Preview: MSI goes for watercooling, part 1
We received the first MSI motherboard, which is completely designed for watercooling. While the standard-edition has the "looping" air-cooling solution, the HydroGen Edition contains a quite simple cooling solution for water.
The box design looks a bit extravagant, but style is a matter of taste. The board itself has quite unusual specificaitions, as you can see below.
Realtek 8111B PCIe network MAC
Intel 82566 PCIe network PHY
Marvell 88SE6111 SATA II RAID 0,1/IDE controller
Silicon Image SIL5723 SATA II RAID 0,1 controller
Fintec F71882FG Super I/O controller
ICS9LPRS910BKL clock generator
IDT 89HPES16T7ZBH PCIe switch chip
passive cooling of chipsets/VRM
8Mb BIOS, version 1.1
2x PCIe 2.0 x16
2x PCIe x16@x8
2x PCIe x1
2x Dual-Channel DDR3-slots for PC2-8500U memory up to 8GB
4-Port SATA II featuring RAID 0, 1, 5, 0+1, JBOD (via ICH9R)
1-Port IDE (via Marvell)
2-Port SATA II featuring RAID 0, 1 (via Sil)
2-Port eSATA II (via ICH9R)
1x PS/2 keyboard
2x eSATA II
1x Gb LAN
6x USB 2.0
1x CMOS-clear button
7.1 analog output
1x SP/DIF digital out
1x SP/DIF coaxial out
1x 1-port Firewire bracket
6x SATA cable
1x HDD-power to 2x SATA power cable
1x HDD-power to 1x SATA power cable
1x Floppy cable
1x IDE cable
1x MSI M-connector pack
1x MSI Skytel adapter card
1x MSI Creative X-Fi PCIe x1 soundcard
MSI did a quite nice job, only specification-wise we have some complaints. The standard edition board features the "looping"-Northbridge cooler known from the MSI P35 Platinium; as usual, check for compatibility issues with your CPU-cooler before purchasing. We have removed the heatpipe from the standard edition and saw they use thermal pads and some dots of silicon paste, which is quite odd.
The VRM is an analog dual 4-phase design driven by an ISL6322. Sadly, MSI didn't opt for a digital VRM solution, but they did a quite good job with the power-consumption in previous products. We believe you can run the HydroGen Edition without water and mount any CPU air-cooler available, but we will keep you informed. The CPU EPS V12 connector is located on the right edge of the board above the CPU socket. We would have hoped for a location below the CPU-socket to avoid some cable-mess with smaller cases, but it will do.
The memory slots are quite close to the primary PCIe x16 slot, so you need to fiddle with your modules when replacing them while a large graphics card is installed, but it's manageable. As usual, the 24-pin power connector is located beneath.
The slots are configured for a quad-crossfire configuration. While "quad-crossfire" may sound "cool," we doubt it's a wise way to go. Three PCIe x16 is the maximum we would recommend and additional PCI slots for older extension cards. The fastest graphics cards come in a two-slot configuration, using two of them, it will render the PCI slot useless. If you own a TV-card or other PCI extension cards, you won't be able to have that and Quad Crossfire together.
We have no idea if the split yellow PCIe x16 slots can be used for other cards beside graphics, the manual does not say anything about it. MSI uses an IDT 89HPES16T7ZBH chip to split 16 lanes to 2x 8. Floppy is located on the left edge of the board, which may cause some troubles with big cases.
Network connectivity is provided by one Realtek Gb 8111B PCIe chip and one Intel 82566 PHY wihich is connected to the ICH9R network MAC. VIA VT6308P chip provides two Firewire-slots, one on the back panel, one header on the board. MSI provides an Realtek ALC888 chip and an additional Creative X-Fi PCIe card. The board is an "all solid capacitors" design, but the soundcard misses such feature.
UPDATE: Sorry, we did not read the Intel chip correctly. In our initial release we wrote that it is a PCI chip, which is not. We apologize for the mistake.
The SATA and PATA connectors are, as usual, on the bottom edge of the board. Four SATA connectors are angulated, so a second large graphics card will fit above them. The SATA 7 and 8 ports are standard and will get in the way with a large two-slot graphics-cards. We don't understand why there are two extra controllers on board, because the Marvell 88SE6111 does feature two SATA-ports but they are not used. We would have wished for all six ICH9R SATA-ports, the Sil or Marvell would have done nicely for eSATA; what a waste and you have to pay for it. Below left of the PCIe switch-chip, you will find two buttons for power-on and reset, the CMOS-clear-button is located on the back-panel.
Above the yellow PCIe x16 slots you will find an MSI port-80 post diagnostic display, but not a standard LED design, something special. We don't think this was a good idea, because it costs more money and does not provide detailed information only short words such as "CPU", "DRAM", "VGA" and some more. Right of it you will find the super-I/O-controller.
We will test the board as soon as possible but please be patient, because we have so many boards in our queue.