Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
MSI K9N SLI Platinum nForce 570 SLI Motherboard
Transparent
Date: Dec 04, 2006
Section:Motherboards
Author: Alex Evans
Transparent
Overview

 

Nvidia's SLI technology launched in mid-2004, and was designed to provide high-performance rendering power for gamers. Because the technology was brand new, and the fastest thing on the market, SLI configurations demanded exorbitant price premiums over single card configurations, despite first generation issues like software compatibility, driver problems, and hardware issues. Setting up a "budget" SLI system was simply out of the question at first, as SLI-enabled graphics cards were only available at the high end of the price range, as were SLI-enabled motherboards.

Now that Nvidia's GeForce 6 and 7-series lineups (both SLI enabled) have been out-dated by the new GeForce 8 lineup, we're seeing prices on SLI-enabled hardware fall to surprisingly low levels. There are now thousands of prospective choices for setting up an SLI-enabled machine, as Nvidia has enabled this technology on graphics cards as inexpensive as $50, and SLI-equipped motherboards can be had for under $100 as well. While it used to cost a minimum of $1,000 for SLI technology, going SLI today is easy and inexpensive - not to mention far more stable than initial implementations.

As an added bonus, SLI-equipped motherboards offer advantages for those who don't even care about doubling their GPU rendering power. SLI motherboards can appeal to workstation and home theater PC owners as well, or anyone who wants to use high-end PCI Express expansion cards. SLI motherboards are all equipped with dual PCI Express x16 sized connectors - which means that even if you only use one graphics card, you've still got another PCI Express x16 sized slot to use. As PCI Express is scalable, you can easily throw in a PCI Express x4 RAID controller or a PCI Express x1 TV Tuner and not have to worry about bandwidth sharing with other devices on the PCI bus, as PCI Express offers dedicated bandwidth.

Today we're looking at a budget-targeted SLI equipped motherboard from MSI, the K9N SLI Platinum. While the motherboard was originally targeted at high-end gamers when it was initially launched (and still can work quite well in this environment), the plummeting prices of SLI gear and the introduction of newer, more attractive SLI-enabled chipsets have allowed this board to now be priced for those with significantly lower budgets. Let's see what it has to offer. 

Shipping Box - Top

Shipping Box - Bottom

Specifications

CPU

Supports 64-bit AMD Athlon 64 / Athlon 64FX / Athlon 64 X2 processor (Socket AM2)

Chipset

NVIDIA nForce 570 SLI Chipset
HyperTransport link to the AMD Socket-AM2 CPU
Supports PCI Express x16 / PCI Express x 1 connections
Independent SATA-II controllers for six drives
Single Fast ATA-133 IDE controller

Memory

Supports dual channel DDR2 533 / 667 / 800
Supports up to four 240-pin DDR2 DIMMs
Supports the memory size up to 8 GB
Supports 1.8v DDR2 SDRAM DIMM

Slots

Two PCI Express X16 slot (supports PCI Express Bus specification v1.0a compliant)
2nd PCI Express X16 is compatible with PCI Express x 8
Two PCI Express X1 slot
Three 32-bit Master PCI Bus slots, one orange slot reserves as communication slot.
Support 3.3V/5V PCI bus Interface

On-Board IDE/SATA

IDE controller supports up to 2 IDE devices
NV RAID supports 6 SATA II/300 ports (SATA 1-6)
NV RAID (Software)
Supports up to 6 SATA-II drives
RAID 0 or 1, 0+1, 5, JBOD is supported

BIOS

The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface (DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.
Supports boot from LAN, USB Device 1.1 & 2.0 and SATA HDD

 

Audio

Chip integrated by Realtek ALC883
Flexible 8-channel audio with jack sensing
Compliant with Azalia 1.0 spec

LAN

Supports dual RJ-45 Ethernet jacks
Dual LAN supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by nForce 570 SLI

IEEE1394

VIA 6307 32-bit PCI chipset
Supports up to 2 x 1394 ports
Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps

On-Board Peripherals

1 floppy port
1 serial port
1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
1 audio jack (5-in-1), coaxial/fibre SPDIF out
10 USB 2.0 ports (Rear x 4 / Front x 6)
2 RJ45 LAN jack
1 D-Bracket 2 pinheader
2 IEEE 1394 a connectors (Rear x 1/ Front x 1)
1 CD-in pinheader
1 IrDA pinheader

Dimension

11.96 in (L) x 9.61 in(W) ATX Form Factor

 

Transparent
Board Layout

 

Board Layout

The K9N SLI Platinum has a sleek black PCB paired with some silver colored aluminum heatsinks which make the board stand out compared to similarly priced platforms, although the board doesn't put too much effort into aesthetics. Fairly standard stuff here, the board runs off a standard ATX form factor design and requires a 24-pin primary ATX connector with a 4-pin secondary +12V ATX connector. There is also an additional 4-pin Molex connector designed to provide extra power for those running SLI configurations, but this is not a requirement. 

