Quality and Setup of the MSI
board that meets all of your
MSI flair, the 845PE Max2 sports a red PCB
and comes stocked with features. Two
yellow ports in the first corner provide
the means for setting up a RAID 0/1/0+1
array. This is controlled by the
nearby Promise 20276 chip, a common RAID
controller found on many boards.
Each channel can support two ATA/133
drives, when not using the RAID
functionality, providing the means for
connecting up to 8 IDE drives in total
(including the two Intel powered IDE
channels). Unfortunately, we did not
find any Serial ATA connectors on-board,
but it's hard to knock manufacturers for
not including these when Serial ATA drives
are not yet available.
RAID ports, MSI included an extra USB 2.0
header providing another two USB ports
when using the optional S-Bracket.
The three green headers next to the USB header
provide FireWire support. This was
the only board of the three to provide
these extra connections, powered by VIA's
VT6306 FireWire controller. An
optional bracket was provided for
connecting to devices such as external
hard drives and cameras. In total,
the MSI 845PE Mac2-FIR has 6 USB 2.0
ports and 3 FireWire ports, more than
enough for the average user.
feature found solely on the 845PE Max2 was
the Gigabit LAN. MSI
uses Intel's 82450EM Gigabit LAN chip
which supports up to 1000 Mb/s of bandwidth.
As we have stated before, it's great to
see newer technology integrated, although few
networks will be completely setup for
Gigabit support. Rounding out the
on-board devices, MSI has chosen C-Media's
CMI8738 PCI audio controller for audio.
This chip allows for 5.1 channel support
and doesn't use as many CPU cycles
as basic AC' 97 codec driven chips.
The layout of
the board was far from ideal, however.
The 20-pin ATX connector was placed away
from the edge of the board (preferred) and
instead was placed too close to the CPU
socket. As a result, it created
problems when installing a stock heatsink,
and made it impossible for us to install a
larger Zalman heatsink, which required the
bracket to be removed. There simply
was no room to install the large fan type
heatsink that Zalman provides between the
ATX connection and the capacitors on the
other side. The CPU fan header is
also located in a hard to reach spot,
placed amongst the DIMM slots and too
close to a capacitor. Another minor complaint was the spacing,
or lack thereof, between the end of the
DIMM slots and the AGP slot. As you
may have heard many times before, longer
cards such as the GeForce 4 Ti 4600 end up
right next to the DIMM retention clips,
making it almost impossible to remove RAM without
uninstalling the video card first.
some nice touches as well. As seen
in the pictures above, there is a nice
heatsink placed over the Northbridge,
cooled by a fan embossed with MSI's logo.
Unfortunately, it uses up one of the
three fan headers found on the board.
Most of the ports were color coded, making
it easy to setup the board even without a
Yellow appears to be the color of choice
for RAID ports, but they have also colored
the USB ports blue and FireWire ports
green to distinguish them from one other.
coincidence, but all of the boxes of the
845PE boards we received had a blue theme
to them. MSI included all of the optional
brackets for additional USB and Firewire
ports, but the Bluetooth transceiver we
have seen with previous MSI boards was
absent. We found three
manuals in total, one was the user's guide
with a complete listing of the board and
components, as well as its BIOS settings.
There was also a quick installation guide
with large diagrams that should be very useful for
first time system builders. The last manual
covers configuring a RAID array in
detail. We also found a driver CD,
which is standard, and a RAID driver
floppy, which we prefer to see. It
never made much sense to me not to include
this disk, especially when a fresh
installation of Windows 2000 or XP asks
for said drivers. There was only one
ATA100 cable and one floppy cable included.
Since I don't know of anyone with only one
drive, I think that MSI should
throw in an extra IDE cable or two. Now, with all
of those connections on the board, there
has to be something to connect to, right?
Well, MSI provided three different
brackets, one for extra audio connections
such as center or back speakers and S/PDIF,
one with two extra USB 2.0 ports, and
finally one with FireWire ports. All
in all, a very thorough set of additions.
THE BIOS AND OVERCLOCKING:
The AMI BIOS
was a familiar sight, and had no
MSI only customizations that I could notice.
The Advanced BIOS section provided the
typical fare, used to enable or disable
caching of the system or video BIOS.
Nothing much to note here. Moving on
to the Advanced Chipset Features, we found
a minimal set of options for defining the
RAM timings. We were only able to
adjust the CAS Latency, RAS Precharge, RAS
to CAS delay, Precharge Delay as well
as Burst length.
RAM settings were limited to speeds of 200MHz, 266MHz, 333MHz,
or it can be set to auto. What this meant,
was that regardless of the FSB setting,
the RAM was left at its chosen speed.
section showed us the CPU and System fan
speeds, and relative temperatures, but did
not have any safety settings for automatic
shutdown should a component fail or
overheat. Individual voltages from
both the power supply unit and even the
battery could also be checked here.
The Frequency/Voltage control section gave
us some options for overclocking.
The CPU front side bus is entered in
manually, and the AGP/PCI speeds can be
locked in at 66.67/33.33, a boon to
overclockers, as running these types of
devices out of spec can cause instability,
and sometimes even damage them. The
CPU VCore is adjustable in .025V
increments from default voltages up to a
max of 1.8V. The voltages for the
RAM and AGP cards can also be raised in
.1V steps, with the DDR getting as high as
2.8V and the AGP up to 1.8V.
We had a
great experience when overclocking using
this setup. Without the need to
change any DRAM timings since the speed
was locked in at 333MHz, we simply raised
the FSB of the CPU a few MHz at a time
until we started to experience some
instability. Unfortunately, locking
the speed of the RAM meant we would not
get the same kind of performance gains
when overclocking with other boards where
the RAM speed scales with the FSB. Whenever the system
started to get a bit flaky, we tried
bumping up the CPU VCore to stabilize the
system. We eventually reached an FSB as
high as 169MHz with the VCore at 1.7V, but
could not complete any of the benchmarks
and could not reboot the system reliably.
We moved back down a few MHz and settled
for a 166MHz FSB. For the
mathematically challenged, that comes out
to a 25% increase in the speed of the FSB,
for a top speed of 2.82GHz, up from
BE7 RAID takes the stand