Overclocking

MSI K9A Platinum
Overclocking Testbed
Processor: AM2 4800+
(X2 2.4GHz 1MB L2 Cache per core)
CPU Voltage: 1.525V (default 1.4V)
Cooling: AMD Stock Heatpipe FX62 Cooler
Power Supply: OCZ Power Stream 520W
Memory: Corsair Twin2x2048-PC2-8500C5 (2x1GB)
(Micron Memory Chips)
Hard Drive Hitachi 250GB 7200RPM SATA2 16MB Cache
Maximum OC:
(Standard Ratio)
258x12 (Normal, 3-3-3-13)
3096MHz (+29%)
Maximum FSB:
(Lower Ratio)
335 x 9 (For Overclocking, 3-3-3-13)
(3015MHz, 2 DIMMs in DC mode)
(+68% Bus Overclock)

MSI reached one of the higher overclocks in our roundup, topping out at 335x9. At stock 12x the board maxed out at 258. Both of these are a bit lower than the ASUS with its 8-phase power regulation, but results are still remarkably close to the ASUS considering this is a cheaper board and a much simpler design. Most of the credit for the overclocking performance should go to the ATI RD580 chipset. The K9A was very stable at the fastest 335 speed. Perhaps just as important, the MSI recovered gracefully from bad overclocks - allowing a reboot and entry into the BIOS to fix the settings from a bad OC.

Memory Testing
Optimum tRAS


DDR2 memory behaved a little differently in RD580 tRAS testing than we have seen on other AM2 boards. As you can see from the standard chart below, a 2GB kit of Corsair 8500 (DDR2-1066) achieved the best bandwidth at tRAS settings of 12 to 14. As a result we used 13 as our tRAS setting for all benchmarking.

Memtest86 Bandwidth
MSI K9A Platinum with AM2 4800+
6 tRAS 2047
7 tRAS 2047
8 tRAS 2047
9 tRAS 2093
10 tRAS 2093
11 tRAS 2141
12 tRAS 2192
13 tRAS 2192
14 tRAS 2192
15 tRAS 2047
16 tRAS 2047
17 tRAS 2047

Since the optimum tRAS timing seems to vary with DDR2 depending on chipset, motherboard, and CPU, the best way to achieve maximum bandwidth with any configuration is to run your own series of tRAS timing tests with MemTest86, which is a free program. It only takes a few minutes to find out what works best for your individual configuration.

Memory Stress Testing

The MSI K9A supported a wide enough range of memory voltages and timings to allow memory stress testing at 3-3-3-13 timings at DDR2-800. This has become our standard test setup for Socket AM2 and Core 2 Duo memory testing. This is mainly because these aggressive timings at DDR2-800 almost always yield the best overall performance on these two processors. Conroe may be a little faster at aggressive DDR2-1066 timings, but AM2 does not normally support DDR2-1067, leaving DDR2-800 as the highest performing common memory speed.

As found in our Conroe Buying Guide: Feeding the Monster, most DDR2-800 memory is rated at conservative 5-5-5-15 timings, because that assumes you only run with the default 1.8 V DDR2 voltage. We have found in our DDR2 testing that many modules are easily able to run 4-4-4-12 timings at 2.0 V, and most high-end modules like the Corsair modules we are using for benchmarking (rated at 5-5-5-18 DDR2-1066) are generally able to run with 3-3-3 timings at DDR2-800 and approximately 2.2V. Even value ram based on Elpida memory chips can manage 4-3-3 timings at DDR2-800 with 2.2V to 2.3V memory voltage.

MSI K9A Platinum
DDR2-800 Timings - 2 DIMMs
(2/4 slots populated - 1 Dual-Channel Bank)
Clock Speed: 200MHz
Timing Mode: 800MHz - Default
CAS Latency: 3
RAS to CAS Delay: 3
RAS Precharge: 3
RAS Cycle Time: 13
Command Rate: 1T
Voltage: 2.3V (2.2V with 2T)

With two DIMMs installed, testing was completely stable at 3-3-3-13 1T timings at DDR2-800. This is very rare since AMD does not really support 1T timings in the current on-chip memory controller. However, MSI joins Gigabyte and ASUS as the only AM2 boards to support Command Rate 1 at DDR2-800. We did find, with the Auto or 2T setting, that stability could be achieved at a lower 2.2V setting. This is important to know when trying to squeeze the most from motherboards with limited memory voltage options.

Several benchmarks were run to compare performance at 1T and 2T timings. As in past testing, we could not find any real-world performance improvements with the 1T timings compared to 2T. This will likely remain the case until AMD releases a new AM2 memory controller that will officially support 1T Command Rate.

MSI K9A Platinum
DDR2-800 Timings - 4 DIMMs
(4/4 slots populated - 2 Dual-Channel Banks)
Clock Speed: 200MHz
Timing Mode: 800MHz - Default
CAS Latency: 3
RAS to CAS Delay: 3
RAS Precharge: 3
RAS Cycle Time: 13
Command Rate: 2T
Voltage: 2.3V

Installing four DIMMs stresses the memory subsystem further, but the MSI K9A did handle 4 DIMMs at the same timings and a 2T command rate. While the system was stable at the same 3-3-3-13 timings that worked best with 2 DIMMs we needed to adjust to the top of the available voltage options and did wish we had a bit more DIMM voltage.

