MSI K9N Platinum nForce 570 Ultra

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Product: MSI K9N Platinum Motherboard
Provided By: MemoryExpress
Price: ~ $129CDN Online

Introduction:

For year or so, AMD enjoyed increasing market share with their very popular K8 series of Socket 939 processors.  With an integrated memory controller and a very efficient architecture, AMD was a very popular choice with enthusiasts and gamers.  Intel lost ground but has made up for it with their impressive Core 2 Duo processors.  AMD has answered with an updated CPU.  They are still based on the same basic architecture, but with support for DDR2.  Today we are looking at an MSI motherboard that is built for AMD's AM2 processor series, and is aimed at the everyday users to the budget gamer.  This board has some nice features for a good price, but isn't a top-end board by any means.  Let's take a look at the K9N Platinum.


K9N Platinum Box

This board is ready to go and supports every current AM2 processor out of the box.  AMD is very good about this.  There are many cases when Intel releases a new processor that won't boot on a motherboard until the BIOS is flashed.  We had no problems booting a 4200+ X2 on this board.

MSI has included a pretty impressive bundle for the price with this board.  They throw in PCI Slot Firewire bracket that includes both 4-pin mini and standard 6-pin.  Also in the box is a USB PCI bracket that has diagnostic LEDs.  They also throw in a rounded 80-pin IDE cable, a rounded Floppy cable, four SATA cables, a couple of Molex to SATA power adapters, a backplate for the motherboard, driver CD and a manual.  They've included virtually everything you need to get a full system up and running.

Decent Bundle
 Decent Bundle

The Motherboard
 The Motherboard

As you can see in the picture on the right, the board has a very colorful presentation.  There really isn't much of a theme that I can tell.  The PCB is nice and dark - which is a nice change from green and red.  The top PCIe slots are white, the second PCIe 16x looking slot is yellow, there are a couple of white PCI slots as well as an orange one that is reserved as a communications slot.  The IDE connector is yellow, and the DDR2 slots are green and orange.  To top things off the SATA connector cluster is purple.  I think they must have got a deal on different colored components.

Special Features:

  • 11.96 in.(L) x 9.61 in.(W); ATX
  • 4 DIMMs w/ DDR 800+ up to 8GB
  • 2 PCI-E 16X (2nd PCI-E 16X slot runs 1X speed); 2 PCI-E X1; 3 PCI; 10 USB
  • Realtek 7.1 CH HD audio
  • Dual Gb LAN
  • IEEE 1394
  • RAID(0, 1, 0+1 & 5); SATA2; ATA133
  • Live Update
  • Dual Corecell
  • MSI Dual CoreCenter
  • DOT
  • DigiCell
  • nVidia Firewall

Specifications:

CPU

  • Supports 64-bit AMD® Athlon™ 64 / Athlon 64FX / Athlon 64 X2 processor (Socket AM2)
       
    Chipset
  • NVIDIA ® nForce 570 Ultra Chipset
  • HyperTransport link to the AMD Athlon 64/Athlon 64FX/Athlon 64 X2 CPU
  • Supports 1 PCI Express x16 interface / 3 PCI Express x 1 connection
  • Independent SATAII controllers, for six drives
  • Single Fast ATA-133 IDE controller
       
    Main Memory
  • Supports dual channel DDR2 533/667/800, using four 240-pin DDR2 DIMMs.
  • Supports the memory size up to 8GB
  • Supports 1.8v DDR2 SDRAM DIMM

Due to the High Performance Memory design, motherboards or system configurations may or may not operate smoothly at the JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) standard settings (BIOS Default on the motherboard) such as DDR2 voltage, memory speeds and memory timing. Please confirm and adjust your memory setting in the BIOS accordingly for better system stability.
Example: Kingston HyperX DDR2-800 PC-6400 operates at 2.0V, 4-4-4-12.
For more information about specification of high performance memory modules, please check with your Memory Manufactures for more details.

