Continuing our look at the latest motherboards, this month we feature the Gigabyte GA-8ANXP-D for Intel CPUs and the MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum for AMD chips.
This board is perhaps the most over-the-top package we have seen in the test centre. It ships in two boxes: one box has the motherboard, while the other contains the Dual Power System (DPS) board, the 802.11g wireless network adapter and a cooling fan for the chip set.
Once out of its packaging, the GA-8ANXP-D displays a neat layout for its wealth of ports and chips. The LGA775 CPU socket resides to the left of six DDR2 memory slots, which in turn reside above the PCI Express graphics and expansion card slots. Although it has six DDR2 slots, it will still only accommodate a maximum memory capacity of 4GB. Two SATA RAID controllers provide accommodation for up to eight drives and there is one IDE port for optical devices. Plenty of colour is given to all these ports, making each one easy to find even in the most cramped of PC cases. This is good news for users who wish to build workstations based on this board. Unlike the other high-end boards we have seen, this one does not have a FireWire port on its rear panel; instead, Gigabyte has included two gigabit networking controllers on the rear panel and provided access to FireWire via an expansion bracket that connects to the internal pin headers.
Like most of Gigabyte’s new motherboards, this board contains a Dual Power System module, which fits into a slot next to the CPU socket and regulates the voltage for the CPU. This module has its own heatsink and a heatpipe with a heatsink on the end of it, which protrudes from the module close to the four-pin ATX12V power connector. This module may interfere with third-party CPU cooling systems, such as the Gigabyte 3D Cooler, which we used for testing. The module’s heatsink made contact with the coolers fan shroud and caused a very tight fit. Installation is also hindered by the lack of a floppy diskette for the RAID drivers. Instead, you have to make one yourself from the CD-ROM driver disc, and you need to make sure that you select the correct driver for the RAID controller you are using — either Intel or Silicon Image. Driver software installation is relatively easy via the webpage interface of the CD-ROM, although you need to ensure that all the drivers you require are ticked before you commence installation.
Once up and running, the board was very stable in our application testing but was unreliable in our FireWire testing, as some of our transfer attempts were thwarted by “Delayed Write Failed” errors. We did accomplish several successful file transfers to and from the FireWire interface of our external hard drive, but these were also slower than expected.
This board is definitely a sweet package if you are after plentiful networking and hard disk drive features, and can be the foundation of a great gaming box or workstation. However, its FireWire transfer inconsistencies are a worry.
MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum
This Socket-939-based motherboard features the single-chip Nvidia nForce3 Ultra MCP chip set. It will support the latest Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX processors and through its four dual-channel memory slots supports a maximum capacity of 4GB of RAM. It has a plentiful feature set that includes FireWire, USB 2.0, SATA RAID, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and digital eight-channel audio via the Realtek ALC850 codec.
Its layout is quite unique, mainly due to the memory slots residing above the CPU socket rather than beside it. In addition, two of the SATA ports (1 and 2) are located above the AGP slot and to the left of the CPU socket, which may make them hard to access when a graphics card is installed.
The chip set is also located rather close to the AGP slot and its heat sink and fan make it very difficult to manipulate the AGP release lever — especially if a graphics card with a large cooling system is installed.
Another quibble is the power connector, which is located on the right-hand edge of the board near the IDE drive and floppy connectors and may get in the way of some drives, depending on your case design.
In terms of value-added goodies, MSI provides a BIOS-locating utility called Live Update — which can also effectively locate new drivers and utilities for your board — as well as CoreCell technology, which aids in overclocking and monitoring the system.
Getting this motherboard physically installed was not a difficult task, although the location of the floppy, IDE and power ports near the drive bays of our case did make these cable connections a little awkward.
MSI provides a floppy diskette containing the Nvidia SATA RAID drivers, which becomes very handy when it’s time to install Windows and this diskette has two files on it, both of which need to be installed.
Driver installation is likewise very convenient and there is even a one-touch option that allows you to install the network and audio drivers one after the other, thereby saving a couple of clicks.
Performance was rock solid during our application and 3D testing, and this board also proved to have one of the fastest USB interfaces in the review. Its FireWire performance was slightly slow when transferring data from our external hard drive, but performed as expected when copying data to the drive. Its RAID performance using the Nvidia controller was also extremely fast.
While this board does have some physical layout quirks, its performanceis excellent and it offers plenty of scope for overclocking — which is perfect if you’re an enthusiast. The dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, four SATA ports and the ability to take advantage of RAID 0, 1 or 0+1 modes make this board a good choice for a workstation machine, too.