MSI 648 Max Motherboard

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The MSI 648 Max Motherboard - Page 2

The MSI 648 Max Motherboard Review
Great Performance at a Great Price...

By, Robert Maloney
October 23, 2002

Quality and Setup of the MSI 648 Max
This 648 is all "maxed" out with goodies

As with all recent MSI offerings, the 648 Max has a red PCB which really looks nice in a modified case with an open window.  Starting from the lower left corner, there were two IDE ports, each supporting two ATA 66/100/133 devices and a floppy drive connection.  They are mounted perpendicular the edge right edge of the board, which keep the cables from restricting airflow from intake fans mounted at the front of a case.  The two IDE channels are controlled by the nearby SiS 963 Southbridge.  Along the edge of the board are all of the requisite headers for the power and reset switches are also visible.  Personally, I wish that the motherboard companies would get together with case makers, and simply standardize these connections so that one plug could be used for all of the individual switches and LEDs.  Rather than finding each plug, and then figuring out its orientation.  Other headers for front panel USB and audio jacks can also be found here.

                 

Headed to the next corner of the 648 Max, there are 6 PCI slots, enough to handle any kind of add-in card, as well as the AGP 4x/8x slot with its retention clip.  Past the slots are the various chips for the onboard audio and LAN, and the CD-in header.  The small chip with the crab on it is the RealTek ALC650 audio codec that provides 6 channels of audio when combined with the optional S-Bracket.  While it does a pretty good job, audiophiles and gamers alike will probably still opt for an add-in card.  One addition, that is sure to raise some eyebrows, is the Broadcom BCM5702 chip which offers Gigabit LAN (10/100/1000) supporting full / half duplex capabilities at all speeds and Wake-On-LAN.

         

Next, we have the power array and I/O ports.  The bulk of the capacitors and MOSFETs can be found here, two of which are cooled somewhat by a heatsinks shown in the last picture above.  I'm all for extra bells and whistles on a board, and if cooling these two voltage regulators allows for a more stable board, then we're all for it.  The back of the board has connections for a PS/2 mouse and keyboard, 2 serial ports, 1 parallel port, 4 USB 2.0 ports, the RJ-45 LAN jack and 3 color-coded audio connections for line-out, line-in, and mic-in.  These same jacks are converted to 4 or 6 channel audio output connectors when selecting the appropriate settings in the audio software utility.  That means you can skip the optional S-Bracket, yet still get 6 channels of audio using the three provided jacks on the board. 

         

The Northbridge was covered by a passive metallic green heatsink, that advertises the AGP 8x support.  This is not as effective as a heatsink with a fan, but it does not require another power connection and is obviously quieter because there is no fan!  By the way, SIS' reference 648 motherboard did not have any cooling on the Northbridge whatsoever.  We would have liked to have seen at least 3 or 4 of fan headers on the 648 Max, but in its current state there are only two fan headers on this board.  The 12V ATX connection was on the far side of the CPU, which is not necessarily the most convenient location.  In fact, it was hidden right next to the CPU bracket, close to on of the heatsinks found in the power array.  The 20-pin ATX power connection was on the far side of the DIMM slots, which conversely was placed in a great position, as it did not interfere with adding or removing items, and did not impede any airflow over the CPU cooler.  There were 3 DIMM slots supporting 1GB of DDR SDRAM each, for a grand total of 3GB of RAM. 

THE BIOS:

The 648 Max used an AMI BIOS that offered all the necessary options for enabling and disabling devices, but was a little light on the tweaking side.  From the Main menu, we accessed the Advanced BIOS features, which seemed to have fewer options than we are accustomed to seeing, but it covered the basics well enough.  The Advanced Chipset page left much to desire.  The only options we found here were for AGP aperture size, CAS latency and two memory frequency options. We could not manually tweak any of the memory settings, being limited to safe, normal, fast, turbo, and ultra settings.  My first inclination was to set the memory to turbo, because we were using high quality Corsair memory, which unfortunately led to some problems overclocking, as you'll see later on.  There also weren't any advanced AGP options, such as enabling or disabling Fast Writes or changing the AGP mode.

     

     

On the next screen, we could set the IRQ and DMA settings for the attached devices as well as enable or disable the on-board audio, LAN, and USB.  The PC Health Status allowed us to check on the voltages and fan speeds, as well as the CPU and System temperatures, but did not offer any overheating protection or automatic shutdown settings.  Finally, on the Frequency/Voltage control menu, we were allowed to alter the frequencies for the CPU's FSB, and lock AGP/PCI speeds.  There were also dividers under this menu for setting the memory speed to DDR266, DDR333...etc.  On minor annoyance was that our CPU speed was not automatically determined.  We had to manually change the FSB speed to 133MHz.  While this does not seem to be such a bad thing, first time system builders might not catch the speed selection and may just accept the default configuration.  The CPU VCore can be adjusted in .25V increments, but in tops off at 1.6V, which doesn't offer much of an improvement over the default 1.5V.
 

Overclocking & Some Numbers

 
Tags:  MSI, Motherboard, MS, board, AR

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