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MSI's K9N SLI Platinum motherboard

Mid-range marvel?

ModelK9N SLI Platinum
Price (Street)

NVIDIA'S NFORCE 590 SLI got all the attention when AMD launched its new AM2 platform, and for good reason. The chipset is packed to the gills with more PCI Express lanes, Serial ATA ports, integrated Gigabit Ethernet controllers, and fancy buzzwords than any other core logic solution for the Athlon 64. It's not alone, though. Nvidia launched a full line of nForce 500 series chipsets to accompany Socket AM2, and although the nForce 590 SLI is the flagship, its little brother, the nForce 570 SLI, may ultimately be more appealing.

The nForce 570 SLI doesn't have quite as many PCI Express lanes as the 590, and it's missing a buzzword here and there, but you still get SLI support, six Serial ATA RAID ports, dual hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet controllers, and High Definition Audio. You pay a lot less, too. nForce 590 SLI boards sell for close to $200 online, while those based on the 570 SLI can be had for closer to $125.

MSI's K9N SLI Platinum is currently one of the most affordable nForce 570 SLI boards on the market, and we've snagged one to see how it compares with high-end offerings based on the nForce 590 SLI. Can this mid-range board hold its own against competition that costs 50% more? Keep reading; the answer might surprise you.

Board specs
Before diving into the K9N SLI Platinum's spec sheet, I should take a moment to highlight the main differences between the nForce 590 SLI and 570 SLI chipsets. There aren't many, so it will really only take a moment.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the 590 and 570 SLI is the number of available PCI Express lanes. The 590 SLI bristles with 46 lanes of connectivity, allowing it to supply a pair of graphics cards with 16 lanes of bandwidth each in SLI. With only 28 lanes of PCI Express at its disposal, the 570 SLI can only afford eight lanes of bandwidth to each graphics card in SLI. From a bandwidth perspective, that's not a trivial limitation. However, we've yet to see dual x16 SLI configurations offer tangible performance benefits over dual x8 setups.

LinkBoost is the other big feature missing from the nForce 570 SLI, but it's not so much missing as not applicable. Like most chipsets, the nForce 590 SLI is split between north and south bridge components. An interconnect joins the these components, and LinkBoost gives users the option of increasing the speed of that interconnect by 25%. The nForce 570 SLI is a single-chip solution, so there's no chipset interconnect, making LinkBoost moot. To be fair, LinkBoost also boosts the bandwidth available to the nForce 590 SLI's PCI Express x16 slots by 25%, but even Nvidia admits that this change has little impact on real world performance.

So there you have it. The major differences between the nForce 590 SLI and 570 SLI chipsets are ones that are unlikely to impact performance even under the best of circumstances. In fact, the similarities between the two chipsets are so striking that we suspect that the nForce 590 SLI's south bridge component is little more than an nForce 570 SLI chip in disguise. We've asked Nvidia if this is the case, and they would only say that the two chips are "very similar."

CPU supportSocket AM2-based Athlon 64 processors
North bridgenForce 570 SLIĀ  MCP
South bridge
Expansion slots2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
3 32-bit/33MHz
Memory4 240-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 8 GB of DDR2-400/533/667/800 SDRAM
Storage I/OFloppy disk
1 channels ATA/133
6 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support
Audio8-channel HD audio via nForce 570 and Realtek ALC883 codec
Ports1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 serial
1 parallel

4 USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more
1 1394a Firewire via VIA VT6307 with header for 1 more
2 RJ45 10/100/1000

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog rear out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
1 coaxial digital S/PDIF output
1 TOS-Link digital S/PDIF output
BIOSPhoenix AwardBIOS
Bus speedsHT: 200-425MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 400, 533, 667, 800MHz
Bus multipliersLDT: 1x-5x
VoltagesCPU: auto, 0.8-1.35V in 0.025V increments
Extra CPU voltage: +0.05-0.35V in 0.05V increments
DDR: auto, 1.8-2.45V in 0.05V increments
MonitoringVoltage, fan status, and temperature monitoring
Fan speed controlCPU

The K9N SLI Platinum's spec sheet is largely defined by the capabilities of the nForce 570 SLI chipset. All six of the board's 300MB/s Serial ATA ports are fed by the Nvidia chip, which supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5 arrays. The nForce 570 SLI is also responsible for the board's dual hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet controllers. These GigE MACs are identical to those in the nForce 590 SLI, and they sport Nvidia's DualNet GigE teaming and FirstPacket outbound packet prioritization capabilities.

On the audio front, the nForce 570 SLI gives the K9N SLI a High Definition Audio controller that MSI predictably pairs with a Realtek codec chip. The ALC883 is classified as a value HD audio codec, and with a 95dB signal-to-noise ratio, it's easy to see why. Realtek's more popular ALC882 codec has a 103dB SNR, although we'll have to see if our audio quality tests can distinguish any difference between the two. Either way, the crab claims yet another enthusiast motherboard.

With the core logic chipset providing plenty of networking and storage options, MSI doesn't bother with auxiliary Serial ATA or networking chips on the K9N SLI. The board's only nod to additional peripherals is VIA's near-ubiquitous VT6307 Firewire chip. Remember VIA? They used to make enthusiast chipsets.