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By: Chris Angelini
As the Core i7 launch approached early in November, we searched for a vendor who was ready with an X58-based motherboard supporting CrossFireX and 3-way SLI—and MSI was the first to answer our call. Though Asus and Gigabyte have claimed much of the high-end spotlight in 2008, MSI’s entry for the holidays demonstrates that the company is ready to revisit enthusiast computing and we’re happy with how the board performs.
Of course, most of the go-fast logic belongs to Intel’s Core i7 itself, from the processing core to the integrated memory controller to the QPI interconnect. However, MSI adds its own touches to make the X58 Eclipse SLI unique amongst stiff competition.
To begin, you get six, 240-pin DDR3 memory slots able to take up to 24 GB of 1,600 MHz modules. The board also boasts three PCI Express x16 slots spaced with enough room between them to accommodate dual-slot graphics cards. Now, we all know that the X58 chipset itself only includes a pair of x16 links. All of the 3-way SLI-compatible motherboards we’ve seen up until now run the first PCIe slot at x16 and the second two at x8 when three cards are installed. MSI’s approach is to give the first two slots full x16 throughput and borrow four lanes from Intel’s ICH10 for the third, yielding more aggregate bandwidth for the whole graphics subsystem, but less for that one slot.
The Eclipse goes especially well with the i7 920 we’re recommending in this guide as well, due to its onboard OC switch—a small bank of DIP switches that lets you select a faster Bclk frequency without altering any of the board’s other frequencies. Basically, you’d drop in the 920, set the switches for a 166 MHz Bclk (stock is 133 MHz), and shoot up from 2.66 GHz to 3.33 GHz—faster than the $1,000 Core i7 965 Extreme. On our sample, it was even possible to hit the higher speed without altering any voltages.
Although the X58 Eclipse SLI only comes armed with six-phase voltage regulation for the CPU, we didn’t encounter any problems running at either stock or overclocked settings. In fact, as we recently found in our Power-Saving Motherboards: Fact or Fiction story, MSI’s Dr.MOS technology is one of the few we found able to make a measurable difference in power consumption. The bundled GreenPower Genie dongle sits between the motherboard and your power supply, monitoring just how much power is saved and reporting it to included GreenPower Center software.
One thing you will want to note before taking the plunge: although MSI advertises the included PCI Express sound card as a Creative X-Fi Xtreme hardware audio card, it’s merely a Creative codec with software support for EAX Advanced HD 4.0 effects—and no acceleration.