.  Below we have the results from WB 5's Photoshop 7 and Office XP SP2 modules, recorded in seconds.  Lower times indicate better performance.



 

 

In the WorldBench 5.0 tests, we found that all but one of the boards were operating at nearly the same level.  The Intel chipset based Asus P5WD2 was consistently about 15 seconds slower than the other three.  On the other hand, the MSI P4N Diamond finished the Photoshop module in the shortest amount of time (tied with the Asus P5N32-SLI) and was the third quickest in the Office XP Module, only off by two seconds

 

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Encoding Time Tests

 

World Bench 5.0 - Windows Media Encoder 9
Digital VideoEncoding

We continued testing with another module from World Bench 5, this time based on Windows Media Encoder 9.  PC WorldBench 5's Windows Media Encoding test reports encoding times in seconds, and like the tests on the previous page, lower times indicate better performance here.

The overall spread in this test was a mere five seconds, bookmarked on both ends by the Asus boards.  In the benchmarks so far, we've seen very close groupings of the boards performance-wise, with an ever so slight edge going to the nForce4-SLI boards.

LAME MP3 Encoding Tests
Breaking the Sound Barrier

In our custom Lame MP3 encoding tests, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a regular basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  In this test, we chose a large 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format.  Processing times are recorded below.  Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

Not much can be said for the MP3 encoding tests.  Each board completed the conversion in either 2 minutes 25 seconds or 2 minutes 26 seconds.  Given some room for error, we may as well call this benchmark a four-way tie.

 

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Kribibench 1.1 Benchmarks

Kribibench v1.1
http:// www.adeptdevelopment.com

Next up, we ran Kribibench, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer.  A 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU, and the average frame rate is reported.  We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and a gargantuan "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys...

 

 

 

The overall differences amongst the boards hasn't changed much when testing with Kribibench, although the relative order has.  Whereas much of the testing so far had the nForce4-SLI boards as the top performers, we find that the frame rates in Kribibench are leaning ever so slightly in Intel's favor.  The MSI P4N Diamond was found to have the slowest time in each of our tests.

 

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Cinebench 2003 and 3DMark05 Results

 

Cinebench 2003 Performance Tests
3D Modeling & Rendering Tests

The Cinebench 2003 benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application.  This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below (listed in seconds). 

 

Our Cinebench 2003 chart mirrors exactly what we saw in the LAME MP3 encoding.  That is, the Asus P5N32-SLI and Abit AW8-MAX boards are tied for the lead with the fastest scene rendering.  On the other hand, the Asus P5WD2 and MSI P4N Diamond are also tied, this time for last place, yet only 0.2 seconds off of the mark.    

Futuremark 3DMark05 - CPU Test
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

3DMark05's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer, which is dependant on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test is used to determine the final score.

 

3DMark05 showed us a wide disparity between the two chipsets.  Basically, it appears that the i955X chipset is handling graphic card to CPU calls more efficiently than the nForce4-SLI boards.  There's a definite 100-point gap that separates the two sets of board. Further testing will determine how this will affect actual gameplay results.  

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Unreal Tournament 2004 and Doom3

Unreal Tournament 2004
DirectX 8 Gaming Performance

To start our in-game testing, we did some low-resolution benchmarking with Unreal Tournament 2004.  When testing with UT 2004, we use a specific set of game engine initialization settings that ensure all of the systems are being benchmarked with the exact same in-game settings and graphical options.  In the following two game tests, we used "Low-Quality" graphical settings and low screen resolutions which isolates CPU and Memory performance.

There's quite a close grouping in UT2004 testing, with the MSI P4N Diamond right near the top, and the Asus boards on either side. Less than a quarter of a frame per second separated these three boards.  The AW8-MAX was a full frame behind, although this equals less than one percent of a difference. 

Benchmarks with Doom 3
OpenGL Gaming Performance

For our next game test, we benchmarked all of the test systems using a custom multi-player Doom 3 timedemo. We cranked the resolution down to 640 x 480, and configured the game to run at its "Low-Quality" graphics setting. Although Doom 3 typically taxes today's high-end GPUs, when it's configured at these minimal settings it too is more CPU and memory-bound than anything else.

Again we're looking at some frame rates that for all intents and purposes should be considered equal.  The list from top to bottom doesn't remain the same, however, with the MSI P4N Diamond moving towards the front and the P5WD2 slipping to the rear.  Still, we're talking fractions of a frame per second at already-blistering rates.  In these real-world gaming tests, we're not seeing any of the dropoff that we expected after viewing the 3DMark05 results.

 

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SLI Testing - MSI P4N Diamond vs. Asus P5N32-SLI

SLI Testing Comparisons
Two cards are better than one

From the low-quality gaming benchmarks, we're now going to move on to some more demanding tests using a pair of 7800GTs in SLI mode.  For these tests, we will only be using the MSI P4N Diamond with the original n4Force-SLI chipset and the Asus P5N32-SLI using the updated n4Force-SLI X16.  Basically, what we're looking for here is some evidence that upgrading from 16 to 32 PCI-e lanes for graphics improves performance.  We will stick with two of the more demanding graphic engines; Doom3 and Far Cry.

 

In our testing of two popular games using two 7800GTs in SLI mode, we can see a small, yet favorable increase in frame rates with the P5N32-SLI over the MSI P4N Diamond.  It's not quite a monumental improvement, as doubling the number of lanes has only increased performance by 4-11 percent.

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Benchmark Analysis and Conclusion

Benchmark Analysis: The MSI P4N Diamond had no trouble keeping up with newer motherboards, such as the Abit AW8-MAX and the Asus P5N32-SLI Deluxe.  While the performance reported by PCMark05 and 3DMark05's CPU test seemed to paint the P4N Diamond in a somewhat negative light, application and gaming performance using real-world tests did not reflect the same findings, as the nForce4-SLI based MSI P4N Diamond was typically a shade faster than its Intel chipset based counterparts.  When comparing the nForce4-SLI to the most recent revision of that chipset, the SLI X16, there are some performance gains to be found, but too few that were significant, at least at this point in time.

At the conclusion of our testing of the nForce 4 SLIX16 based Asus P5N32-SLI Deluxe, we ended up being somewhat disappointed.  The board suffered from some instability issues, and the slight performance increases offered by the new chipset didn't justify the much higher price at the time. However, MSI P4N Diamond, conversly showed us rock-solid stability, impressive overclocking results, a digital SLI switch, and a very complete, customizable BIOS. It's been a relative pleasure having the P4N Diamond on our test-bench, as we've encountered no major issues or problems, and performance was very good.

In addition, MSI has pulled out all the stops, and has given the buyer their money's worth with a complete bundle, both on the peripheral side and with the included software.  The P4N Diamond also benefits from on-board components such as a complete 7.1 channel audio solution in the Creative Labs Live!, two Serial ATA controllers with RAID options for each, and dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers.  With the newer SLI X16 boards pushing the price down on the older boards, the P4N Diamond is now retailing in the $170-185 range. Considering the very complete bundle, the board's digital SLI switch, along with very good stability and performance, we think the P4N Diamond is a good deal for Intel fans looking to move to an SLI capable motherboard.  As such, we're giving the MSI P4N Diamond a 8.5 on the Heat Meter.

_Performance Compared Favorably with SLIX16
_Sound Blaster Live! audio
_Digital SLI Switch
_Great Bundle
_Very Good Overclocker
_Southbridge ran a little hot
_Less Graphics Bandwidth than SLIX16

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