[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

K8N Diamond Plus is the latest model in the high-end Diamond series from MSI, based on NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI X16 chipset and supporting all socket 939 processors released to date (Athlon 64, Athlon 64 FX, Athlon 64 X2 and Opteron), having an excellent audio system using a vacuum tube-based pre-amplifier. In this review we will deeply analyze this new MSI release.

The main difference between nForce 4 SLI X16 and nForce 4 SLI is the x16 PCI Express slots bandwidth when running the system under SLI mode. On nForce 4 SLI when we enable SLI mode, each x16 slot runs at x8 (2 GB/s), i.e., each video card will have available only half of the original bandwidth. Theoretically this can limit the performance of very high-end video cards. On nForce 4 SLI X16 both x16 slots work at x16 rate when SLI mode is enabled, thus solving this problem.

In fact only very high-end video cards (GeForce 7800 and above) working at very high resolutions and at their maximum image quality settings will benefit from the increased bandwidth available on nForce 4 SLI X16.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 1: nForce4 SLI X16 chipset block diagram.

As you can see in Figure 1, nForce 2 SLI X16 now uses two chips: C51D north bridge and CK804 south bridge. The connection between the two is made by a HyperTransport bus, so on socket 939 motherboards based on nForce 4 SLI X16 there are two HyperTransport busses, one between the CPU and the north bridge and another between the north bridge and the south bridge. As you will read in our overclocking section, the presence of two HyperTransport busses will make overclocking trickier.

K8N Diamond Plus comes in a great package with holographic effect, with a cover that when opened shows all the features of the motherboard.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 2: MSI K8N Diamond Plus box.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 3: MSI K8N Diamond Plus V1.0 motherboard.

Its look is very sophisticated and follows the trend used by all motherboard manufacturers on their high-end products. Using a black printed circuit board, what immediately catches the eye is its chipset cooler, which uses heat-pipe technology.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 4: Chipset cooler using heat-pipe technology.

This cooler works by removing heat from CK804 south bridge and transferring it to a bigger heatsink on top of the C51D north bridge, through a heat-pipe. The north bridge heatsink is all copper and has a fan to improve its efficiency.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 5: C51D north bridge heatsink detail.

The position of the fan helps removing hot air from around the CPU and also helps cooling the back of the video card.

Our only criticism to K8N Diamond Plus layout is that this heatsink is too close to the CPU, what can prevent the installation of bigger CPU coolers.

The manufacturing quality of this motherboard is very good, however we expected MSI to install heatsinks on the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator of this motherboard. A motherboard this level should have these heatsinks.

[nextpage title=”More Features”]

No special procedure is required to activate SLI mode on K8N Diamond Plus. Just connect two compatible video cards and the SLI mode will be activated. At last a very easy way to activate the SLI mode!

 

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 6: PCI Express slots.

As you can see in Figure 6, now there is more space between the two x16 slots compared to older SLI motherboards. This makes it easier to install big SLI video cards and also improves the ventilation. All manufacturers adopted this design on their latest SLI-based motherboards. MSI also has placed two x1 PCI Express lots that can be used when only one video card is in use.

With SLI mode enabled it is necessary to install an extra power supply cable to the motherboard and MSI recommends a power supply of at least true 450 watts.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 7: Extra power connectors.

See how the additional +12V connector has eight wires (EPS12V) usually used by servers or Pentium D CPUs, but you can still use the regular 4-wire connector.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus has four DDR-DIMM sockets, supporting up to 4 GB RAM DDR266/333/400. MSI used green color on sockets 1 and 3, which are connected to memory channel 1, and purple color on sockets 2 and 4, which are connected to memory channel 2. Since to use DDR Dual Channel feature you need to install the memory modules on different channels, just install one module on a green socket and the other module on a purple socket to use DDR Dual Channel. It is important to note that other motherboards use a different system, where you need to install the modules in sockets using the same color (and not on sockets using different colors). This kind of lack of standardization generates trouble among less savvy users.