Slots

  • Two PCI Express X16 slot (supports PCI Express Bus specification v1.0a compliant)
  • 2nd PCI Express X16 is compatible with PCI Express x 1 (MSI PCI-Express Lite Slot)
  • Two PCI Express X1 slot
  • Three 32-bit Master PCI Bus slots, one orange slot reserves as communication slot.
  • Support 3.3V/5V PCI bus Interface
  • On-Board IDE/SATA
  • An IDE controller on the nVIDIA nForce 570 Ultra chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA133/100/66 operation modes.
  • Can connect up to 2 IDE devices
  • NV RAID supports 6 SATA II ports (SATA1-6). Transfer rate is up to 300MB/s.
  • NV RAID (Software)
  • Supports up to 6 SATA
  • RAID 0 or 1, 0+1, 5, JBOD is supported
  • RAID function work w/ SATAII HDDs
       
    BIOS
  • The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
  • The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface (DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.
  • Supports boot from LAN, USB Device 1.1 & 2.0 and SATA HDD
       
    Audio
  • Chip integrated by Realtek ALC883
  • Flexible 8-channel audio with jack sensing
  • Compliant with Azalia 1.0 spec
       
    LAN
  • Supports dual LAN jacks
  • Dual LAN supports 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by nForce 570 Ultra
       
    IEEE1394
  • VIA 6307 chipset
  • Supports up to 2 x 1394 ports
  • Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps
       
    On-Board Peripherals
  • 1 floppy port supports 1 FDD with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes
  • 1 serial port
  • 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
  • 1 audio jack (5-in-1), coaxial/fibre SPDIF out
  • 10 USB 2.0 ports (Rear x 4 / Front x 6)
  • 2 RJ45 LAN jack
  • 1 D-Bracket 2 pinheader
  • 2 IEEE 1394 a connectors (Rear x 1/ Front x 1)
  • 1 CD-in pinheader
  • 1 IrDA pinheader
       
    Dimension
       11.96 in (L) x 9.61 in(W) ATX Form Factor
       
    Mounting
       9 mounting holes

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On the next page we'll get a little more personal with this board.


Layout - Up Close:

MSI has done a pretty decent job with this board layout.  MSI has used passive cooling on the nForce 570 Ultra chipset.  This is a great little chipset that supports a multitude of features and runs much cooler than previous nForce 4 chipsets.  Click any of the thumbnails below for a closer look at this board's layout.

CPU, RAM & Power Layout
 CPU, RAM & Power Layout

Expansion Slots
 Expansion Slots

   

BIOS, SATA & More
 BIOS, SATA & More

Mosfet Cooling
Mosfet Cooling

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the board layout.  There is enough room around the CPU socket for many, if not any aftermarket coolers, and the mosfet area is cooled by a stout looking passive HSF.  The DIMM slots are located high enough that memory installation is possible with a long PCIe graphics card in the top slot.  I applaud the double space between the two long PCIe slots.  I said two long - not two 16x or two 8x slots.  In fact the top PCIe is 16x and the yellow one is only a 1x slot.  They both support 16x graphics, but only one of them will run at 16x and SLI is obviously not supported.

The six SATA ports are located high enough off the bottom of the board that they remain accessible once this board is installed in a case.  They are positioned to the outside edge and between the graphics slots so that even if a couple of large cards are installed, you still will be able to plug in another drive without removing a card.

A couple of issues I have with the layout are the scattered position of the power connectors.  Most power supplies have the main 24-pin and auxiliary 4-pin connector strapped together and it makes sense to put both of these power connectors together on the motherboard.  MSI has chosen to position the 24-pin connector so it gets in the way of your sole IDE cable.  The 4 pin connector is located right next to the CPU socket and could be difficult to plug in when a large heatsink is mounted on your processor.  Also the floppy connector is located toward the top right of the PCB and generally you plug in a floppy drive just below your optical drives.  Reversing the position of the IDE and the Floppy connector would be a decent choice.

Input / Output on Back
Input / Output on Back

The backplane of the MSI K9N Platinum is fairly loaded are should please most people.  MSI has kept this board quite legacy oriented with PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports as well as printer and serial ports.  They have dropped in an IEEE1394 port, RCA Digital Out, four USB2.0 ports, two 10/100/1000 GB Ethernet connectors as well as a full set of 8 channel auto-sensing audio jacks.  To sweeten the pot they also throw in an optical output.  The only thing different I'd personally like to see is that they drop the serial port in favor of a couple more USB2.0 ports.  You can never have enough USB.

Below we posted up a couple of pictures of the Dual GB Ethernet chips as well as the Realtek HD Audio chip.

Dual Vitesse GB
 Dual Vitesse GB

Realtek HD Audio
 Realtek HD Audio

On the next page we'll fire things up and take a look at the BIOS.


