The K8N Diamond Plus' veritable cornucopia of peripheral chips, slots, and ports look great on the spec sheet, but squeezing them all onto a standard ATX form factor isn't easy. Fortunately, MSI has done a pretty good job with the layout, even if it looks a little crowded from above.
We're not thrilled with the position of some of the board's power connectors, though. The 24-pin primary power connector is located along the right edge near the top of the board, just where we like it. However, the eight-pin auxiliary 12V connector is far enough down the left side of the board to create cable clutter around the CPU socket. Cable clutter can restrict air flow around the processor heat sink, potentially raising CPU temperatures in the process.
Despite its eight-pin power plug, the K8N Diamond Plus works just fine with older four-pin ATX 12V power connectors. The board also has a four-pin Molex connector above the top PCI Express x16 slot, but it's only needed when running a pair of graphics cards in SLI.
As if cable clutter around the CPU weren't enough, the K8N Diamond Plus' north bridge cooler leaves little room between itself and the socket. The cooler is close enough to create clearance problems with wider processor heat sinks like Zalman's CNPS7700, although there's enough room for the slimmer CNPS9500. Given that MSI appears to have taken great care in ensuring that only low-profile capacitors surround the CPU socket, it's particularly disappointing to see the north bridge cooler get in the way.
Were the cooler a fanless design, it might be easier to forgive. But it's not. Despite a fancy heat pipe linking heat sinks on the north and south bridge chips, the cooler still relies on a tiny chipset fan to keep temperatures in check. We'd prefer passive chipset cooling, as smaller fans tend to develop increasingly annoying whines over time. The K8N Diamond Plus' fan could be an exception, of course, but it's rare to see generic chipset fan maintain reasonable noise levels with extended use.
The chipset cooler's saving grace is its low-profile south bridge component, which leaves plenty of clearance for longer graphics cards. Even the heat pipe is carefully shaped to avoid conflict with PCI Express cards, and the K8N Diamond Plus can support a bunch of them. You see, in addition to a pair of standard x16 slots, the board's yellow PCI-E x4 slot has also been notched to accept longer x16 graphics cards. Cards installed in the slot obviously won't benefit from a full 16 lanes of bandwidth, and they won't be able to accelerate 3D graphics as part of a three-card SLI configuration, but users should at least be able to squeeze a couple of extra monitor outputs from the slot.
Although the K8N Diamond Plus' array of PCI Express slots is certainly generous, the board has only two standard PCI slots. With a double-wide SLI configuration, one of those PCI slots will be blocked, leaving only one slot available for audio cards, TV tuners, and the like. Double-wide SLI configurations will leave two PCI Express slots open, but given the dearth of PCI Express peripherals, we'd almost prefer that one of those slots be plain old PCI. We'd really rather have a wider selection of PCI Express x1 peripherals so we could ditch PCI completely, though.
Moving to the right, we see the K8N Diamond Plus' Serial ATA ports all neatly arranged along the edge of the board. This is exactly where they should be, and although gargantuan secondary graphics cards like the GeForce 7900 GTX can crowd the ports a little, they should all still be usable.
Speaking of ports, the K8N Diamond Plus' backplane is loaded. Here, you'll find a handful of legacy ports in addition to plenty of USB, Ethernet, analog audio, and even Firewire. MSI has also equipped the board with coaxial and TOS-Link S/PDIF outputs for those with digital speakers or receivers, but there's no provision for digital audio input.
If there aren't enough ports on the backplane for your stack of Firewire and USB peripherals, the K8N Diamond Plus also comes bundled with PCI brackets for an additional two Firewire and USB ports. There are onboard headers for four more USB ports on top of that, too.
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