Talking about its storage features, this motherboard has two ATA-133 ports and four Serial ATA II ports controlled by the CK804 south bridge. These ports support TCQ (Tagged Command Queuing) and NCQ (Native Command Queuing), which improve disk performance if you use a hard disk drive featuring these technologies, and NVIDIA RAID feature that allows the use of parallel and serial ATA hard disk drives together in a RAID system of up to eight drives, supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD.

This motherboard also has two extra Serial ATA II ports controlled by Silicon Image SiI3132 chip supporting RAID 0 and 1. This board comes with four Serial ATA cables, two Serial ATA power adapters for up to four Serial ATA devices, two 80-wire flat-cables and one floppy disk drive cable, all rounded and red.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 8: Six SATA-300 ports, four controlled by CK804 south bridge and two controlled by SiI3132 chip.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 9: Cables and accessories.

On the networking side MSI K8N Diamond Plus has two Gigabit Ethernet ports. One is controlled by the C51D north bridge, being connected directly to the PCI Express bus, supporting ActiveArmor firewall system by NVIDIA, needing only one small chip for making the physical layer interface (Marvell 88E1115). The other Gigabit port is controller by Marvell 88E8053 chip, which is also connected to the PCI Express bus.

This motherboard also carries ten USB 2.0 ports, four soldered directly on the motherboard and six available through the use of I/O brackets (this motherboard comes with only one I/O bracket for two USB ports, so four USB ports are left over), and three FireWire ports (IEEE 1394a) controlled by VIA VT6306 chip, one soldered on the motherboards and two (one mini and other standard) through the use of an I/O bracket that comes with the motherboard.

[nextpage title=”Hi-Fi Audio”]

The strongest feature of this motherboard is its audio system. MSI decided not to use the standard on-board audio function provided by nForce 4 on their Diamond series – which is software-based mid-range quality solution –, choosing a hardware-based solution using Creative SoundBlaster Live CAO106 DSP (Digital Signal Processor), the same one that is used by Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE sound boards.

K8N Diamond Plus uses a 8-channel audio system (7.1 format) supporting Dolby Digital Surround EX and uses Wolfson WM8775 ADC (Analog/Digital Converter), which has a 24-bit resolution, a 96 kHz sampling rate and an excellent 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), and Cirrus Logic CS4382 DAC (Digital/Analog Converter), which is also used by Marantz on their hi-fi sound systems. If you are a gamer, the EAX 3.0 support will bring more reality to your playing sessions.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 10: MSI K8N Diamond Plus on-board audio detail.

Another exclusive feature of this motherboard is its vacuum tube-based pre-amplifier. MSI wasn’t the first company to use a vacuum tube pre-amplifier, but other manufacturers installed the tube on the motherboard, which brought several disadvantages like overheating, low quality on-board audio and the use of lots of physical space.

Aware of these disadvantages MSI opted to use Cooler Master Musketeer 3. Musketeer 3 is a hybrid pre-amplifier, i.e., it uses transistors and a vacuum tube (12AU7). This vacuum tube, however, is used only by two of the eight available channels.

Its light yellow look similar to vintage amplifiers gives a very nice touch to your case.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 11: Musketeer 3 panel.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 12: Musketeer 3 details.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 13: Cables for connecting the audio system.

As for the sound difference introduced by the vacuum tube, experts claim that vacuum tubes produce a better and more realistic sound. In tests we conducted the sound was really different and more “comfortable”, but this perception will vary according to the sensibility and taste of each user.