Board View - Left

Board View - Right

The board supports all grades of Socket-AM2 processors, ranging from inexpensive Sempron processors to the more mainstream Athlon64 / X2 chips, and even the high-end Athlon64 FX (only the AM2 variants, not the newer Socket-1207 versions) and Socket-AM2 based Opteron 100-series processors. The board comes with the Socket-AM2 heatsink retention system pre-installed, and MSI leaves a good amount of space around the CPU socket for larger coolers. There is a set of capacitors to the left of the socket, however, which could lead to some issues with extremely large coolers. In addition, MSI places the +12V ATX connector oddly underneath the CPU socket and over the primary PCI Express x16 slot, which means you have to run a cable to this hard to reach area. This could have been placed in a better location. There is a lightweight aluminum heatsink which sits on top of the motherboard's VRM components, which can get insanely hot with high-end processors and/or overclocking. This heatsink will also receive residual airflow from the nearby CPU cooler.

The board is equipped with 4 x DDR2 DIMM sockets capable of supporting up to 8GB of memory. Since the memory sockets connect to the processors' integrated dual channel memory controller, the memory limitations are identical to that of other Socket-AM2 systems. Peak bandwidth levels at 12.8 GB/s when using dual-channel DDR2-800 memory modules.

The nForce 570 SLI chip sits in-between the two PCI Express x16 slots and is cooled by a short, but wide passive cooling system. The cooler which sits on the 570 SLI has a copper base connected to aluminum alloy fins for heat dissipation. The cooler can get extremely hot, especially with two hot graphics cards sitting on either side of it. However, we did not experience any heat-related issues here. As we mentioned, the cooler is passive, so there are no fans or chances of fan failure during the later lifespan of the board. Interestingly enough, once the cooler is removed, you can see space on the motherboard for an entire other chip underneath - with the 570 board, MSI simply fills this extra space between the PCB and the cooler with a thermal pad, helping to remove heat on the PCB near the 570 SLI chip. 

Underneath the cooler lies the nForce 570 SLI.

The nForce 570 SLI is a single-chip solution, providing connectivity for the PCI Express x16 graphics card slots in addition to PCI, SATA, USB, and other chipset-level items. Since the 570 SLI is a single chip solution, this cuts down on costs, power consumption, and heat compared to the nForce 590 SLI, which is a dual-chip solution.

The big drawback in comparison to the high-end nForce 590 SLI is that the nForce 570 SLI only supports 28 lanes of PCI Express connectivity, which means this motherboard cannot run "true" 16 x 16 SLI configurations. Each PCI Express x16 slot must share 16 lanes of bandwidth, which means when two graphics cards are installed; each PCI Express x16 "sized" slot will run at x8 bandwidth levels. However, we have yet to see any instances where a modern graphics card will run significantly faster on PCI Express x16 rather than PCI Express x8, although some enthusiasts will undoubtedly feel miffed if they know their shiny new PCIe graphics cards are only running at half-bandwidth levels. Even dual-GPU cards like the GeForce 7950 GX2 showed virtually no performance difference when run in a PCIe x8 slot rather than a PCIe x16. 

Dual PCI Express x16 Slots

SLI Bridge and Additional Airflow Bracket

Transparent
Board Layout (Continued)

 

Continued

MSI places the two PCI Express x16 sized slots fairly far apart on the motherboard, which leaves ample airflow room between the boards if two graphics cards are installed. In between, there are two PCI Express x1 slots and below are three 32-bit PCI slots. MSI claims that the orange slot is "optimized" for communications cards (modems, NICs?). With two dual-slot graphics cards installed, this would leave you with one PCI Express x1 slot and two 32-bit PCI slots, plenty for most high-end users. 

Expansion Slots

Serial ATA-II Ports

Well placed on the right side of the board are six Serial ATA-II/300 ports, all connected to the nearby nForce 570 SLI chip. All of these six ports support RAID connectivity through Nvidia's NVRaid software layer, supporting RAID 0 / 1 / 0+1 / 5 array modes. The ports are somewhat oddly placed on the motherboard, four being vertical to the chipset, two being horizontal - this means that if all six ports are used, cabling around this area will be somewhat messy. We like motherboards where all the SATA ports are facing the same direction, which allows for much cleaner cabling. Directly below the NVRAID ports is MSI's custom Dual CoreCell processor, which is designed to provide greater overclocking (with on-the-fly overclocking support), cleaner voltage levels and thermal/voltage monitoring and moderation (i.e, controlling fan voltages to allow them to run quieter).

