Computex — Like seemingly every other motherboard maker, MSI is showing off an X79 model loaded with PCI Express 3.0 slots. You don't need to step up to Intel's next high-end socket to get a dose of gen-three PCIe connectivity, though. MSI has also brought PCIe 3.0 slots to a Z68 motherboard with an 1155-pin Sandy Bridge socket.
The top two PCI Express x16 slots are still fed by the processor, but MSI has added the necessary electrical components to ensure compatibility with version 3.0 of the standard. Those components can't bring Sandy Bridge's PCIe lanes into the next generation—bandwidth can't be manufactured out of thin air. However, MSI says it has measured an increase in performance using PCIe-based solid-state drives. The company suspects that the beefed up slots offer improved signal quality, enabling better performance even with PCIe 2.0 expansion cards.
If you want to take full advantage of the board's PCIe 3.0 support, you'll have to wait for Ivy Bridge... and the requisite
BIOS UEFI update. MSI claims the board will be compatible with Intel's upcoming desktop CPU, which will feature gen-three PCIe lanes built in. It's also working on a new UEFI interface that promises to be much improved over the company's previous efforts.
On the graphics front, MSI has come up with a handful of interesting cooling tweaks to differentiate its cards from the rest of the pack. The cooling fans on the N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition are coated with a special paint that changes color from blue to white depending on the ambient temperature. Hypercolor anyone? Another interesting twist: the card can spin the fans in reverse to prevent dust and other particulate from accumulating on the heatsink. This will only happen when the card is idling with a low enough GPU temperature, and then only for 30 seconds at a time.
MSI's Afterburner software has become rather popular among folks looking to tweak their graphics cards from Windows. Now, there's an app for that. Well, an Android one, anyway. An iOS version of Afterburner is on the way, as well.