MSI P6N SLI Platinum
- Two IDE ports, eSATA, clean layout
- Only has a 16-lane SLI capability, still requires the use of a circuit board to select SLI mode
This board is well designed, for the most part, and has plenty of useful connectivity options. If you want to build a lasting machine for gaming or high-end video and graphics work, then this board will provide a good base.
Price$ 269.00 (AUD)
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The MSI P6N SLI Platinum is well suited for high-end pursuits such as gaming, graphical and video work. The board uses the NVIDIA nForce 650i SLI chipset which supports the latest Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Extreme and Core 2 Duo CPUs (as well as older Pentium D and Pentium 4 LGA775 socket-based CPUs) and its dual PCI Express slots allow for two NVIDIA-based graphics cards to be installed in SLI mode.
With a very clean layout, the board has plenty of room between all the ports and slots, and has numerous useful connectivity features. It's one of the only recent boards that we've seen to have two IDE ports (most new boards only have one) and it also has an eSATA port directly attached to its rear port cluster. The combination of old and new connectivity should make this board appealing, especially if you have multiple IDE hard drives lying around that you would like to use. Parallel and PS/2 ports are also provided on the rear port cluster and four internal SATA II ports are present to take care of your storage needs. These are located just above the second PCI Express graphics slot and do not impede the installation of a long graphics card, such as one based on the GeForce 8800GTS GPU (graphical processing unit).
Cooling to the chipsets and transistors around the CPU is provided by heat sinks with attached heat pipes. MSI also supplies a fan for the main chipset, which you can choose to install if you feel that it is getting too hot. The motherboard comes with a dynamic overclocking feature in the BIOS (called D.O.T). If you choose to overclock your board using this tool, then attaching the supplied fan to disperse the heat from the chipset's heat sink is a good idea. The BIOS also allows for the CPU fan to be regulated, but this setting is not as straight-forward to use as the Q-Fan setting on ASUS boards, or the dynamic fan control on Gigabyte boards. Instead of simply enabling the fan control and letting the system take care of the fan speed, you have to select a percentage at which the fan will run (we set it to run our standard Intel cooler at 50 percent). This method didn't seem to dynamically change the speed of the fan as the load on the system increased. Instead, the speed of the fan was static. Care will need to be taken when selecting the percentage for your fan so that your CPU doesn't overheat. However, an advantage of this static speed is that it allows you to effectively control the noise from your CPU fan, which is useful if you want to build a powerful, yet quiet, machine using a standard Intel heat sink.
Testing with an Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 CPU, 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 RAM, a 10000rpm, 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive, a Palit GeForce 7600GT graphics card and a Seasonic SS-650HT power supply, the board produced excellent results. The WorldBench 5 benchmarking suite ran reliably for 24 hours and returned an overall score of 138, which is identical to the score posted by ASUS' nForce 680i-based P5N32-E SLI Plus motherboard. Likewise, the 1min 29secs it took to encode 53min worth of wave files to 192Kbs MP3s was also identical to the ASUS board. The similarities didn't end there, with a recorded hard drive transfer speed of 28MBps when copying 2.65GB of data from one location on the hard drive to another. Using the D.O.T feature to overclock the system by 10 percent showed a speed improvement of five seconds in the MP3 encoding test, but the system wasn't stable at this setting and froze regularly.
The P6N SLI Platinum has four memory slots and can accommodate a total capacity of 8GB. Its PCI Express graphics capability is slightly limited in that it only supports an SLI mode up to x16 (or 16 lanes of bandwidth). While the first graphics card slot is a PCI Express x16 slot, the second graphics card slot is a PCI Express x8 slot. When two cards are installed in SLI mode, both slots use eight lanes of bandwidth each for a total of 16 lanes (x8 and x8). The PCI Express x8 graphics slot can only be used when in an SLI configuration. To use SLI, a small circuit board between the two graphics card slots need to be flipped - an awkward task. We would have much preferred the board automatically detect when an SLI configuration is installed. With support for a front side bus speed up to 1333MHz, this board may also be able to accommodate the new CPUs that Intel will be releasing later this year.
As for ports, MSI P6N SLI Platinum has a multitude. In addition to the previously mentioned eSATA, PS/2 and parallel ports, there are also six ready-to-use USB 2.0 ports and two ready-to-use FireWire ports. A pin-header for two extra case-mounted USB ports is also available. High definition audio is supplied through analog output ports as well as a coaxial S/PDIF connection. Networking can be accomplished through the sole Gigabit Ethernet port on the rear port cluster.
We had no issues setting up this board and the drivers for all the components installed without fault. Coupled with the wide range of connectivity features and clean layout, we think this board is a good choice if you're in the market for a well-performing Intel-based motherboard and don't need the absolute fastest SLI gaming performance.
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