As you can see in Figure 14, this motherboard provides coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs and also individual outputs for side, rear, center and subwoofer channels soldered on the motherboard.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Figure 14: K8N Diamond Plus back connectors.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

MSI K8N Diamond Plus main features are:

  • Socket: 939.
  • Chipset: NVIDIA nForce 4 SLI X16 (SLI x16, PCI Express x16).
  • Super I/O: Winbond W83627THF.
  • Parallel IDE: Two ATA-133 ports.
  • Serial IDE: Four SATA-300 ports controlled by CK804 south bridge (RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD) and two SATA-300 ports controlled by Silicon Image SiI3132 chip (RAID 0 and 1).
  • USB: 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and two available on one I/O bracket that comes with the motherboard; four ports are left over).
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394a): Three ports controlled by VIA VT6306 chip, one in standard size soldered on the motherboard and two available through a I/O bracket that comes with the motherboard (one regular sized and one miniature).
  • On-board audio: Produced by Creative SoundBlaster Live CAO106 DSP chip (eigth channels, 24-bit resolution, 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio), with optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs soldered on the motherboard
  • On-board video: No.
  • On-board LAN: Yes, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one controlled by MCP04 south bridge together with Marvell 88E1115 PHY chip and the other controlled by Marvell PCIe Gigabit 88E8053 chip.
  • Buzzer: Yes.
  • Power supply: ATX12V v2.x (24-pin).
  • Slots: Two x16 PCI Express slots, two x1 PCI Express slots, one x4 PCI Express slots and two PCI slots.
  • Memory: Four DDR-DIMM sockets (up to 4 GB up to DDR400/PC3200).
  • Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: 1 CD.
  • Programs included: MSI utilities.
  • Extra features: Hi-fi on-board audio with vacuum tube pre-amplifier.
  • More Information: Msicomputer.com.
  • Average price in the US*: USD 205.00.

* Researched on Shopping.com on the day we published this review.

[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested.
 
Hardware Configuration

  • BIOS version: 1.12, December 22nd, 2005.
  • Motherboard revision: 1.0.
  • Processor (performance benchmarking): Athlon 64 3800+ (2.4 GHz) with 512 KB L2 cache, NewCastle core.
  • Processor (overclocking): Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2 GHz) with 512KB L2 cache, Venice core.
  • Cooler: Gigabyte 3D Rocket Cooler Pro.
  • Memory: Two Corsair PC4000 TWINX1024-4000PRO modules with 512 MB each, installed on DDR Dual Channel configuration (3-4-4-8 1T timings).
  • Hard Drive: Samsung SpinPoint SP0411N (7,200 rpm, 40 GB, ATA-133).
  • Video Card (main): NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT 128 MB PCI Express.
  • Video Card (secondary, SLI): NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT 128 MB PCI Express.
  • Video Card (AGP): NVIDIA GeForce 6600 GT.
  • Video resolution: 1024x768x32 75Hz.
  • Power Supply: Seventeam ST420BKV-03F.

Software Configuration

  • Windows XP Professional installed using NTFS
  • Service Pack 2
  • DirectX 9.0c

Driver Versions

  • NVIDIA video driver version : 71.89 WHQL
  • NVIDIA nForce driver version: 6.53 WHQL Stand Alone Kit
  • NVIDIA video driver version: 81.98 WHQL (nForce4 X16)
  • NVIDIA nForce driver version: 6.85 (nForce4 X16)
  • ULi driver version: Integrated 2.10.
  • ATI driver version: 1.0.
  • High Definition Audio driver version: Realtek 1.21.
  • Creative audio driver version: 5.12.01.506.

Used Software

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

[nextpage title=”Overall Performance”]

We measured the overall performance of this motherboard using SYSmark2004, which is a software that simulates the use of real-world applications. Thus, we consider this the best software to measure, in practical terms, the system performance.

The benchmarks are divided into two groups:

  • Internet Content Creation: Simulates the authoring of a website containing text, images, videos and animations. The following programs are used: Adobe After Effects 5.5, Adobe Photoshop 7.01, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Discreet 3ds Max 5.1, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, Macromedia Flash MX, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and Winzip 8.1.
  • Office Productivity: Simulates the use of an office suite, i.e., simulates sending e-mails, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. The following programs are used: Adobe Acrobat 5.05, Microsoft Office XP SP2, Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1, NaturallySpeaking 6, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and Winzip 8.1.