The MSI and ASUS are the only AM2 motherboards we have tested so far that are able to run 4 1GB DIMMs at 3-3-3 timings. That performance speaks very well for the stability of both designs, since the memory controller in all our motherboard tests is the same initial release AM2 CPU.

MSI K9A Platinum: Basic Features & Board Layout ECS KA3 MVP Extreme: Board & Basic Features
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  • mike6099 - Thursday, September 21, 2006 - link

    The review does not list the ASUS M2N32-SLI as having raid 5. however, at newegg it lists that it does. does the ASUS M2N32-SLI indeed have raid 5 capability? Reply
  • dougcook - Friday, September 08, 2006 - link

    Be careful with the MSI K9A. If you get one, you'll probably want to get a better chipset cooler for it.

    I bought an MSI K9A board (after reading this review). The 570 chipset seemed about right for me. Everything seemed ok (some things seemed a bit cheap, but nothing really unusual). There were reports about it being incompatible with some memory, so I was careful there and got the good stuff. I got it all installed and it looked like it was running fine...

    For one day (until I actually tried to use it).

    The first real thing I did was burn a few CDs. In the middle of the 3rd CD, the Northbridge overheated and the machine turned itself off. This happened 2 more times, and then the machine failed to boot at all (even after giving it time to cool off). I wasn't overclocking, and the box had decent ventilation. The CPU's temperature was fine, the GPU's temperature was fine, the case temperature was fine, but the chipset temperature was through the roof. I had to return the motherboard.

    This may not happen for everybody, but looking on NewEgg, it seems that this has happened to many other people. The MSI northbridge does not have an adequate heatsink and is likely to burn up. Save the time and get something better. I got the equivalent ABit 570 SLI motherboard, and I've been very happy so far. I hear good things about the ASUS 570 as well.
    Reply
  • Stele - Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - link

    Great article! If only there were more Xpress 3200 boards on the market now... perhaps Anandtech would do a further roundup when that is the case?

    Good to see that most motherboard manufacturers are keeping that 24-pin ATX connector well at the edge. So far the only outstanding exception to this practice seems to be EpoX...

    As for the 4-pin 12V connector, well, it may not be the best place to be for airflow and cable routing reasons, but that location is actually part of the ATX form factor specifications, which clearly states that the 12V connector should be "next to Voltage Regulator" (ATX Specification v2.2, pg 8). Motherboard designers likely just followed that to make life easier. Specifications aside, it also makes much engineering sense as it keeps traces short - crucial to maintain the quality of power supplied to something as important as the CPU VRM. Besides, airflow considerations are less of an issue with respect to four strands of wire.

    IMHO perhaps the one improvement the designers could do while keeping with the spirit of the specifications would be to put the connector on the other side of the VRM, nearer the motherboard edge, though still at the I/O side of the motherboard instead of at the edges nearer the 24-pin ATX connector.
    Reply
  • lopri - Wednesday, August 23, 2006 - link

    Boy, do I love this article! Thanks to Wesley for this great review. Usually in previous AT motherboard reviews, many difficulties/bugs that end-users experience were often overlooked. (Warm-boot, Cold-boot, Vdroop(?), etc.) I sort of understood it as a result of working with motherboard manufacturers (It's been mentioned that they get BIOS updates on a daily basis), but I used to think AT's motherboard reviews were somewhat different from end-users' experience of retail products.

    This review feels much realer and it sounded almost like what I went through with a couple of the boards that I bought after reading AT reviews. I'm very glad and grateful, and hope AT keeps this critical viewpoints for future reviews, especially for motherboards.

    lop
    Reply
  • Le Québécois - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    When you are talking about the SB600 features
    quote:

    # Supports the following AMD processors: Desktop: Athlon 64, Athlon 64 FX, Athlon 64 FX X2, Sempron, Opteron, dual-core- Opteron


    Shouldn't it be: Athlon 64, Athlon 64 X2, Athlon FX, Sempron... To my knowledge Amd have Athlon 64 X2 ;) and even if the FX-60 (939) and the FX-62(AM2) have 2 core AMD still call them simply by FX and not FX X2.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    Edited. Basically, SB600+RD580 supports all current 939/AM2 AMD CPUs. Not sure about SB460, as Wes specifically didn't list dual core and Opteron parts there. I would guess it does, but I will leave that edit to him just to be safe. Reply
  • Furen - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    =)
    He just meant that FX X2 doesn't exist. There are A64s X2s and A64 FXes but even the dual-core parts are plain FXes.
    Reply
  • mendocinosummit - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    So, awards were handed out despite the fact that ASUS and other top mobo manus don't have ATI boards yet? Am I to assume that this is the end of the mobo lineup? I would really like to see at least two more boards featuring a ATI chipset; especially since the ECS board will basically be a flop at launch. Reply
  • Gary Key - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Am I to assume that this is the end of the mobo lineup?
    We also have a few mATX AM2 boards along with a couple of value solutions that we will be reviewing shortly. There is still the upcoming DFI 590SLI AM2 board to review also. :)
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    Will you guys be testing any of the ABIT boards ? For me personaly, so far, my choice is the ABIT AN9 32x (non fata1ity). I like this board because it offers the SIL 3132 controller, and has an eSATA socket in the I/O section. This is, I'm hoping to use this board with a SATA port multiplier, for some external RAID 5 goodness :) Reply

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