MSI is certainly one of the âbig threeâ enthusiast motherboard manufacturers along with Asus and Abit, so it is always a pleasure to look at their flagship products. Today we are testing the companyâs Socket 939 swansong; the K8N Diamond Plus. This motherboard features the latest nVIDIA Nforce 4 SLI 16x chipset and therefore has two full PCI-E 16x PEG slots that will provide extra bandwidth for a pair of powerful cards like the 7900GTX or 7950GX2.
The motherboard itself is a sublime example of how to make and layout a motherboard. Placement of the IDE and floppy ports at the far right hand side of the board will fit most peopleâs cases perfectly, and the main PSU loom can be routed well away from the CPU. The memory slots are well aligned and are given plenty of space.
For the upgrade slots MSI has taken a leaf out of Asusâs book and provided an extra slot between the two video card slots. Unlike the Asus A8N32-SLI deluxe however you actually have space for a PCI card even with two double-slot coolers that isnât between the two cards â a far better option than the layout Asus chose. Overall the mix of new and legacy upgrade slots is perfect with two PCI and three PCI-E 4x slots.
SATA-II ports are extremely well positioned on the outside edge to the right of the board. This keeps the cables away from the video card (another superior feature over the A8N32-SLI deluxe). There are a total of six; four from the nForce 4 chipset and two from a Silicon Image 3132 controller. In the shot below you can also see a red button. This serves to clear the CMOS should you push things too far. Nice feature MSI!
As with a number of high end firms, MSI has gone with a heatpipe design to cool the two chipsets. Heat from the southbridge is channelled up to a large heatsink which is cooled by a 40mm fan. Whilst this fan is reasonably quiet we would have preferred an all-passive solution here. In the shot below you can see a red sticker which covers a jumper block. On this sticker is printed "Warrenty void if removed. We therefore removed it anyway and found out it enables options to drive a huge 4.1V into the DDR. We would also have liked to see some heatsinks on the MOSFETs at the top left of the board, but aside from these two minor errors in judgement the board is one of the most perfectly laid out we have ever seen.
Unlike other nForce 4 motherboards that feature lacklustre AC97 integrated audio, the MSI features a Creative SoundBlaster Audigy SE chip. Whilst this isnât a match for the latest dedicated Creative cards our tests show both higher fidelity and lower CPU utilisation from the chip than the competing Realtek solution found on other boards.
The bundles with MSIâs premium motherboards are usually comprehensive and the K8N Diamond Plus is no different. In the spacious box you will find a USB backing plate with integrated LED POST reporter, a bracket for both mini and full size Firewire ports, an SLI bridge adaptor, two red rounded IDE cables, an unfortunately hideous red floppy rounded cable, four orange SATA cables, an I/O shield, a SATA Power adaptor cable, RAID driver installation floppy disks for both Silicon Image and nVIDIA controllers (always VERY welcome) and a driver CD.