The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark2004 unit.
We selected the following motherboards to compare to MSI K8N Diamond Plus:

  • Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI)
  • ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI)
  • DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI)
  • ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra)
  • ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI)
  • Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS (nForce4 Ultra)
  • Sapphire PI-A9RX480 (ATI Xpress 200P).
  • ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695 chipset reference board)
  • ULi AP970A (ULi M1697 chipset reference board)

You can see the results on the chart below.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review

Motherboard SYSmark 2004 –
Score
%
Sapphire PI-A9RX480 (ATI Xpress 200P) 188 +0.53
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) 188 +0.53
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) 188 +0.53
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) 187  
ULi AP970A (ULi M1697) 187 0
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) 186 -0.54
Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS (nForce4 Ultra) 185 -1.08
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) 184 -1.63
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) 183 -2.19
ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra) 181 -3.31

On this test MSI K8N Diamond Plus achieved a performance similar to the majority of motherboards we tested, being a little bit faster than ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra).

[nextpage title=”Processing Performance”]

We measured processing performance using PCMark04 program. You can see the results below.

 

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review

Motherboard PCMark04
(Build 1.3.0)
%
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) 4683 +0.97
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) 4677 +0.84
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) 4670 +0.69
Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS (nForce4 Ultra) 4669 +0.67
ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra) 4653 +0.32
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) 4656 +0.17
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) 4638  
ULi AP970A (ULi M1697) 4609 -0.63
Sapphire PI-A9RX480 (ATI Xpress 200P) 4598 -0.87
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) 4595 -1.60

All motherboards achieved a similar performance on this test.

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: 3DMark2001 SE”]

One of the best ways to measure the performance of a PC is through 3D games, since they usually pull the maximum power from the motherboard, memory, CPU, video card and hard disk drive. We chose five programs for measuring the 3D performance of the motherboard being reviewed: 3DMark2001 SE, 3DMark03, 3DMark05, Doom 3 and Quake III Arena. The motherboards with SLI feature were tested twice, one with SLI enabled and another without SLI configuration.

3DMark2001 SE simulates DirectX 8.1 games. We used this program to see how the motherboard being reviewed acts running games from this generation. You can find the results below.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review

Motherboard 3DMark2001 SE
(Build 3.3.0)
%
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) SLI 19688 +2.09
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) Normal 19637 +1.93
Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS (nForce4 Ultra) 19580 +1.64
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) Normal 19506 +1.25
ULi AP970A (ULi M1697) 19328 +0.33
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) Normal 19314 +0.25
ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra) 19302 +0.19
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) Normal 19284 +0.10
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) Normal 19265  
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) 19115 -0.78
Sapphire PI-A9RX480 (ATI Xpress 200P) 19054 -1.11
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) – AGP 18988 -1.46

All motherboards achieved a similar performance without using SLI configuration.

We included K8N Diamond Plus results with SLI for you to compare the performance difference you may expect when enabling SLI on this motherboard. As you can see, the performance increased just a little bit on 3DMark 2001 SE when we activated SLI. This result was expected, since older games aren’t optimized to use SLI.

Comparing the results among SLI-enabled motherboards (see table below), MSI K8N Diamond Plus achieved the worst performance among the motherboards we tested. This occurred probably because we used a newer video driver that isn’t optimized for 3DMark2001 SE, which is an old benchmarking software.

