MSI shows next-gen motherboards, fresh graphics cards

CES — Like most motherboard makers, MSI has a boatload of Sandy Bridge products to show off at the Consumer Electronics Show. We've already covered the mid-range P67A-GD65 in our initial Sandy Bridge motherboard round-up. The Big Bang Marshall is an entirely different beast. And I do mean beast. Check it out the latest example of high-end motherboard excess:

There are no fewer than eight PCI Express x16 slots on the board—so many that it's taller than the standard ATX form factor. You don't get anywhere near 16 lanes of bandwidth to each slot, though. Sandy Bridge only has 16 lanes of PCIe 2.0 connectivity on the CPU, and even with a Lucid chip lending a helping hand to distribute those lanes, additional ones can't be pulled out of thin air. The eight lanes present in the P67 chipset aren't going to be much help, either. A good number of them are needed to fuel the peripheral chips behind the board's eSATA connectivity, auxiliary 6GBps SATA ports, and dozen USB 3.0 connectors.

If the Big Bang Marshall lives a little too large for your tastes, I direct your attention to the midget Mini-ITX model pictured above. We don't yet know much about the board itself, but the snapshot reveals a few interesting details, such as full-sized DIMM slots, four Serial ATA ports, and a PCI Express connector with an x1 interface. Sorry, no x16 love for folks who want to run a discrete graphics card. This board looks like it might be better suited to small-form-factor desktops and home-theater PCs than shoebox gaming rigs.

Sandy Bridge motherboards weren't the only ones on display. We caught a quick glimpse of some next-gen AMD hotness featuring a socket referred to as AM3+. If you look closely at the socket, you'll see a rectangular indent in the center. (It's much clearer in the larger picture featured in the image gallery below). The socket looks like it might make a good home for one of AMD's upcoming Llano APUs.

On the graphics front, MSI had plenty of goodness on display, including a tweaked cooler design strapped to GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 6970 graphics cards. We counted five heatpipes in total, and MSI pointed out that the fans have been reshaped to optimize airflow. The cards also feature some of the advanced power regulation circuitry used on recent MSI motherboards. Both models have dual 8-pin PCIe power connectors, so there should be no shortage of power on tap for overclockers.

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