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This new motherboard from MSI, is one of the first to feature nVidiaís new motherboard chipset the N-Force chipset. It is supposed to be a revolutionary new design in chipsets. Well basically I suppose it is. It has a totally new design, which should offer greater speed and the first decent attempt at onboard graphics and sound. It is an all-in-one board.
I purchased this board as the basis for a new system I was building, but personally I would recommend as more of an upgrade board rather than for a new system. Anyway onto what the board features. As far as RAM goes it supports the new DDR RAM so it should be pretty quick, it also supports the new AMD Athlon XP (read my review if you want to know more).
I had pretty troublesome start to using this board, the first one I received from aria.co.uk, I diagnosed as a dud and returned it to them. The signals the motherboard was giving me made me think that the CPU socket (socket A in form) was either damaged or broken, because I knew it wasnít the actual CPU because it worked fine in another PC. This was what the manual told me following the signal I received on the D-LED bracket (more on that later), but after checking what the signal means according to the new manual it appears the chipset itself was faulty.
Well since I have recently received my replacement (about a month after I sent it back to aria) I am pleased to report that this one works. So know I am able to report on how this boards performs and not only about the problems I faced. To start for a change it worked first time. Only after reading the manual like I always do and advise you to do.
~~The Manual~~ Possibly one of the most important things to do before setting out on installing your new motherboard, I would advise that you read the manual. It is extremely important even if you think you know what you are doing because every motherboard is different. Well this being a revolutionary new design as far as chipsets go I was pleased to see it backed up with a fairly comprehensive manual. It made for some light bedtime reading for me.
~~Set-up/Installation~~ This board was incredibly easy to work with, although I canít consider it to be the easiest board I have worked with. The difference being that the other board I have worked with I considered jumper less. This board though had a few jumpers I had to work with. The first being one to set up the CPU bus speed, either Safe mode (i.e. 100Mhz) or to set it to Bios configurable. I find this completely pointless, especially when in the end it is controlled by the BIOS and they have a board out (released previous to this one) that is jumper less. Unless it is something to do with the chipset I do not know, but the only other explanation I have for it is that it is a safety device for people who are selling the PC on.
Overall installation was a breeze, but I do advise that you read the manual because there a re a few things to take note of, for example the extra headers that need to be installed. The only other problem I had was the previously mentioned problem with the manual, but it has been fixed so enough mentioned on that.
The motherboard also comes with a driver CD, which contains all the relevant drivers for windows. Including ones for the onboard graphics and the digital sound drivers. I would advise you to install the drivers contained on this CD, unless you are certain that other driver you may have downloaded from the internet are for this product because it is relatively new. There is also a copy of PC-Cillian anti-virus software.
~~Performance~~ The first thing that I noticed once I had installed the drivers in Windows for the sound was that it was worse than any other that I had ever heard. This is the basic onboard sound though not the digital sound. I cannot give any reference to this because I donít a set of digital speakers (Iím deprived I know). What I will say though is do not try and use this onboard sound unless you intend on using the digital DIN connection for digital speakers, because it is absolutely awful.
Once I managed to get over that I found the motherboard coped pretty well with most things I threw at it. I was able to compare the onboard graphics (using the same monitor) with my graphics card (Hercules 4500). I have to say that I coped almost on par with mine. This is aimed I feel at the budget end of the market though. I did manage to run Return To Castle Wolfenstein at 1024x768 in high detail, which is no mean feat.
The board is also fairly stable although I never put it under much strenuous activity other than installing programs. When I was using it though I found very few problems.
There is another good thing about this board, it features an AGP 4x socket incase you should ever want to upgrade the onboard graphics. I have heard reports that cards donít work as well when used in this board when compared with others that donít have any onboard adapter.
~~Layout~~ There isnít a lot Iím going to say about the layout of this motherboard because there is really only one thing I would change. It is the same thing that I am continually finding in MSI boards. I wish they would switch the position of the CPU socket with the ATX Power connector. This is only a minor niggle and shouldnít really put anyone off.
~~Features~~ Well I think this board is aimed at the more budget end of the market, mainly because of the graphics processor included. The graphics processor is a GeForce 2, and it performs pretty much on par with other GeForce 2ís if maybe even slightly faster. The does however support DDR RAM, which I quite a handy feature when it is supposedly going to be the best performance form of RAM available at the moment. It is currently pretty dear after a boom in prices. In fact the price for 512mb of DDR RAM has basically doubled from around £60 to around £120.
One feature that this board doesnít have is onboard RAID, which is found on quite a few boards currently available. Then I suppose itís a budget board so not that many people in the budget end of the market will be using RAID or even have two hard disks in order to use it.
One thing going for this board is that it has and onboard Ethernet port for use on either 10 or 100 mb/s networks. This I found pretty handy because I have a home network set-up and all I had to do was install the drivers and input the relative network details. No need to install an extra PCI card freeing up one of those precious PCI slots.
~~Conclusion~~ If you are looking for a budget DDR RAM, Socket A motherboard that will also work with an AMD Athlon XP with onboard graphics then this board will probably be just the thing for you. The onboard graphics themselves arenít too bad and they can manage to play most modern games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I would say though if you are looking for something to really perform then the best option as always is to buy things separately even if it may cost more. The end result will be well worth it.
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This is pretty dam good and is obviously from someone who knows the probs. I am impressed in the way it is written in non-techie speak, something I fail all too often to master. Nice idea on testing and good choice of product as most can relate to this. I personally would like to see more about the possible difficulties people may encounter by self-installation and re-builds. If you write one about re-building and sourcing items please let me know. As a fellow loony with a screwdriver set and lots of bits - its a goodun.
Connoisseur_Haggler 07.06.2002 00:36
Excellent opinion..and as a fellow AMD Athlon User this was most useful. (I had read your review of the MSI KT266 Pro 2 at dooyoo earlier) I upgraded to a MSI K7-Pro from an Asus and my PC has been running fine. Excellent opinion and well done on the diamond award, hope to see you on Ciao more often now!- CH
3rdRockSatan 06.06.2002 20:08
Great op, congrats on getting the diamond. Cheers, 3rdRock.