Review: Phenom Black Box and MSI K9A2 Platinum
MSI K9A2 Platinum is a high-end motherboard for AM2+ platforms, and it’s based on AMD's 790FX chipset. Anyone craving for dual, triple or quad CrossFire with a native quad-core Phenom under the hood will definitely find this motherboard to be a treat. The board has 4 physical PCI Express slots; two darker slots have 16X bandwidth, while the other two have 8X. All the PCIe slots are PCIe 2.0 compatible, but the board also packs one more PCI Express x1 and two PCI slots. In a scenario when 4 graphics cards are used, bandwidth is 8X on all the slots.
At a first glance, next to the PCIe slots, you’ll see the new Circu heatpipe that’s completely silent, and it stretches from the PWM part over the Northbridge and to the Southbridge. You’ll notice that in the space between the Nortbridge and the Southbridge one heatpipe runs over the other, and that helps in stabilizing the temperature of the chipset. The CPU packs enough space around it to fit the largest CPU coolers, and since the Circu-pipe is quite low, you can easily stretch a CPU cooler to fit above the chipset cooler.
The motherboard has 5-phase PWM design, and it’s built using full solid capacitors. It supports DDR2 up to 1066MHz (8GB), has four SATA 2.0 connectors through SB600 Southbridge and another two through a Promise add-on controller (painted red). These two SATA connectors have SAS Serial Attached SCSI support, and that’s still one of the best and fastest ways of transferring data. This is usually a server feature, but MSI introduced it to the high-end desktop market. Still, these disks are not used as primary system disks, but rather as storage disks. The I/O panel has two always useful eSATA (again through Promise add-on controller, SAS capable), as well as four out of ten possible USB 2.0 ports. Dual Ethernet ports, FireWire and 7.1 channel sound with S/PDIF out are also there.
MSI K9A2 Platinum is a board with many great features. The board is constantly being improved, and three BIOS revisions in the last two months speak for themselves. MSI definitely seems to be gaining ground.
The only problem with having four ATI HD 3870 cards with dual slot coolers is that you’ll render the rest of the slots unusable. If you have a TV card or some other PCI card, using it with Quad CrossFire will not be possible. If you’re wondering what a single slot card is doing in this dual-slot party, the answer is quite simple, it's Sapphire's Atomic HD 3870.
The only way to prevent losing functionality of the board is using water cooling, or more single slot cards such as Sapphire HD 3870 Atomic. By doing that you’ll free up your PCI or PCI Express x1 slot. Still, this is not a problem we should discuss at this point – we’ll talk about it when the multi-CrossFire drivers come out.
The board features two overclocking-handy power and restart buttons, but they’re almost impossible to reach when the card is above them. The buttons are awkwardly placed near the second PCI Express slot, the one we use for CrossFire. The third card introduces yet another problem – two SATA connectors after the first one we’ve used are unusable. Still, this is only a problem if you own really large cards. Too bad there are no angled SATA connectors, because you never know how many disks a user might want.
For our testing we used AMD’s Athlon 64 X2 6400+ (Black Edition) at 3.2GHz, and two Jetway HD 3870 cards. We initially experienced some minor problems with CrossFire, but new drivers and a BIOS update did the trick.
Jetway’s cards run at default speeds, and the cards themselves are identical to the reference ones. It’s odd that there is no Jetway logo to be found on the card; the only way you can be sure of that is if you read the X38XT-EN-512Q model name off the side of the box. The box is quite unusual, a bit too basic and it doesn’t do this high-end card any justice.