Close Up: The MSI K9AGM2 690G Mainboard
The board we received for review was an MSI K9AGM2 based on the 690G chipset with HDMI support. This was not a complete retail package, so we are going to zero in on the board's layout and features and skip the usual overview of what comes in the box along with the board. While the package was not representative of a retail product, the board itself is.
The MSI K9AGM2 comes with the AMD 690G chipset, obviously, and follows closely to the general specifications outlined earlier. The board is equipped with one x16 PCI Express graphic slot, a single x1 PCI Express slot and two PCI 2.3 slots. Two DIMM slots are provided, supporting up to 4GB of DDR2 memory. There are a total of four SATA II connections capable of RAID 0, 1 and 10 while the SB600 offers a single ATA133 IDE port and a legacy floppy port natively as well.
The board comes with one Gigabit Ethernet care of a Realtek 8111B. The board also comes with two IEEE1394 ports, one on the rear console and the other delivered through an optional header and bracket, both of which are driven by a VIA VT6308 chip. The High Definition onboard audio is managed by a Realtek ALC888 which meets the Azalia 1.0 specification and supports up to 8-channels. The Realtek ALC888 also provides jack sensing, so searching for the right port for each speaker is not needed.
The rear I/O panel provides PS/2 ports for legacy keyboard and mouse connections as well as a parallel port that supports SPP, EPP and ECP modes. There are four USB ports and 3 additional USB headers that can be used with optional brackets to bring the total to 10. This particular model comes with a VGA connector as well as an HDMI port, which may be traded off with a DVI port depending on the model.
Another option for the board is a TV-Out bracket, which was not included. This connects to the TV-Out header to provide S-Video and RCA composite outputs. An optional SPDIF In/Out bracket can also connect to the proper header for digital audio in and out.
When it comes to driver installation, ATI's method seems like a never ending cascade of installers that load one after the other, making the process seem much longer than it does with NVIDIA hardware. In fact, NVIDIA's installation process is far more elegant and completes much quicker, with less interaction, than the ATI Catalyst package. While improvements have been made to the load times of the Catalyst Control Center, we'd still love to see AMD strengthen this area so the installation process is smoother and faster for the end user.