Mid-Priced Motherboard: MSI’s P55A Fuzion
While MSI has offered high-end (read: expensive) boards in the past using Lucid’s Hydra controllers, the company appears to have figured out that the most likely reason users would mix cards is for value. This logic compelled the company to target a sub-$200 price point when developing its P55A Fuzion, and the final product is available for around $175.
That price gets you a feature set that resembles several $140 motherboards, with the addition of its $35 Hydra 200 controller. Two full-bandwidth PCIe 2.0 x16 slots are fed by that Hydra 200 controller from the LGA 1156 socket's 16 processor-driven PCIe lanes.
The I/O panel has only one USB 3.0 port because its controller’s second port was moved inside. This was one of the proposals we saw in response to last year’s pleas for internal USB 3.0 ports. While a competing design is poised to become the industry standard, MSI’s design will at least allow a few current cases to access one port internally rather than looping out of the case to the I/O panel. We’d have accepted either MSI’s or the competing solution, but wanted at least two internal ports in addition to external ports.
Value also comes from overclocking, so MSI equips its P55A Fuzion with a ten-phase voltage regulator comprising “military-class” components. Though we’ve had great success using boards with this design, we have yet to quantify the benefits of these components.
Some builders might have already noticed that the P55A Fuzion has no rear-panel eSATA connectors. MSI supplies the board with one third-party controller, Marvell’s RAID-capable 88SE9128, and leaves it up to the user to decide whether to connect it to internal drives, a front-panel eSATA connector, or a rear-panel slot plate (accessories that are not included). Intel’s P55 Express PCH takes care of an additional six drives in RAID 0, 1, 5, or 10.
MSI uses touch sensors rather than buttons for onboard power and reset functions, making it easier to test the board without a case. An OC Genie button sets the motherboard to automatically run overclocking and stability tests at boot.
The one problem this editor found in the P55A Fuzion’s design is its bottom-rear-corner front-panel audio connector, a location that typically requires a 16-24” cable. I’ve tested over a dozen cases that came up 1-3 inches short. Though the short cable reach is primarily a case design issue, this formally-trained designer has never found an adequate excuse for placing the motherboard’s front-panel audio header so far away from a case’s front-panel connectors.