| || |
| Quality and Setup of the MSI KT4 Ultra-FISR Motherboard |
| Looking Good... |
The MSI KT4 Ultra-FISR Motherboard:
One of the most striking things about the MSI KT4 Ultra-FISR is its bright red PCB. Adding bright colors to a system does more than just add to its appeal, it also assists in locating certain items more conveniently. Take the USB and Bluetooth headers for example. MSI has added blue and green sockets around the headers to help distinguish the two similar looking headers. While it seems like a fairly minor addition to the board, it does add a degree of functionality and style. Although these are the types of things we see upon initial inspection, the MSI KT4 Ultra-FISR is far more than just flashy colors.
The KT4 Ultra comes with a total of 6 PCI slots and an AGP slot, allowing for plenty of expansion. The AGP slot comes with a hinged retention clip that locks the video card securely in place. There are 3 DIMM slots that support a total capacity of 3GBs of DDR-RAM. The AGP and DIMM slots were placed very close to each other, allowing the video card to potentially interfere with the left-most hinges of the DIMM slots. In fact, during testing of the KT4, we came very close to breaking off one of the clips when we were installing our video card. This is the type of thing we continually point out on a regular basis and were disappointed to see that MSI hasn't altered the placement of these components. Conversely, when it comes to the CPU, MSI allowed for plenty of elbow room, with only one capacitor positioned close enough to possibly interfere with the largest of heat sinks. The two standard ATA 133 compatible IDE connectors are positioned at the edge of the board, adjacent to the DIMM slots with the floppy connector nestled between the two. Overall, the MSI KT4 Ultra-FISR has a very clean layout that was relatively well thought out, except for the DIMM placement.
The KT4 Ultra comes with an integrated Promise PC20376 Raid controller which is one of the first to support both ATA133 IDE as well as Serial ATA 150. At first it seemed great to see that MSI was looking to give users the best of both worlds, but after we delved in a little deeper our expectations were dashed. The layout includes 2 Serial ATA connectors and only a single IDE connector. Initially we were under the impression that Promise developed a RAID chip that supported two drives in a RAID configuration on the same IDE channel, something its main competitor High-Point has done for quite some time now. We soon found that was not the case at all. The intention is to be able to RAID two Serial ATA drives or one Serial ATA and an IDE drive. The other option is to simply utilize the port as an additional IDE channel. One thing Promise has done differently is add compatibility for a CD-ROM drive on the IDE channel, a function not available with their previously released controllers. Initially the KT4 Ultra looked like it was an extremely versatile system with multiple drive configurations available. While this certainly remains true, we felt that the IDE RAID support of the Promise PC20376 was a bit limited.
At the heart of the system is, of course, the KT400 Chipset from VIA, comprised of a the KT400 Northbridge and the VT8235 Southbridge. The Northbridge comes equipped with active cooling to help keep excessive temperatures under control, especially important when running the system overclocked. When we removed the fan assembly we were pleased to see an even application of thermal compound was applied to help transfer the heat to the heat sink. In recent months we've seen similar "high-performance" motherboards overlook this step and we were happy to see that MSI didn't cut corners. As far as the KT400 is concerned, we'll cover its virtues in a little more detail later on.
The rear of the board exposes a lot of what the KT4 Ultra has to offer. The system comes with a total of four USB 2.0 compliant ports which can be expanded to 6 with the included USB D-Bracket. The system also has 2 serial ports and a parallel port as well as two PS/2 connections for a keyboard and mouse. On the right is an RJ-45 Ethernet port that is cable of 1000Base-TX, otherwise known as Gigabit, which is powered by an integrated Ethernet processor from Broadcom. This gives the system the ability to transmit at a peak of 1000Mbps, or 125MBps, allowing for the fastest possible networking potential. Whether or not an average user will tap the capabilities of the Gigabit Ethernet remains to be seen, but MSI appears to have added this feature without impacting the overall price of the board, so we'll take it. At the far right are the connections for the integrated audio. Driven by a C-Media 8738MX 6-channel audio processor with SPDIF capability. The on-board audio of the KT4 rivals the performance of some high-end add-on cards. With an S-Bracket installed to the system, the C-Media 8738MX can pump out sound to 6 discreet channels, including a Subwoofer and Center channel, for surround sound capability.
Before we take a look at the MSI KT4 Ultra-FISR in the benchmarking arena, let's briefly cover the BIOS and some basics of VIA's KT400 chipset.
The, BIOS, KT400 and PC3500 DDR-RAM from GEIL