MSI K8N Diamond Plus nForce4 SLI X16 Motherboard
The board has an interesting expansion layout, as the board has slots of all different sizes and colors. The board has two PCI Express x16 slots, two PCI Express x1 slots, one PCI Express x4 slot (yellow), and two 32-bit PCI slots (white and orange). The PCI Express x16 slots don't explicitly have to be used for graphics cards, although they certainly can be used for a dual-card SLI graphics card setup. nForce4 SLI X16 motherboards are also popular with workstation users, who populate the first PCI Express x16 slot with a graphics card, the second PCI Express x16 slot with a high-speed PCI Express RAID controller card. However, SLI users should be pleased that the PCI Express x16 slots are placed far enough apart on the PCB to allow for airflow between the two graphics cards. MSI also includes a back-panel bracket for SLI users which allows for additional airflow to reach the graphics cards from the rear of the system.
We like MSI's design of the PCI Express x4 slot, which is an open-ended slot. This means you can install larger PCI Express x8 and x16 cards in this slot, however, they will run at lower speeds. With the open-ended PCIe x4 slot and two PCIe x16 slots, you could (in theory) install three graphics cards in here for six-screen multi-monitor (or 12 screen with today's quad-monitor Quadro NVS and FireMV products). Heck, why not just throw some PCI Express x1 Matrox graphics cards in there as well for 14 screens? The possibilities are nearly endless with a flexible board such as this.
So, what's with the orange PCI slot? We were curious, so we opened up the manual to find this "helpful" tidbit. "The orange PCI Slot also acts as a communication slot, which allows you to insert the communication card". Thanks for clearing that up, MSI. For the record, this slot functions perfectly as a standard 32-bit PCI slot. It may support some other feature with a proprietary "communication card", but whatever it is, we doubt its of very much importance.
To the right of the expansion slots is an array of Serial ATA connectors, four of them purple and two of them blue. The purple connectors are connected to the nForce4 Serial ATA-II/300 controller, meaning they are higher-performance "native" SATA ports. These ports support RAID levels 0, 1, 10, and 5, along with all of the other basic Serial ATA-II features like NCQ, Hot-Plug, and Hot-Swap. The blue Serial ATA ports are connected to a Silicon Image 3132 Serial ATA controller, a small black controller chip which runs off of a PCI Express x1 interface. These two SATA ports also support Serial ATA-II/300 speeds along with RAID 0 and 1, but RAID 10 and 5 support are not there as more than two hard disks are needed for these RAID modes. For performance and ease-of-use when it comes to installation, we would recommend using the nForce4 SATA ports before moving to the Silicon Image ports.