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As with most so called "high-end" boards this one comes with a black PCB with black and blue slots. The aluminium cooling solution with heatpipe gives it a nice touch.
The VRM is an analog 4+1 phase design driven by an STMicroelectronics L6740L. This is a controller made for AMD split-plane CPUs, so you won't find this on any Intel board. The VRM consists of five highly integrated MOSFETs from ON Semiconductors, each capable of supplying up to 40A, so even a 140W TDP CPU is handled easily. As you can see, the chipset itself is smaller compared to one MOSFET.
The memory slots are too close to the CPU socket. For some reasons MSI decided you have to put the first memory in slot 1 or use slot one and two for dual channel. So you have to be very careful selecting the CPU-cooler, also if you are using memory-modules with big heatsinks, such as Corsair Dominators. MSI engineers didn't quite think that through. Below the memory slots resides the ATX 2.2 power connector.
On this board the slots are special. You get four PCIe x16 slots, which will run of course only with x8 speed if you are using quad Crossfire. Otherwise you can use put any other PCIe x1 card in and it will work. The PCIe x1 slot is quite useless, because most graphics cards come in a two slot configuration anyways. Quad users also need a big case, because the last PCIe x16 slot is on the edge of the board, so make sure your case fits. Between the slots you find an Port80 diagnostic LED which is a really good idea to have. We only think the location is badly chosen, because any Crossfire configuration will block this LED.
For some reason all vendors go for the cheapest PCIe Gb LAN solution on the market, which is the newly introduced Realtek RTL8111DL. It's an improvement over the RTL8111C and now supports 9k Jumbo Frames, but still Realtek is not known for very good performance, especially the I/O load is quite weak. A Marvell, Broadcom or Intel chip would have been a better choice, but of course opting for a better chip would also have increased costs. At least on high-end boards we should expect something better. Audio is also provided by a Realtek chip: the ALC889. The Fintek chip is a super I/O controller, for all legacy devices, such as floppy, LPT and COM ports and system fan/temperature management. Also the clock generator is a Realtek chip, but clock chips do all work the same. An VIA PCIe Firewire controller give you high throughput for video cameras or even external hard-drives.
The SATA connectors are on the edge of the board and four of them are angled at 90°. This is the best solution available because the connectors won't interfere with any cards. Also the PATA connector is angled, very good. The board has only one eSATA port which has been taken from the JMB322 which is not an host controller but multiplies existing ports from the south-bridge. Still plenty of controllers to connect storage to. This part of the board is perfect.
As usual all boards feature CMOS Clear, Reset and Power-On Button. While there would have been lots of space on the backpanel, for some reason the CMOS Clear button is not there, which would have been a better solution. MSI thought it's a wise idea to implement their green-power button on the board as well. While we still insist that the most benefit for all customers would be to enable "Green Power" by default in the BIOS, at least a button accessible from the outside would have been the second best choice. Another gimmick is the virtual FSB knob, which decreases or increases the virtual FSB. We can't think of any good reason to use such a feature. First, when you increase the virtual FSB, you do also overclock the HT-bus which will result in crashes if it goes too high, or otherwise you have to apply increased voltages in the BIOS to keep the system stable. Increasing voltages if you don't need them would only increase power-consumptions. So for real overclockers this feature is a waste of time and money. MSI should concentrate on useful stuff, not on gimmicks for some kids who don't know to overclock anyways. It's not always a good idea to copy features from other manufactures. In our opinion the best place to overclock is the BIOS, no software or gimmick can compete with that.