MSI K8T Neo2-FIR: The Board & Layout
The K8T Neo2-FIR is built using MSI's signature red PCB, with its typical color-coded sockets and connectors. The pre-release version we used to test the initial batch of Socket 939 Athlon 64 processors used a much darker PCB, but a closer look reveals that all of the components are identical, with the only different being the size of the passive heatsink mounted to the K8T800 Pro northbridge.
The K8T Neo2-FIR is a versatile motherboard that's equipped with a host of useful features. This is the only motherboard in the roundup to sport a secondary Promise PDC20579 SATA/PATA hybrid controller, which offers an additional two SATA ports, along with a third PATA channel. With a total of four SATA connectors and three IDE connectors, the K8T Neo2-FIR can support more drives than any of the other Socket 939 motherboards we've looked at thus far.
For the most part, the K8T Neo2-FIR's layout was good. There is plenty of room between the DIMM slots and the AGP slot to swap out RAM without having to remove the video card, and the ATX, main IDE, and floppy connectors are ideally located just behind the DIMM slots along the front edge of the board. The 12v power connectors aren't in a great spot, though. They're situated alongside the northbridge, adjacent to the VRM. If the 12v lead coming from your PSU is short, you'll have to drape it right over the processor. Other than that, though, the rest of the layout is good. All of the headers along the bottom edge of the board are color coded, and the case connectors are clearly labeled. The underside of the CPU socket has a hefty, metal reinforcement in place that may actually help dissipate some heat, and there is plenty of room around the CPU socket for an oversized cooler. The northbridge could have used a larger heatsink or preferably an active cooler, but we didn't experience any heat-related instability, so we won't ding MSI for going the passive route with the K8T. MSI made a wise choice and installed large heatsinks on the transistors in the VRM, which should ensure reliable operation for a prolonged period of time.
The back panel I/O connectors include PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, a serial port, a parallel port, two FireWire connectors (one mini), four USB ports, seven various audio ins and outs (including S/PDIF), and an RJ-45 Ethernet jack. A VIA VT6306 controller provided the FireWire functionality, while a Realtek ALC850 and 8110S handle audio and Gigabit network duties, respectively.