Let's swing around and check out the I/O panel. 

K9N SLI Platinum I/O Panel

For a "budget" platform, the K9N SLI Platinum is fairly well stacked, providing dual Gigabit LAN ports, Firewire 400 connectivity, and 8-channel analog and digital audio ports as standard. Particularly of note is that the onboard audio has both optical and RCA based S/PDIF outputs, which means the board will be compliant with just about any high-end speaker setup you might have.

The audio is connected through the Realtek ALC883 codec, which is located to the left of one of the 32-bit PCI slots. The ALC883 is a commonly used chip, providing HD audio through nForce 5-series chipsets. In terms of audio quality, the ALC883 HD Codec will certainly be able to provide sufficient surround sound abilities for the vast amount of people using the platform, although hardcore enthusiasts will still likely opt for a hardware audio based solution for 3D audio processing which doesn't hit the system's main CPU. For DVD watching, music playback, light gaming, or really any standard day to day applications, the onboard audio will be above and beyond the needs of most. 

Realtek HD Audio Codec

Vitesse Gigabit Ethernet PHYs

The motherboard's dual LAN feature is controlled by two Vitesse PHY chips which sit near the I/O panel, which are basic hardware interfaces for the chipset's dual GigE MACs. Vitesse PHY's are commonly seen in low cost platforms, but this does not detract from the core features of the nForce 570 SLI's networking which remain in place. These NIC's support Ethernet Teaming, TCP/IP Acceleration, and Nvidia's FirstPacket technologies, and also can be used with Nvidia's firewall technologies in Windows. Both chips support 10/100/1000 speeds. There's also a VIA-based Firewire 400 controller chip nearby, which runs off a standard 32-bit PCI connection - nothing new here, but it's good to see Firewire support on an inexpensive platform.

Transparent
BIOS and Overclocking

 

BIOS and Overclocking

The K9N SLI Platinum is equipped with an AMI (American Megatrends) BIOS, which provides roughly the same level of flexibility as MSI's high-end platforms. The BIOS is clean and simple, but provides access to all of the necessary overclocking options which one needs to get the most out of their hardware. 

Main BIOS Menu

MSI Cell Menu

The majority of the tweaking controls are located in the "Cell Menu" area, which allows the user to up front side bus speeds, change CPU multipliers and voltage levels, force DDR 2 clock speeds and voltage levels, and adjust PCI Express frequency settings. MSI also supports Dynamic Overclocking (D.O.T, as they like to call it), with this motherboard, which allows the platform to overclock itself up to 15% when system loads demand extra computing power. D.O.T has never been particularly popular with enthusiasts who like to control how much their systems overclock, but it's not a bad feature to throw in. D.O.T can also be used and modified through MSI's Windows-based "CoreCell" software interface.

The BIOS also allows pretty decent fan speed control functions, although it's just limited to the CPU fan (not others as well, which some competing boards offer). MSI lets the user set their maximum temperature which they would like to see for the processor - which once set - will dynamically throttle fan speeds to help control noise levels. 

Dynamic Overclocking

Fan Control and Monitoring

One interesting thing to note about the BIOS is that on both the stock shipping BIOS and the latest version from MSI's website, the chipset's USB controller was oddly disabled by default. This led to some unexpected frustration, as none of our USB devices were detected upon boot or in Windows. As the vast majority of platforms enable USB by default (as there are very few reasons to consider disabling it), this is quite an odd choice by MSI. Something to keep in mind if you're thinking of purchasing this board - make sure the USB controller is enabled.

This board really isn't designed for heavy overclocking, but in our testing, was able to rock some light overclcoking with our testbed's Athlon64 X2 3800+ processor. With this platform and a stock cooler, we were able to go up from 2.0 GHz clock speed to 2.35 GHz (235 MHz FSB) by upping the bus speed levels and kicking up the voltage a bit. The single-chip nForce 570 isn't an overclocking champ, especially with a passive cooler in tow, so don't expect miracles here. It should also be noted that despite using a custom-sized chipset cooler, the MSI K9N SLI Platinum can also be used with third-party chipset coolers too - as MSI includes the mounting holes for smaller coolers as well. So, if you want to go for the gusto, nothing's stopping you.

