Seven 650i SLI Motherboards Compared

MSI P6N SLI Platinum: Fully Loaded

Most of the boards in this comparison sacrifice either features or connectors in an attempt to keep cost reasonable, but what happens when a company wants to offer everything for a modest price increase ? MSI provides an answer in its P6N SLI Platinum.

Features Overview

Packing a mid-priced board with features isn’t likely to result in a "clean, efficient" design, but careful planning allowed MSI to fit the majority of these into logical locations. It’s not like the company added unwanted extra components : Instead, it kept all the expected features and connectors that other companies often remove to maintain low cost.

The first middle road taken by MSI is its four-phase voltage regulator, similar to those found in the ECS and Abit samples. By comparison, the P5N-E SLI has only three phases, while the Gigabyte provides six. Overclocking stability tests will prove this design’s ultimate worth.

Stepping above most of the competition is MSI’s selection of solid capacitors in all locations on this board, a move towards stability and longevity matched only by Gigabyte in this comparison.

Only six of the possible seven slot positions are useful, but the slot MSI eliminated would often be blocked by a graphics card cooler anyway. One PCI-Express x1 and three PCI slots take care of the majority of configuration needs, while the two PCI-Express x16 slots can be set to one x16 pathway or two x8 pathways via a selector card between them.

Both Ultra ATA connectors are located above the center of the P6N SLI Platinum’s leading edge for easy cable routing to upper drive bays, and four Serial ATA connectors are lined up just above the lower graphics card slot so as to fit between the oversized coolers of two large graphics cards. The 24-pin ATX power connector’s upper front edge location is also nearly ideal for use in traditional tower case designs.

Cable routing difficulties include a floppy and front panel cable connectors near the front and rear of the bottom edge and an 8-pin ATX12V header below the rear corner of the CPU cooler location. The floppy connector location is still a bit better than three of the other boards in this comparison, though the front panel audio connector’s extremely remote placement is matched by only one. The ATX12V connector might be easier to reach for cases that have the power supply beneath the board, but will force builders using traditional cases to rout the cable over or around the CPU cooler.

Heatpipes join the Southbridge, Northbridge, and a partial VRM sink, allowing various CPU coolers to be somewhat effective at reducing heat in an already good design. Builders needing additional chipset cooling will find an add-on Northbridge fan in the box.

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MSI P6N SLI Platinum (Revision 1.0)
NorthbridgeNVIDIA nForce 650i SLI (C55 SPP)
SouthbridgenF430 (MCP51)
Voltage RegulatorFour Phases
BIOS1.1 (03/06/2007)
266.7 MHz (FSB1066)266.7 MHz (+0.0%)
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard2x PCIe x16 (1x x16 or 2x x8 pathways)1x PCIe x13x PCI2x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)1x IEEE-1394 FireWire1x Floppy2x Ultra ATA4x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s1x Serial Port Header1x Front Panel Audio1x CD Audio In1x Fan 4 pins (CPU)3x Fan 3 pins (System)1x Power LED
IO panel2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)1x RJ-45 Network4x USB 2.01x IEEE-1394 FireWire2x Digital Audio Out (S/P-DIF optical, coaxial)5x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In or Line-In)1x eSATA (External Serial ATA) interface
Mass Storage Controllers
MCP514x SATA 3.0Gb/s (RAID 0,1,5,10 capable)2x Ultra ATA-133 (4-drives)
Silicon Image SIL35311x eSATA 3.0Gb/s
NVIDIA Gigabit Network1x Realtek RTL8211BL PHY
HDA (Azalia) Controller InterfaceRealtek ALC888 7.1 Codec
VIA VT6308P2x IEEE-1394a (400 Mbit/s)

The P6N SLI Platinum keeps most of the useful controllers and rear panel ports, using the midrange ALC888 codec rather than the old ALC883 found on a few others. Connected to five of the needed six analog audio jacks, 7.1-channel analog configurations will limit the fifth jack to either Microphone or Line-In functions, not both. MSI puts the digital optical audio output where the sixth analog connection might have gone on other motherboards.

The back panel also features a digital coaxial audio output, eSATA, IEEE-1394 FireWire, RJ-45 network and four USB 2.0 ports, PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports and a parallel port.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.