MSI P7N Diamond review
The P7N Diamond is MSI’s new high-end Nvidia-based Socket 775 motherboard. It’s based on an Nforce 780i north bridge and an Nforce 570i south bridge, supporting both 65nm and 45nm Intel processors with a front side bus of up to 1,333MHz.
So far, so good, but at £149 it needs some tricks up its sleeve to compete with the company’s own P35 Platinum, which currently tops our A List at just £86.
The trick that MSI is trumpeting most loudly is three-way SLI. Unfortunately, our early experiences of triple-card gaming have been disappointing, with a third graphics card providing a speed advantage of just around 10% over a twin-card setup. It’s a new technology, though, and future drivers and games could yet prove its worth.
Another notable feature is the X-Fi Xtreme Audio chip, which comes on a PCI-E 1x card and promises top-notch audio quality. Note that this is the junior of the X-Fi family, with more limited hardware and a poorer signal-to-noise ratio than high-end models. It’s great for movies, but musicians should still spring for a real pro-audio card.
The standard motherboard features are here in abundance. You get three PCI-Express 16x slots, for top-speed SLI, and two of them are PCI-Express 2.0 capable.
There’s a good range of other slots too, though if you install three dual-height graphics cards you’ll lose the use of one PCI-E 1x slot and the board’s only regular PCI slot.
On the storage front, six SATA ports are partnered by two dual-channel IDE controllers (with associated ports), for a potential ten internal drives. It’s good to see two eSATA ports as well, and an optional backplate lets you convert two of the internal SATA ports into extra eSATA channels.
The board also supports up to ten USB 2 ports (six on the board, two on an optional backplate and a connector for a further two at the front), and networking is amply covered with twin gigabit ethernet controllers. The only economy is the sensible decision to stick with DDR2 rather than DDR3: up to 8GB is supported across four slots.
The BIOS uses the familiar AMI interface, but it’s uncommonly configurable, allowing you to monitor and change fan settings, FSB speed, RAM speed and timings plus voltages throughout the system. You can even tweak the CPU and mainboard settings, plus some MSI graphics cards, from within Windows. In case of disaster a rear-mounted button lets you clear the CMOS without opening the case.
For most users, all this is overkill, and it makes no sense to shell out so much unless you’re sure you’ll benefit from the P7N Diamond’s features. But for the hardware enthusiast, it adds up to a supremely capable board that’ll rise to more or less any challenge.