BIOS:

MSI uses the popular AWARD BIOS on both their Intel and AMD motherboards and they keep the layout very uniform across the board.  This is helpful for those that play around in the BIOS only a little bit as they will be able to find things on both platforms equally easy.  This BIOS has plenty of tweaking features for those that want to push things farther than they should.  Plenty of voltage options and ranges are available, but one voltage adjustment is missing - chipset voltage.  Please click any of the images below to view a full-sized picture.

Enter The BIOS
 Enter The BIOS

The BIOS is broken down into areas of interest below.  At the end, we'll go over MSI's Cell Menu which is where the majority of the boards tweaking features are located.

Standard CMOS
 Standard CMOS

Advanced BIOS
 Advanced BIOS

Advanced Chipset
 Advanced Chipset

Above are a few screenshots of BIOS areas that we are all familiar with.  Stand CMOS and Advanced BIOS settings are enough to help you get rid of the full screen logo and adjust boot order.  The advanced chipset features include CPU multiplier adjustment, HTT multiplier adjustment and HTT link width.  We left these at defaults for testing.

Below are some screenshots of the Integrated Peripherals setup, Power Management configuration and PNP/PCI Configuration.

Integrated Peripherals
 Integrated Peripherals

Power Management
 Power Management

PNP/PCI Config
 PNP/PCI Config

One thing that I found particularly interesting with this board is the temperature at which it reported the CPU.  I flashed the BIOS to the latest version and it still reported the CPU temp with a "-" in front of the numeric value.  I have no idea why it reports this way - even Windows software report the CPU temperature as -48°C.

Hardware Monitor

In the Hardware Monitoring area you have all the usual fan speed/temperature controls as well as Chassis Intrusion.

As we enter the Cell Menu, things get a little more enthusiast oriented.  We were able to hit a pretty high CPU frequency at 295Mhz, but with the CPU multiplier turned down to 6x.  Our setup didn't like high FSB with a decent multiplier at all.  It was either high multiplier and low FSB or high FSB with a low multiplier.  Take a look at all the adjustments below.

Cell Menu
 Cell Menu

CPU Frequency
 CPU Frequency

CPU Frequency Config
 CPU Frequency Config

     

Dynaminc Overclocking
 Dynaminc Overclocking

Memory Speed
 Memory Speed

Memory Configuration
 Memory Configuration

If you don't want to try and tweak and overclock your rig by adjusting settings manually, you can always choose the Dynamic Overclocking feature which can boost your system by as much as 15%.  We tried out this feature and it worked well.

CPU voltage can be adjusted quite liberally and memory voltage can be adjusted much higher than I would every run my memory.  To put it bluntly, a n00b tweaker could easily fry their hardware without proper cooling on their memory, CPU and more.

On the next page we'll take a look at our test setup and start with some benchmarks.


Test Setup & Info:

This is the first AM2 motherboard we have tested and will not be comparing results to cross platform Socket 939 or Intel LGA775 hardware.  The performance of this board will become a baseline for other AM2 motherboards we will be reviewing in the future.  Below are our first AM2 test system specs.

  • AMD Athlon 64 4200+ X2 AM2 Processor 2.2GHz - MemoryExpress
  • MSI K9N Platinum Motherboard - MemoryExpress
  • 2GB Kit - Crucial Ballistix PC2-8000 (DDR2-1000) - Crucial
  • LG GSA-H10L DVDRW
  • Seagate 250GB 7200.9 SATA HDD
  • eVGA 7600GT 256MB 
  • Windows XP Professional with all available updates.
  • nForce 9.16 Platform Drivers
  • Forceware 91.47 Graphics Drivers

We ran a series of real world tests to see how well the K9N Platinum coupled with an excellent priced 4200+ X2 handles daily tasks.  We also ran a few synthetic benchmarks to get some baseline numbers for comparison with different boards later on.  Some of our application benchmarks were timed using a stopwatch and when it came to gaming - we ran through actual game levels to allow audio, AI and in-game physics to load down the system.  Framerates were recorded using FRAPS and after many runs we averaged the results and graphed them as you'll see in a few moments.

We ran applications both at stock and overclocked speeds, but the gaming benchmarks displayed are only at stock speeds.  We are currently graphically limited in our test setup and overclocking the CPU 20% only netted us 2% performance increase in games.

