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MSI K8N Diamond Plus Review Page 1 of 6

INTRODUCTION

Today NVNEWS is privileged with the opportunity of reviewing another potential 'diamond' from MSI. The K8N Diamond Plus uses the NVIDIA nForce4 SLI x16 PCI-Express chipset primarily consisting of two platform processors, the SPP (system platform processor) and the MCP (media communications processor) with a HyperTransport link sandwiched in between. A follow-up to the AMD nForce4 solution (K8N Diamond) as well as MSI's offering of the Intel nForce4 version, the P4N Diamond both of which have been successful in catering to the enthusiast. We fully expect to see a full-featured board similar to the previous offerings mentioned with some enhancements and hopefully some viable upgrades.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus

For this review, references to the Northbridge will note an association to the SPP chip which controls HyperTransport link to the AMD Athlon 64 FX / Athlon 64X2/ Athlon 64 CPU supporting speeds up to 1GHz (2000MT/s), and a PCI Express x16 interface. References to the Southbridge containing the MCP chip will note associations to the chipset controlling PCI Express x16, PCI Express x1, PCI Express x2 connection, two independent SATA controllers (for up to four drives), PATA-133 IDE controllers, and the IEEE802.3 NVIDIA MAC for 1000BASE-T.

Incorporating the nForce4 x16 chipset provides the potential advantage of providing two full-bandwidth PCI-Express x16 slots over the first generation nForce4 SLI chipset's limitation of providing either a dual x8 mode or single x16, with the second slot disabled. The second slot on the PCI-E x16 is always enabled and can be used by other compatible cards.

INITIAL IMPRESSION

The packaging is well-designed with a professional appearance. Contents look to be adequately protected and our motherboard, components with extras, did arrive safety from the long trip.

SPP Cooling

One area of concern is the Northbridge heatsink with a 40 mm fan mounted vertically on the Ziff socket side of the heatsink. This increases the height of the heatsink and fan arrangement over what we have normally seen and may cause clearance problems with larger CPU HSFs.

Overall the board does not look cluttered with main components adequately positioned and spaced, surprising considering the features packed in such a small space. Except for the Northbridge HSF, the Ziff socket area looks to provide ample room for many of the larger popular heatsinks. We will be using the XP-90 from Thermalright with a 92 mm Panaflo fan.

Heatpipe Assisted Cooling

This cooling solution for the Northbridge and Southbridge chipsets ensures adequate cooling of the nForce4 MCP and SPP chips.

The tall copper heatsink used to cool the Northbridge chipset is an imposing structure located in the middle of the board. Imposing at first glance, for the enthusiast will immediately identify potential clearance problems with forced-air cooling options for the adjacent CPU. Putting this aside for the moment and taking a closer look at the heatsink and fan (HSF) arrangement we find an interesting dual purpose. The 40mm fan fitted vertically on the CPU-side provides cooling a heat pipe in addition to the copper heatsink. This supplemental cooling is for the Southbridge passive heatsink which is attached at one end to the heatsink's copper base-plate and terminates at the Northbridge heatsink in what resembles a radiator-type arrangement. Although heatpipes are currently prevalent in a number of both active and passive cooling solutions this is still a refreshing approach to cooling the MCP chip on SLI motherboards. Since vertical clearance is a problem with installed video cards on such motherboards, the cooling solution's structure must remain low in this area to avoid structural conflict with the installed card(s). This heatpipe cooling solution allows the Southbridge chipset heatsink to be of passive design. This effectively eliminates a potentially noisy fan adding to the drone of those on the cards, the CPU heatsink, the Northbridge heatsink, the power supply unit, and assortment of case fans in a forced-air cooled system.

Back to clearances between the Northbridge HSF and those used on the CPU. I did not have any problems as the Thermalright XP-90, as used in this review, installs with ease with ample clearances all around. My last observation is cosmetically. This arrangement could easily make the board look cluttered but does not. In fact, I find it appealing with the finned copper heatsink and the graceful routing of the copper heatpipe from the South to the Northbridge chipset.

With the appearance of an attractive, feature-rich motherboard let's take a closer look at those features that make up MSI's flagship offering:

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Specifications

 

Next Page: Test Setup and Layout

Last Updated on April 10, 2006


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