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MSI's K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI motherboard

A Creative Athlon 64 solution
— 10:22 AM on February 10, 2006

ModelK8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI
Price (Street)

Editor's note: This review took us an awfully long time to finish. Too long, in fact, and MSI says this motherboard has ended its run, to be replaced by a new model. We've decided to go ahead and publish this review for your reading pleasure, in part because variants of this design, like the non-SLI K8N Neo4 Platinum, are still widely available for purchase.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT NVIDIA launched its nForce4 SLI X16 chipset several months ago, motherboard manufacturers have been slow to adopt the new core logic. That's understandable, since the X16 chipset really doesn't offer much in the way of new features and performance. In fact, there are still only a few nForce4 SLI X16-based motherboards available on the market.

With much of the high-end motherboard market riding the original nForce4 SLI, MSI's K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI looks right at home. MSI's spin on the nForce4 SLI is unique, though. Rather than settling for the nForce4 SLI chipset's pedestrian AC'97 audio implementation, MSI has endowed the K8N Neo4 with a high-definition audio chip from Creative. Can high-def audio help the K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI rise above the slew of nForce4 SLI boards out there? Read on to find out.

The specs

CPU supportSocket 939-based Athlon 64 processors
ChipsetnForce4 SLI
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
3 32-bit/33MHz PCI
Memory4 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 4GB of unbuffered DDR400/333/266 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
2 channels ATA/133 with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
2 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1 ,0+1 support (via SiI 3132 chip)
4 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
Audio7.1-channel audio via Creative SB Live! 24-bit
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
4 USB 2.0 ports with headers for 6 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via nForce4 SLI
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 via Marvell 88E8053
1 Firewire (IEEE1394a) port via VIA VT6306 with headers for two more

1 analog line out
1 analog center/subwoofer out
1 analog rear left/rear right out
1 SPDIF out (optical)
1 SPDIF out (coaxial)
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsHyperTransport: 190, 200-400MHz in 1 MHz increments
DRAM: Auto, 100,133,166,200,210,233,250MHz
PCI-E: 100-145MHz in 1MHz increments
VoltagesCPU: Startup, 0.825V to 1.350V in 0.025V increments. Extra CPU voltage in 3.3, 6.6, 9.9% increments
DDR: 2.5-2.85V in 0.05V increments
Chipset: 1.5-1.85V in 0.05V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlNone

The nForce4 SLI chipset features 20 lanes of PCI Express, which the K8N Neo4 spreads across two physical PCI-E x16 slots, an auxiliary Gigabit Ethernet controller, and a Serial ATA RAID chip. Marvell's 88E8053 GigE chip provides an alternative to the nForce4 SLI's ActiveArmor-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet controller, while a Silicon Image 3132 Serial ATA RAID chip bolsters the nForce4's extensive Serial ATA and RAID support. That still leaves two PCI Express lanes to spare, but curiously, the K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI doesn't feature any PCI-E x1 slots. The market isn't exactly flooded with PCI-E x1 cards, so a lack of x1 slots isn't a deal-breaker. It would have been nice to get at least one, though.

The lack of PCI-E x1 slots would be a little easier to swallow if the K8N Neo4 Platinum/SLI had more than just three PCI slots. At least one PCI slot must usually be sacrificed to escape the evils of onboard audio, but that might not be necessary on the K8N Neo. The board features a Creative CA0106-DAT audio chip that's identical to the one used on the company's SoundBlaster Live! 24-bit PCI sound card. This chip is capable of handling 24-bit audio streams at high sampling rates but lacks the hardware necessary to accelerate positional 3D audio. Still, it's an upgrade over the nForce4 SLI's basic AC'97 audio controller.