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MSI Eclipse SLI

Intel X58 Roundup: Six $300+ Platforms Compared
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Features and Layout

MSI might have dropped the Diamond moniker from its highest-end motherboard, but a superb list of features leaves no doubt that the Eclipse has taken its place.

That list of unique features begins with extra SATA connections, both internally and externally, where competitors would force buyers to choose. And like its Diamond predecessors, the Eclipse comes with an inexpensive sound card rather than a simple codec riser that several competing motherboards offer.

The Eclipse makes unique use of board space and PCIe lanes compared to its competitors. For example, it’s one of only two that supports seven expansion cards, but it’s the only model with enough room to install a card of realistic length in the top x1 slot. MSI also spreads its first and second PCIe 2.0 slots apart by three spaces to allow additional airflow when two cards are installed, rather than rearrange the slot order to accomplish a similar cooling advantage. But even more unique are the lack of any lane switches between slots–the X58 Express Northbridge provides up to 36 PCIe 2.0 lanes and MSI uses the four “left-over” lanes to feed a third graphics card.

By using four PCIe 2.0 lanes, MSI provides its third x16-length slot with the same bandwidth as an earlier v1.1 x8 slot. We examined the effectiveness of this bandwidth level a few months ago and found that while it’s usually adequate for a single-GPU Radeon HD 4870, it’s probably not suitable for today’s highest-performance models.

Thus, the Eclipse doesn’t focus on 3-way SLI like so many other products do, but it could still be the optimal solution for four-GPU configurations of two dual-GPU GTX 295s or Radeon HD 4870 X2s. And while the third slot might not be sufficient for the latest graphics processors, it’s perfect for 3-way CrossFireX configurations using upper-mainstream cards, as long as the chosen case has room for any double-slot card that hangs one space beneath the motherboard’s bottom edge.

The unique slot configuration certainly has several pros and cons, but one thing that buyers should also consider is its overall effect on how much hardware they can install. For example, a super-high-end “do-everything” system could be assembled using two GTX 295s in quad-SLI mode, a hardware RAID card in the bottom  PCIe 2.0 x4 slot, a high-end audio card in the center PCI slot, and a high-end A/V card in the top x1 slot. This kind of flexibility is unmatched by any of today’s competitors.

Other unique features are the board’s lack of any floppy connector and the use of a “True Six-Phase” rather than 12-phase or greater voltage regulator. While the missing floppy will only be a concern for Windows XP users who want to add AHCI or RAID drivers to their initial installation, the “missing” voltage regulator components could raise questions for a broader market. MSI’s intention was to provide high stability and improved efficiency by using fewer high-capacity regulator components rather than a slew of lesser parts, but the lower-stated number may cause high-end buyers to hesitate. Our overclocking and power-consumption comparison will prove the worth of this design.

Power, reset, and D-LED 2 control buttons are found along the Eclipse’s bottom edge.

The removable D-LED 2 module displays system status plus CPU base clock, CPU temperature, and CPU/northbridge voltage levels.

MSI Eclipse SLI (Revision 1.1)
Northbridge

Intel X58 Express

Southbridge

Intel ICH10R

Voltage Regulation

Six Phases

BIOS

V1.3B6 (12/26/2008)

133.3 MHz Base Clock

133.7 (+0.28%)

Clock Generator

ICS 9LPRS133BKLF

Connectors and Interfaces

Onboard

3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x16/x16/x4 Transfers)

2 x PCIe x1

2 x PCI

2 x USB 2.0 (2 Ports Per Connector)

1 x IEEE-1394 FireWire

1 x Serial Communications Port

1 x Ultra ATA (2 drives)

10 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s

1 x Fan 4-pin (CPU, System)

5 x Fan 3-pins (Chassis, Power)

1 x DrLED2 Diagnostics Header

1 x Power Switch

1 x Reset Switch

1 x DrLED2 Display Switch

I/O Panel

2 x PS2 (keyboard, mouse)

8 x USB 2.0

1 x IEEE-1394 FireWire

2 x External SATA (eSATA) 3.0 Gb/s

1 x CLR_CMOS button

2 x RJ45 Ethernet

Mass Storage Controllers

Intel ICH10R

6 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s (RAID 0, 1, 5, 10)

JMicron JMB363 PCIe

1 x Ultra ATA-133 (2-drives)

2 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s Interface

2 x JMicron JMB322 PCIe

2 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s to 4x SATA 3.0 Gb/s

JMicron JMB362 PCIe

2 x External SATA (eSATA) 3.0 Gb/s

Network

2 x Realtek RTL8111C PCIe

Dual Gigabit LAN with Teaming

Audio

Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio PCIe

Eight-Channel (7.1 Surround) Output
EAX Advanced HD 4.0, CMSS-3D, Crystalizer

EAX 5.0, CMSS-3D, Crystalizer

IEEE-1394 FireWire

VIA VT6308P PCI

2 x FireWire 400 (1x Internal, 1x I/O Panel)


As with the competing product from Gigabyte, MSI's Eclipse uses two JMicron JMB322 controllers as hubs to double the number of SATA ports from its JMB363 SATA/Ultra ATA controller. A fairly severe PCIe x1 bandwidth restriction of 250 MB/s for combined six SATA and Ultra ATA drives is alleviated somewhat by installing a second double-thickness graphics card, simply because such cards block-off the bottom two ports.

The JMB362 eSATA controller starves two 3.0 Gb/s drives with 2.5 Gb/s of PCIe x1 bandwidth, while the dual RTL8111C Gigabit Ethernet controllers get a healthy 5.0 Gb/s bandwidth from two PCIe lanes. This type of bandwidth imbalance applies to all of today’s high-end boards, as it’s a limitation of available sub-components.

The VT6308P requires no more than 800 Mb/s to feed its two 400 Mb ports, so its legacy PCI connection is more than adequate.

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