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Intel X58 Roundup: Six $300+ Platforms Compared

MSI Eclipse SLI

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)
NorthbridgeIntel X58 Express
SouthbridgeIntel ICH10R
Voltage RegulationSix Phases
BIOSV1.3B6 (12/26/2008)
133.3 MHz Base Clock133.7 (+0.28%)
Clock GeneratorICS 9LPRS133BKLF
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard3 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 Panel2 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 ICH10R6 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s (RAID 0, 1, 5, 10)
JMicron JMB363 PCIe1 x Ultra ATA-133 (2-drives)
2 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s Interface
2 x JMicron JMB322 PCIe2 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s to 4x SATA 3.0 Gb/s
JMicron JMB362 PCIe2 x External SATA (eSATA) 3.0 Gb/s
Network
2 x Realtek RTL8111C PCIeDual Gigabit LAN with Teaming
Audio
Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio PCIeEight-Channel (7.1 Surround) Output EAX Advanced HD 4.0, CMSS-3D, Crystalizer
EAX 5.0, CMSS-3D, Crystalizer
IEEE-1394 FireWire
VIA VT6308P PCI2 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.

Image 1 of 2

Image 2 of 2

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.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • arkadi
    Some times it really hard to stay objective, but you did it, grate article.
    I would consider few other aspects as well, like service and RMA statistics.
    In some countries you wont have official representation of a vendor, and in case of RMA you can end up with different MB model, usually not for the best.
    From my experience i recommend for most of you to get more common boards.
    Reply
  • wdmso
    "Intel X58 Roundup: Six $300+ Platforms Compared " this title will lead
    some less informed readers that they can get the cpu memory and MB for 300.00.
    It should read "Intel X58 Roundup: Six $300+ Motherboards Compared"
    the title is misleading
    Reply
  • neiroatopelcc
    I can't afford an i7 system, but when I see beautiful motherboards like that dfi and the foxconn board, I wish I could! That foxconn board almost makes me feel like looking at a beautifully built soltek board with uniform colors and good looks. Looks ain't everything, but looks do matter. I love my gigabyte board because it works great, but I would love it even more if it came 'styled' like the dfi green or the foxconn red board ....
    Reply
  • When you review the less-expensive X58 boards, I'd appreciate it if you would evaluate them in terms of which is the likely to be the most stable, most reliable, and most problem-free non-overclocked board. Thanks.
    Reply
  • phantom93
    Lol nice article, lol i love the soldering job on the port-80 diagnostics digits for the DFI lan party board.
    Reply
  • inversed
    It seems odd to have skipped mentioning the Gigabyte EX58's driver-less RAID capability. I was able to get Windows XP to boot off of a mirrored RAID without needing the floppy and the initial setup went very quickly. One unfortunate aspect of this mobo, however is that it cannot output digital audio and analog audio at the same time. So no switching between surround sound and headphones without changing settings in the audio control software.
    Reply
  • jeffunit
    Though the core i7 is a crazy fast processor, it doesn't offer ECC support. That is why I just bought an amd phenom II 940. Perhaps 'gamers' don't care about ECC but only how many graphics cards they can stuff in the mb. On the other hand, IBM estimated 1 error per gig per week. So at 4gb, that is less than 2 days between errors. Perhaps that isn't noticeable with microsoft operation systems, but I keep my machines up for weeks or months at a time...

    My cheap asus mb not only supports ECC, but ECC scrubbing, chipkill, and more. Who cares how fast a computer is, when it crashes often?
    Reply
  • jeffunit
    Though the core i7 is a crazy fast processor, it doesn't offer ECC support. That is why I just bought an amd phenom II 940. Perhaps 'gamers' don't care about ECC but only how many graphics cards they can stuff in the mb. On the other hand, IBM estimated 1 error per gig per week. So at 4gb, that is less than 2 days between errors. Perhaps that isn't noticeable with microsoft operation systems, but I keep my machines up for weeks or months at a time...

    My cheap asus mb not only supports ECC, but ECC scrubbing, chipkill, and more. Who cares how fast a computer is, when it crashes often?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    wdmso"Intel X58 Roundup: Six $300+ Platforms Compared " this title will lead some less informed readers that they can get the cpu memory and MB for 300.00.It should read "Intel X58 Roundup: Six $300+ Motherboards Compared"the title is misleading
    You're right: I belive the word "Platform" was substituted by another editor to make the title shorter, so it would fit better in the headline bar. I might have chosen "Mobos" myself when encountered with such an issue, but they don't like using slang in titles.

    temporary87654When you review the less-expensive X58 boards, I'd appreciate it if you would evaluate them in terms of which is the likely to be the most stable, most reliable, and most problem-free non-overclocked board. Thanks.
    Good suggestions, but the problem is that all these boards were stable and built for reliability when overclocked. Using lower speeds increases stability and reliability, and you just cannot exceed "100% Stability". All the boards also used high-quality electrical components, which means a reliability test would require years to reveal any differences.

    inversedIt seems odd to have skipped mentioning the Gigabyte EX58's driver-less RAID capability. I was able to get Windows XP to boot off of a mirrored RAID without needing the floppy and the initial setup went very quickly. One unfortunate aspect of this mobo, however is that it cannot output digital audio and analog audio at the same time. So no switching between surround sound and headphones without changing settings in the audio control software.
    We'll have to see what we can do about getting the author some digital speakers or a digital receiver headset to test for such issues in the future. That particular issue hadn't come up prior to testing.
    Reply
  • ryanaxiom
    What about the Gigabyte UD5? I guess it doesn't fall in the 300+ category at $288 from Newegg, but stil...

    It has all the benefits of the EX-58-Extreme minus the gigantic NB cooler, but also allows use of an x8 RAID card in the open ended slot (I have one installed) and if you get straight risers/wearout protectors you can install a x1 sound card in the top slot! The best of all worlds!!!

    The only small complaint I have is that sometimes I have to try to boot twice since the AHCI bios doesn't always want to load after post.
    Reply