NF4 Ultra Shoot-Out: Abit vs. MSI vs. ECS
MSI K8N Neo4 Platinum: The Board
MSI's K8N Neo4 Platinum is well laid out, and suffers from very few layout related issues, especially considering how feature laden this motherboard is. As you can see in the pictures below, MSI stuck with the dark colored PCB that they've been using for the past year or so on some of their high-end mobos, with color coded connectors and headers.
The K8N Neo4 Platinum has a relatively unique slot configuration, when compared to most of today's nForce 4 Ultra based motherboards. At the top spot is a PCI Express x4 slot, followed by a PCI Express x1 slot, the PCI Express x16 PEG slot and four standard PCI slots (the orange slot is reserved for a proprietary communications card according to MSI).
If you look very closely at the pictures of the first x4 slot, you'll notice something interesting. The backside of the slot is notched. This is done so that a standard PCI Express graphics card can be inserted. This used to allow this board to function in a pseudo-SLI mode, until NVIDIA blocked this feature in later driver revisions (v66.96 was the last revision that worked). The slot is still useful though should you want to run multiple monitors using dual graphics cards.
MSI equipped the board with an orb-like aluminum cooler on the nF4 Ultra chipset, but it's placement isn't idea. The cooler sits under the PCI Express x16 slot, so longer graphics cards hover right above it. The area surrounding the chipset cooler is crammed with stuff. Just to the right of the nF4 Ultra, four of the K8N Neo4 Platinum's SATA ports are located. And if you look really close, you'll notice a small red button right next to these SATA ports. That button is used to clear the CMOS, instead of having to move a jumper; very handy. The K8N Neo4 Platinum's color-coded case connectors are located just below the clear CMOS switch, adjacent to the board's spare USB 2.0 and IEEE1394 headers. To the left of the USB/IEEE1394 headers are another four SATA ports, powered by the Sil3114 chip. We should not that both the Sil3114 and NVIDIA powered SATA ports support multiple RAID configurations.
The board's two IDE ports and floppy connector are located just behind the four DIMM slots, adjacent to the ATX power connector. The area around the K8N Neo4's socket is nice and clean, with a row of large caps along one edge. Behind those capacitors is the board's VRM, which unfortunately does not have any heatsinks or other cooling devices installed.
The board's backplane is loaded up with 7 audio connectors (Realtek ALC850), four USB 2.0 ports, a serial port, a parallel port, PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, a single IEE1394 port (VIA6306), and two RJ-45 LAN jacks. The K8N Neo4 Platinum's dual Gigabit LAN jacks are powered by the NF4 Ultra in conjunction with a Marvell PHY, and a secondary PCI Express Marvel controller. Neither is limited by the shared bandwidth of the PCI bus.