Motherboard 3DMark2001 SE
(Build 3.3.0)
%
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) 20853 +6.03
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) 20573 +4.60
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) 20545 +4.46
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) 20004 +1.71
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) 19668  

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: 3DMark03″]

3DMark03 simulates DirectX 9 games, which are the games available today on the market. So we used this software to see how the motherboard being reviewed acts running DirectX 9.0 games. You can check the results below.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review

Motherboard 3Dmark03
(Build 3.6.0
%
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16)  SLI 14075 +69.33
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) Normal 8364 +0.63
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) Normal 8353 +0.49
Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS (nForce4 Ultra) 8348 +0.43
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) Normal 8334 +0.26
ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra) 8327 +0.18
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) Normal 8322 +0.12
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) Normal 8312  
ULi AP970A (ULi M1697) 8283 -0.35
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) 8239 -0.89
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) – AGP 8167 -1.78

All motherboards achieved a similar performance without using SLI configuration.

We included K8N Diamond Plus results with SLI for you to compare the performance difference you may expect when enabling SLI on this motherboard. Enabling SLI we had a 69.33% performance increase on this test.

Comparing the results among SLI-enabled motherboards (see table below), MSI K8N Diamond Plus achieved a performance similar to other motherboards we tested.

Motherboard 3Dmark03
(Build 3.6.0
%
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) 14075  
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) 13835 -1.73
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) 13831 -1.76
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) 13820 -1.85
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) 13801 -1.99

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: 3DMark05″]

3DMark05 measures performance by simulating DirectX 9.0c games, i.e., using Shader 3.0 model. This programming model is used by games like Far Cry. This programming model is used by GeForce series 6 and 7 from NVIDIA and Radeon X1000 series from ATI. You can find the results below.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review

Motherboard 3Dmark05
(Build 1.2.0)
%
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) SLI 6339 +80.65
Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS (nForce4 Ultra) 3600 +2.59
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) Normal 3597 +2.51
ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra) 3595 +2.45
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) Normal 3589 +2.28
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) Normal 3535 +0.74
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) Normal 3529 +0.57
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) Normal 3509  
Sapphire PI-A9RX480 (ATI Xpress 200P) 3427 -2.39
ULi AP970A (ULi M1697) 3317 -5.79
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) 3276 -7.11
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) – AGP 3111 -9.28

On this test MSI K8N Diamond Plus achieved a performance similar to the majority of motherboards we tested, being faster than all motherboards based on ULi chipset.

We included K8N Diamond Plus results with SLI for you to compare the performance difference you may expect when enabling SLI on this motherboard. Enabling SLI we had an 80.65% performance increase on this test.

Comparing the results among SLI-enabled motherboards (see table below), MSI K8N Diamond Plus achieved a performance similar to other motherboards we tested.

Motherboard 3Dmark05
(Build 1.2.0)
%
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) 6397 +0.91
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) 6354 +0.24
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) 6346 +0.11
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) 6339  
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) 6262 -1.23

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: Doom 3″]

Doom 3 is one of the heaviest games available today. We run this game at 1024x768x32 resolution at high quality. We run demo1 four times and wrote the obtained number of frames per second. The first result we discarded at once, since it is far inferior than the other results. This happens because at the first time we run the demo the game must load all textures to video memory, fact that doesn’t happen from the second time we run the demo on. From the three results left, we consider as our official result the middle result, i.e., we discard the highest and the lowest values. Curiously almost all times the values obtained at the second round on were the same.

A very important detail that we must mention is that Doom 3 has an internal FPS lock: it is only capable of generating 60 frames per second, even if your PC is able to produce more frames per second than that. This is done in order to make the game to have the same “playability” sensation independently from the video card installed on the PC. This lock, however, is disabled in the game benchmarking mode.

For further details on how to measure 3D performance with Doom 3, read our tutorial on this subject.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review

Motherboard FPS %
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) SLI 100 +21.80
Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS (nForce4 Ultra) 83.7 -1.95
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) Normal 83.6 -1.83
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) Normal 83.5 +1.71
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) Normal 83.4 -1.58
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) Normal 83 +1.10
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) Normal 82.1  
Sapphire PI-A9RX480 (ATI Xpress 200P) 81.4 -0.86
ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra) 81.3 -0.98
ULi AP970A (ULi M1697) 79.5 -3.27
ULi AP9567A (Uli M1695) 78.3 -4.85
ULi AP9567A (Uli M1695) – AGP 77.6 -5.80

On this test MSI K8N Diamond Plus achieved a performance similar to the majority of motherboards we tested, being faster than all motherboards based on ULi chipset.

