K8N Diamond Plus: Socket 939 With SLI

Board-Revision: 1.0

BIOS-Version: 1.12 (AMI, December 22. 2005)

Athlon 64 mainboards are still a little more interesting for most buyers than Pentium 4 parts right now. Technologically speaking, Intel has regained some ground with the introduction of its 65nm processors (Pentium Extreme Edition 955, Pentium D 900 Series). However, AMD's chips - especially the dual-core Athlon 64 X2 - still enjoy a speed advantage over comparable Pentium 4 models, while drawing about a quarter less power.

It therefore made a good deal of business sense for MSI to set its sights on this market. Considering the target audience, it is no surprise that the K8N Diamond Plus uses the most recent version of NVIDIA's dual-graphics enabled chipset. The nForce 4 SLI X16 offers a total of 32 PCI Express lanes, ensuring that each of the PCIe graphics cards has the full bandwidth of 2 GB/s at its disposal.

On the whole, this new design doesn't bring any huge changes with it. However, it could prove to be the superior platform for SLI setups consisting of four graphics chips, available during the second quarter of this year. In the interest of fairness, we should mention that the 32 PCIe lanes are divided equally between the northbridge and the southbridge, resulting in a fair amount of traffic between these two components. This could be avoided if all of the PCIe lanes were integrated in the northbridge.

Nonetheless, this chipset currently represents the best choice, as its feature set is among the best the market has to offer. It comes with four SATA II ports, each with a transfer rate of up to 300 MB/s and NCQ support. In addition, the chipset sports an integrated gigabit Ethernet interface, as well as a hardware firewall. On top of that, there are six more PCIe lanes, which MSI has divided into two x1 slot and one x4 slot. The x4 slot is open at the front, allowing it to be used with a third graphics card. Since virtually every modern graphics card comes with two display connectors, this lets users build a system that can drive up to six monitors!

However, even with this already-rich feature set, MSI wasn't quite content. Thus, the board features a few extra goodies, such as an additional Silicon Image companion chip that adds another two SATA II ports; a Marvell chip for a second Gigabit Ethernet connection; and a VIA Firewire controller with three IEEE-1394a ports. Interestingly, MSI is not quite as generous where voltage converters are concerned. While Asus and Gigabyte are seemingly in a competition to fit the most voltage regulators on a board, MSI sticks with the conventional three-phase power design. This is not a drawback per se, as the board supports all current processors right up to the newly introduced Athlon 64 FX-60.