Network & Audio:

Whether your gaming online or sharing files and printers across your local network, most of us live by a network.  We use iperf to test network bandwidth capability and CPU usage.  Although some network cards boast blazing speeds, many cannot come close and if they do, they use copious CPU usage.  We'll take a look at the nForce 570 Ultra based GB ethernet below.

Net Speed
Throughput
Efficiency
CPU Load
100Mb/Sec
94.5
94.5%
10%
1000Mb/Sec
478
47.8%
20%

As you can see above, the nVidia network controller scores very well when running a 100base network.  It manages over 94% efficient and uses 10% CPU load.  When we bump up the speed to a full 1000base network we get a little less than half of the rated throughput.  CPU load doubles as well, but we've seen higher CPU load with different network controllers.

This board uses a Realtek High Definition Audio controller which is capable of 48kHz, 96kHz, and even 192kHz audio sampling.  We used RightMark's Audio Analyzer to test the quality of the audio.  Just because an audio chipset is capable of high sampling rates doesn't mean that it is good quality.  Take a look at the screenshot below to find out how good the quality on this High Definition chipset really is.

RightMark Audio Analyzer
 RightMark Audio Analyzer

As you can see by clicking the above thumbnail, the audio range, THD and noise level are nothing really amazing.  It's not bad for onboard audio, but it's no X-Fi.

Overclocking:

Before we jump into the benchmarks we need to see what kind of stable overclocks we can achieve with this system.  We used a Zalman CNPS9500 AM2 on the CPU and kept the nForce 570 Ultra chipset passively cooled.  We spent more time than usual trying to overclock this board as I've seen many other websites claims some incredible numbers with this board.  Our results were somewhat different.  We managed a top HTT speed of 295 MHz, but only with a very low CPU multiplier.  If we bumped this up to the point where we ran slightly above stock CPU speed, we were not stable.  We did manage to pull 2.8+GHz out of our 2.2GHz 4200+ X2, but it wasn't stable throughout testing.  We dropped the Memory speed ad HTT multiplier and still no love.

At the end we settled for a 2.64GHz clock speed using a 10x multiplier and 264MHz HTT (or FSB).  This gave us the most bang for our buck in terms of added performance.  We could run faster, but internal errors actually caused our scores to be lower.

SiSoft Benchmarks:

We begin our first AM2 benchmarks with a little run through some SiSoft Sandra 2007 benchmarks.  These numbers are purely for reference only and are not to be used to determine overall system performance.  We'll cover that on the following pages.

SiSoft CPU Arithmetic
 SiSoft CPU Arithmetic

SiSoft CPU Multimedia
SiSoft CPU Multimedia

SiSoft Memory
 SiSoft Memory

This dual core AM2 processor scores pretty well on these tests and memory bandwidth is pretty decent.  Overclocking the motherboard yields a nice performance boost in these synthetic benchmark series.

We also ran SuperPi on this system to see how fast we can crunch Pi to 1M decimal places.  The results are very impressive when compared to my Centrino 1.8GHz laptop, but not so much when compared to a Core 2 Duo system.  The results below are not compared cross-platform though - just straight up AM2 goodness.

Super Pi
Super Pi

On the next page we'll jump into real application benchmarks and see how well this system performs in many daily activities.


Application Benchmarks:

First up is ConvertXtoDVD.  This is a piece of software from VSO-Software that takes many popular compressed video formats and converts them to DVD.  This application is not yet multi-threaded, but it's a very popular program as it is easy to use and offers great quality conversion.

ConvertX to DVD

Overclocked performance offers a nice boost, and completes the conversion in almost 3x real-time.  Not bad for a single threaded app.  Once VSO makes this SMP we will see much better performance.

Next up on the conversion front is some audio conversion using dbPowerAMP.  We took a test package of WAV files and converted them to OGG Vorbis, then converted the OGG files to MP3.  Lastly we took the MP3 files and converted them back to WAV.  The results are pictures below.

dbPowerAMP

 

 

When running the 4200+ X2 a bit faster than 5000+ X2 speeds, we see a nice little bump in performance over stock speeds.

We fired up the popular DivX package and converted a nice small DivX file using the Home Theatre Profile and the latest official build of the encoder - DivX 6.2.5.  The results are below.

