NVIDIA's NFORCE3 250Gb - New Motherboards from MSI and EPoX
Introducing the MSI K8N Neo Platinum NFORCE3 250Gb Motherboard
When it comes to making an impression, MSI has a reputation for pulling out all the stops with their FISR and Platinum product lines. They approach the marketing of these products from all angles, including the board, documentation and accompanying bundle. With the K8N Neo Platinum, however, MSI took things a little further.
When you first look at the board, the most obvious thing that sets it apart from all others is its component placement. It seems that MSI decided to take a fresh approach to component placement, aiming to improve the process. The most obvious change was the alignment of the board's three DIMM slots, which eliminates any conflicts between the DIMM hinges and the AGP slot, a commonly reported issue.
The K8N Neo Platinum comes with a 5 PCI/1 AGP package, with one PCI slot (orange) designated as a communications slot for use with a WiFi card. MSI opted to really spread out the hard drive connectors on this board, which should make for a bit of a cabling mess in the end. The IDE connectors are placed below the socket 754, whereas to the left, two of the SATA connectors lie while the other two reside above the CPU socket, near the edge of the AGP slot. On the lower left we found the floppy disk connector, placed in a way that its cabling should have a minimal impact on airflow.
Below the IDE connectors was the ATX power connection, an optimal position in our opinion. However, the supplemental 12v power was located at the top of the DIMM slots, a stretch from the ATX power. Neither connector should have any adverse effects on the CPU cooler's airflow, but we would have preferred to see them a little closer for the sake of neat cable management.
The left most edge of the K8N Neo included two additional USB headers bringing the total available to 8 when using the included D-Bracket. Two headers were also included for additional IEEE1394 ports bringing the board total to 3. The on-board audio is powered by the Realtek ALC850 which provides 7.1 channels. The rear console consisted of 2 PS/2's, 1 Serial and 1 Parallel connection. A FireWire and four USB ports were also provided with the Gigabit Ethernet riding atop the USB cluster. Also present was a 5-in-1 audio bank, along with a coaxial S/PDIF.
Now that we've highlighted the hardware side of the K8N Neo Platinum, let's shift to the software side with a look at the BIOS.
Driving the whole MSI K8N Neo Platinum is a customized Phoenix AwardBIOS. MSI seems to have packed this BIOS with a lot of settings for honing a system's performance and stability whether overclocked or not. The main thrust of performance options can be found under the Cell Menu. Here we could adjust the memory timings, set system performance profiles and overclock the entire system or just one component at a time.
The DRAM Configuration menu held the key to memory timings, providing a modest selection at best. The Memory could be locked to run at either 100, 133, 166 or Auto while CAS Latency was adjustable from 2, 2.5 and 3. We also found RAS to CAS ranging from 2-7 in increments of 1. Back in the Cell Menu, a variety of voltage and overclocking options were available. The CPU Overclock option offered a range from 200-250 in steps of 1 and an AGP Overclock option ranged from 66-100 in 1 MHz increments. The HT Frequency option defaulted to a 4X Hypertransport setting, but was adjustable from 1x-5x.
The DRAM Voltage offered an ample range from 2.55v-2.85v in .05 increments, whereas the AGP Voltage could be set for 1.5v-1.85v also in .5v increments. The CPU Ratio could be set from 1x-10x, however, anything other than a 10x or auto resulted in the system being unable to post because all S754 Athlon 64s are multiplier locked. The CPU Voltage Trimming setting gave access to CPU voltage adjustments from 1.57v through 1.81v in increments ranging from .03 to .05v depending on the setting. In the PC Health Status screen we found various monitors for voltages, fan speeds and temperatures to help see that everything is running within proper tolerances.
Overall, the MSI K8N Neo Platinum came with an excellent collection of features backed by a capable BIOS. Now we'll move to the benchmarking/overclocking phase and see how this and the EPoX board stack up.