NFORCE 780a SLI Motherboard Comparison

MSI K9N2 Diamond

The Diamond label designates MSI’s best-featured parts, and the K9N2 Diamond leads its newest product line.

msi k9n2-diamond profil

Layout and Features

The K9N2 Diamond features a somewhat similar layout to the previously detailed ASRock motherboard, in that the nForce 780a SLI Northbridge and nFoce 200 PCI-Express bridge are adjacent and covered by a single sink. MSI’s heatpipe is a little more elaborate, but like ASRock its uppermost PCI-Express x16 slot is located in the uppermost slot position.

msi k9n2-diamond dessus

The uppermost slot does crowd DIMM latches slightly, but careful technicians should still be able to replace the RAM without removing the graphics card. Two additional x16 slots share a total of sixteen pathways, but MSI electronically switches the middle slot between x16 and x8 mode depending on whether or not the third slot is used. MSI also spaces the first and second x16 slots further apart to make room for a PCI-Express x1 audio card, and leaves the second-from-top slot position empty since it will probably be taken up by a graphics cooler anyway. All three x16 slots provide PCI-Express 2.0 transfer modes, thanks to the use of the nForce 200 bridge.

The nForce 780a SLI supports six SATA 3.0Gb/s drives, and five of the K9N2 Diamond’s six SATA ports have no clearance problems with oversized cards such as the 9800GX2. The top outward-facing port is blocked by super-long graphics coolers however, and the four forward-facing ports could be blocked by the lower drive cage of some cases.

The nForce 780a SLI chipset’s ATA-133 interface is almost perfectly located at the “upper half” of the motherboard’s front edge, for easy reach to upper-bay optical drives. Only the 24-pin ATX/EPS power connector stands in the way of “perfect” Ultra ATA cable management, but this header is also located for optimal cable routing to top-mounted power supplies.

One feature the K9N2 Diamond provides that we haven’t seen for a while is a second Ultra ATA connector, for total support of four legacy drives. Unfortunately, the second Ultra ATA and the floppy header are both located at the motherboard’s bottom edge, which creates a cable routing nightmare whenever these interfaces are needed.

Another unusual choice is the front panel switch/LED connector at the middle of the board’s lower edge, rather than the traditional lower front-edge placement. Though the wire leads of most cases should reach, we’ve seen a few that wouldn’t.

msi k9n2-diamond bas

Power, reset, and CLR_CMOS buttons above the front panel switch connectors are handy for bench testing, but won’t be of much use in a finished system.

Because the K9N2 Diamond relies on either an included PCI-Express audio card or the chipset’s integrated HDMI audio, there are no front-panel audio connector “problems”. The included card provides the front panel connector, and the appropriate slot is adequately placed for good cable reach on most cases.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • nukemaster
    K10N780SLIX3-WiFi, thats Asrock naming all the way.
  • a 6pack in
    so after reading all this.. i think im stickin with my 790FX. i was waiting for a quite a while for nvidia to pull something here with the 780a chipset. In my eyes its a fail.

    AMD's 790FX chipset provides significantly more lanes than nvidia. 3-way SLI is a novel idea but at x8 lanes for 3 slots.. not so much. while amd is providing full x16 support.

    good info tho. if anything i would recommend the ASRock board also for nvidia's SLI path.
  • johnbilicki
    I wan to see boards with two 16x slots and one 4x slot. Honestly I'm not interested in 100+ FPS at 1024x768 or 1280x1024 which is what you'll get in most games with triple SLI. The MSI board looks like they could have fit a couple more USB ports next to the useless firewire port. It's 2008 and I have yet to even see a product require a firewire port on products I'm only browsing on sales sites like Newegg or even just review sites. I liked Gigabyte's new quad gigabit port motherboard, finally 8 USB ports on the back! Also if no one shows up with a router at your LAN party three of your buddies can merely connect to your system any way (and who doesn't have dual LAN ports these days besides your cheap who cheaps out by five bucks on a north bridge).

    What is with the waste of brackets? Give us four USB ports on a bracket. If you upgrade even only once every four or five years you probably still have about five or six brackets laying around somewhere with all the firewire ports you could ever want...and if not your buddies do.

    The dual-slot coolers on single slot cards, what a waste! If you're going to use a second slot don't waste the opportunity to move that hot air the heck out of the case!

    My last criticism is the i-ram...DDR-1?! I love Gigabyte when it actually bothers to make boards using chipsets I'd want (they skipped the true 16X SLI and jumped on the then useless AM2 bandwagon however). So why aren't we seeing DDR2 RAM-drives? 4x4GB/32GB would be far out of most people's budgets but a 4x2GB/16GB RAM drive at $40/$160 dimm/total would *own* a raptor raid 0 any day in price/performance.

    The manufacturers need to seriously start bringing some people in to the design rooms to question WTF they're thinking with their product designs because I see no reason to bother spending any money right now.

    ...and to clarify I enjoyed the article itself, it's just the products I hold disappointment in. The new chipset is great overall though.
  • nukemaster
    DDR is still faster then any hard drive interface anyway(DDR 266 @ 2128MB/s), so why not? its actually limited by its sata 150 interface not the ram(it would also max sata 300).

    I agree DDR2 is the way to go, but only because the price is much lower and better capacities. When gigabyte designed the I-ram ddr was cheaper and ddr2 was new and expensive.

    I think there is a DDR2 I-ram in the making
  • geralt
    I would like to see how 780a compares to boards with 780G chipset.
  • I own an evga 780i and I am plagued with the video corruption problem like many other nvidia 7 series owners. BEWARE before you invest on these boards. Nvidia hasn't released a fix in 3 months. Many people can't watch video or play games without encountering a hard lock-up.
    Video of problem: http: //www. youtube. com/watch?v=TYHuzJSpORw

    http: //www.evga. com/forums/tm.asp?m=253891&mpage=1&key=
    http: //nvidia.custhelp. com/cgi-bin/nvidia.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=2190
    http: //vip.asus. com/forum/view.aspx?id=20080407161030625&board_id=1&model=Striker+II+Formula&page=1&SLanguage=en-us
    http: //
    http: //digg. com/hardware/780i_nvidia_motherboard_graphics_corruption
  • jabliese
    No comparison of just the integrated graphics? One of the selling points for the 790 is it's DX10 support, would like to see some kind of comparison between just the integrated graphics, say, maybe on HDTV playback.
  • ComputerCustomizer
    When's an ASUS variant coming out?
  • Crashman
    An Asus variant is floating around the review sites, this site had a couple.
  • unifiedonboarddecoder
    They should also do the test using an ATi video card. I would like to see those benchmarks as well.