DivX Encoding

Overclocking shaves off almost 20% in the DivX encoding benchmark.  Not a bad boost at all.

To balance the force we also took a look at Quicktime H.264 encoding.  This is a very efficient, high quality codec that takes a lot of CPU power to encode and decode.  Our stock and overclocked benchmarks numbers are pictured below.

Quicktime Encoding

We will continue our application benchmarks on the next page.


Application Benchmarks (continued):

Photoshop is a very popular program that offers incredible image control and manipulation.  Photoshop's filters, texturizers and other utilities are very demanding on your system.  The MSI K9N Platinum offers very good performance with our system as you can see below.

Photoshop CS2 Bench

We saw a 16% improvement when overclocking the CPU on the K9N Platinum.  Not a huge performance increase, but 16% is better than nothing.

Many gamers today use their computers for much other than desktop applications and playing games.  They also use desktop systems to host game servers.  Game servers generally process large amounts of data such as XML, MySQL and more.  We use an Ultima Online server package to test out the performance of server load times.  Below are the results.

UltimaOnline Server Load

Our last application benchmark is a very popular application that many of us use on a weekly, if not daily basis.  It is file compression and decompression as handled by WinRAR.  We are creating a Zip file from over 10,000 small text, php, SQL and XML files.  A lot of compression is available with these types of files.  We compressed to a ZIP file using medium compression.

WinRAR File Compression

That's it for application benchmarks.  On the next page we'll jump into some game tests.


Game Tests:

As mentioned previously we tested a few games on this motherboard.  We played Ghost Recon:Advanced Warfighter, Tomb Raider:Legend, Oblivion, Call of Duty 2, Prey, Age of Empires 3, and Half-Life 2:Episode 1.  We only published the results at stock speeds as overclocking yielded little to no performance improvement as our test rig is a little GPU limited with a 7600GT.

We have included several games in each of the graphs below in order to save some space and show how playable each game is on the system.

Ghost Recon:AW - Tomb Raider: Legend

You can see that Ghost Recon is much more demanding, but remains playable 1024x768 at high quality settings with 8xAF.  Tomb Raider: Legend just flies at 1280x1024.

The next couple of games that we played were Call of Duty 2 and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  Oblivion is very CPU and GPU intensive and brings many systems to their knees.  We ran the benchmarks at 1024x768 and the results are listed below.

Oblivion - Call of Duty 2

The last series of games that we tested are Prey, Age of Empires 3 and Half-Life 2: Episode 1.  These games all ran very well on this system at 1024x768 and Prey was even playable at 1280x1024.  Take a look at the benchmarks below.

Prey - Age of Empires 3 - HL2:Episode 1

As we test more AM2 motherboards and graphics cards, we will compare the results from this motherboard with new boards and graphics cards.  The K9N Platinum is the grounds for a very solid system that can be built for a very good price and offers a great gaming experience.  This board has been 100% solid throughout testing - at stock speeds and when overclocked to 2.64GHz.

Conclusion:

This board has many of the latest features that we've all come to expect from a flagship motherboard and MSI brings it to market at a very decent price.  Although at first glance it appears to support SLI, it in fact has one 16x PCIe slot and the other is only a 1x PCIe slot.  You have the ability to run two graphics cards and four monitors, but no SLI.  It comes packed with Firewire, USB2.0, Dual GB Ethernet, High Definition Audio and MSI's Cell technology that makes it a decent tweaking board.  It is a very solid board that performed well throughout testing and it a good choice for virtually anyone building their own AM2 PC.

Pros:

  • Very inclusive bundle - everything you need.
  • Supports 8GB of DDR2.
  • Dual GB Ethernet.
  • Passive cooled chipset is silent.
  • Lot's of I/O options.

Cons:

  • A little disappointed with overclocking.

Here is how it all breaks down.

 

 

BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
9/10
Performance:
8/10
Software Pack:
9/10
Stability:
9/10
Features:
9/10
Value:
10/10
Total Score 9.0

 

I would recommend the MSI K9N Platinum to everyone but hardcore overclockers and gamers.  For this crowd the MSI K9N SLI Platinum or K9N Diamond would be a better choice.

I'd like to thank MemoryExpress for sending this board over for use to review.  It's been a good time with our first AM2 motherboard review.  Look for more in the near future!

If you have any questions, comments or even suggestions, please head on over and post them at the comments link below.