Transparent
SANDRA Benchmarks

   

Test System Details
Specifications and Revisions
  • AMD Athlon64 X2 3800+ (2.0 GHz) Processor
  • 2 x Corsair XMS DDR2-800 Memory (2 x 1 GB, CAS 4-4-4-12)
  • 1 x Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2 1 GB (Nvidia 91.74 Driver)
  • 1 x Maxtor DiamondMax 10 Serial ATA Hard Disk
  • 1 x Plextor DVD+/-RW Drive
  • 1 x Enermax Liberty 400W Power Supply

     

  • Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe Nvidia nForce 590 SLI Chipset
  • Abit Fatality AN9 32X Nvidia nForce 590 SLI Chipset
  • MSI K9A Platinum ATI Radeon XPress 3200 Crossfire Chipset
  • MSI K9N SLI Platinum Nvidia nForce 570 SLI Chipset
Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks
SiSoft Sandra 2007 SP1

 

 

As to be expected with the same processor under the hood, the MSI K9N SLI Platinum delivers raw processing power on par with other high-end platforms. Memory bandwidth numbers are identical as well, as Athlon64 X2 processors have their memory controllers on-die.

Transparent
3DMark and PCMark Benchmarks

 

Synthetic Benchmarks
Futuremark 3DMark06 and PCMark05

 

 

Our synthetic Futuremark scores show the MSI nForce 570 SLI platform performing at similar levels to high-end platforms. The 590 SLI platforms show slightly better numbers in PCMark, although it would be neigh-impossible to notice a visual difference if using two of these platforms side by side.

Transparent
FEAR and Prey Benchmarks

 

 

Gaming Benchmarks
FEAR and Prey

 

Gaming performance looks good with a Geforce 7950 GX2 graphics card - matching the performance of other high-end platforms with this graphics card. With only a single graphics card, the card runs at full PCIe x16 speeds. Again, with two graphics cards the board will run them in a PCIe 8x8 configuration - but this has never been proven to drastically decrease raw gaming performance numbers compared to the 590 SLI's 16x16 slots.

Transparent
Cinebench and LAME Benchmarks

 

Application Benchmarks
Cinebench and LAME

 

CPU-intensive benchmarks show zero performance difference between this MSI board and other high-end platforms. Just as to be expected.

Transparent
HDTach Benchmarks

 

Hard Disk Benchmarks
HDTach

 

 

The nForce 570 SLI Serial ATA controller has the same positives and negatives as the 590 SLI - which means very solid disk performance, but at slightly higher CPU utilization levels compared to other solutions.

Transparent
Conclusion

 

Our Conclusion
It's not the newest solution on the market, so the MSI K9N SLI Platinum probably shouldn't be looked at as a hardcore gaming solution any longer. As of today, many high-end gamers are gravitating towards Core 2 Duo based SLI configurations, and likely won't give an nForce 570 SLI based Athlon 64 platform a second look. It's true, for a high-end gamer there may be better solutions out there. However, if you look at this board from a price / performance perspective, the K9N SLI Platinum is really quite attractive. For a price of about $120, you get SLI support, dual GigE, 6 x SATA-II RAID ports, digital audio, and passive cooling. Not a bad value at all. 

Even if you don't intend to use SLI, the board can make a sturdy foundation for a low-cost gaming rig. Our tests showed that the nForce 570 chipset can keep up with the more expensive / more power hungry nForce 590 chipset in benchmarks. This board can be used with the latest graphics cards, and can run with CPUs as fast as the dual-core Athlon64 FX-62, which can make for a damn fine gaming rig. However, even if you throw in a mid-range dual-core CPU like the Athlon64 X2 3800+ and a graphics card like the GeForce 7950 GT, you'll still have a great gaming experience for about $500 or less.

MSI has done a good job in our opinion of balancing which features which most enthusiasts want while keeping costs low. The board has low-noise cooling, fan speed controls, overclockng controls, and even extra board level heatsinks, but it's still priced at the same point as boards with far fewer features. We would love to see a similar platform for the Core 2 Duo made available, as more enthusiasts are gravitating towards this processor now. In any case, the K9N SLI Platinum is a solid, reasonably-priced SLI board which gets our thumbs up.

  • Excellent Price / Performance Ratio
  • Zero Noise Chipset Cooling
  • High-End Ethernet / RAID Configuration
  • Passive Cooler Can Get Very Hot
  • Lacks Any Exciting New Features

Discuss This Article In HotHardware's PC Hardware Forum

Please Digg This Article To Share With Others



Content Property of HotHardware.com