Anyone who would want to fit Gigabyte’s wild slot layout without a standard seven-slot case or put four double-slot cards within an eight-slot case, will definitely want to take a closer look at MSI’s 890FXA-GD70. MSI fits its seven slots within the confines of the standard ATX form factor by sliding its slots upward by one position compared to Gigabyte, displacing the 890FX northbridge to the area beneath the VRM sink.
While MSI’s design appears to be one x16-slot short of Gigabyte’s design, that “missing” slot has simply been reduced from four lanes to one and replaced with an x1 connector. Most performance systems can’t use the slot anyway, since it’s always covered over by the heat sink of dual-slot graphics cards. MSI succeeds where Gigabyte came up short by allowing four double-slot graphics cards to fit into widely-available eight-slot cases, rather than requiring an even more super-sized 10-slot case to reach quad-card CrossFireX nirvana.
The 890FXA-GD70 is also less costly than its oversized competitor and its smaller circuit board isn’t the only cost-saving measure: a single ATA controller adds single SATA and eSATA ports, where the competitor has two of each. FireWire has also been reduced from three ports to two and MSI strangely places both ports internally.
Quad graphics users will still suffer from the same front-panel-cable and GPU-cooler clearance issue below the bottom slot, but MSI makes cable installation slightly harder by also shoving its front-panel audio connector into the bottom-rear corner. Yes, that is the traditional location, but that tradition has contradicted good case design for many, many years. MSI also hides its port 80 diagnostics display under the third card, placing it next to the 890FXA-GD70’s legacy PCI slot.
More questionable is MSI’s placement of the seventh internal SATA port, a 3.0Gb/s link controlled by the same 2.5 Gb/s controller as its Ultra ATA connection. The problems with this port is that it’s partly covered by any double-slot graphics card in the second x16-length slot, placed lengthwise so that its cable can’t be snaked between cards, and flipped over so that any right-angle connector used to correct this oversight forces the cable to point towards the motherboard’s rear rather than its front.
Putting aside minor quibbles outlined above, good layout decisions abound. For example, DIMM slots that clip only on the top edge allow for easy installation and removal of memory without the fear of a graphics card blocking the latches. Similar to Asus’ design, these actually become useful on a motherboard populated this heavily with expansion slots.
Like most of its competitors, MSI adds internal power and reset buttons to ease bench testing. However, MSI’s “buttons” are actually touch-sensitive, rather than mechanical, and the 890FXA-GD70 also adds an “OC Dial” feature and selector button to assist hardware-level overclocking adjustments without requiring a reboot.
It seems that all high-end board manufacturers have a gimmick with which they claim superior durability compared to competitors. MSI’s latest advancements are “military grade” solid capacitors with a claimed 10-year lifespan at full load, Hi-C flat capacitors in its CPU-voltage regulator, and “Icy Choke” improved ferrite-core chokes that MSI claims run 20 degrees Celsius cooler.
MSI Cell Menu adds automatic overclocking and core unlocking capabilities to a relatively intricate range of voltage and clock controls.
CPU Voltage can be controlled by altering voltage detection pins (VDD) or by manual override, while adjusting both is often required
A submenu contains a similarly detailed set of memory timings, with automatic adjustment available to settings that haven’t been manually altered.
Up to six custom BIOS configurations can be saved as overclocking profiles in a protected area of BIOS ROM.
MSI bulks up its 890FXA-GD70 installation kit with documentation, including only four SATA cables with a motherboard that supports seven internal SATA drives.