We included K8N Diamond Plus results with SLI for you to compare the performance difference you may expect when enabling SLI on this motherboard. Enabling SLI we had a 21.80% performance increase on this test.

Comparing the results among SLI-enabled motherboards (see table below), MSI K8N Diamond Plus achieved a performance similar to other motherboards we tested.

Motherboard FPS %
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) 101.9 +1.90
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) 101.3 +1.30
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) 100.6 +0.60
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) 100.1 +0.10
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) 100  

[nextpage title=”3D Performance: Quake III”]

Even though this is an old game its importance comes from the fact its engine is used by several other games, like Jedi Knight II and Medal of Honor, and also because this game is very sensitive to any changes on the hardware configuration. So we used this game to check how the reviewed motherboard acted running old but popular games.

We used the demo four available on version 1.32 of Quake III to make our benchmarking with this game. We ran this demo three times at 1024x768x32 resolution and all image quality settings on their default configuration and we picked the middle value for our comparisons, i.e., we discarded the highest and the lowest values.

Check the results below.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review

Motherboard FPS %
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) Normal 357.5
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) Normal 345.6 -3.44
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) SLI 335.2 -6.65
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) Normal 330.2 -8.27
ULi AP970A (ULi M1697) 329.2 -8.60
Foxconn WinFast NF4UK8AA-8EKRS (nForce4 Ultra) 328.5 -8.83
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) Normal 327.2 -9.26
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) Normal 326.2 -9.60
Sapphire PI-A9RX480 (ATI Xpress 200P) 325.2 -9.23
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) 324.4 -10.20
ULi AP9567A (ULi M1695) – AGP 321.2 -11.30
ECS KN1 Extreme (nForce4 Ultra) 315.5 -13.31

On Quake III the reviewed motherboard from MSI achieved the best performance but we need to make an addendum. The version of the video driver used with K8N Diamond Plus was newer than the one used by the other motherboards. On newer benchmarking programs the driver version didn’t have any impact on the results, but on 3DMark2001 SE and on Quake III, which are older, the used driver decreased 3DMark2001 SE performance and improved Quake III results.

We had to use a newer driver because nForce4 SLI X16 chipset only works with newer video drivers. The ideal scenario would be benchmarking all the motherboards with the same newer video driver, but several of the motherboards included on our tests weren’t available anymore.

Anyway, it was interesting to see how the newer driver lowers the performance decrease on Quake III when SLI mode is used.

Comparing the results among SLI-enabled motherboards (see table below), MSI K8N Diamond Plus achieved the best performance among all other motherboards we tested. But keep in mind that on Quake III SLI decreases the system performance instead of increasing it (see previous table).

Motherboard FPS %
MSI K8N Diamond Plus (nForce4 SLI X16) 335.2
DFI LANParty UT nF4 SLI-D (nForce4 SLI) 294.3 -13.90
Albatron K8SLI (nForce4 SLI) Normal 281.3 -19.16
ECS KN1 SLI Extreme (nForce4 SLI) 279.8 -19.80
ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe (nForce4 SLI) 276.8 -21.10

[nextpage title=”Overclocking”]

For our overclocking tests we used an Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2 GHz) with 512 KB L2 memory cache based on Venice core, which has a better overclocking capability than our Athlon 64 3800+ used on our benchmarking.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus BIOS V.1.12 overclocking options:

  • External frequency: can be adjusted from 200 to 450 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • PCI Express frequency: can be adjusted from 100 to 148 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • Clock multiplier: Can be set from 5x to 19x in 1x steps. 
  • HTT bus multiplier: Can be set from 1x to 5x in 1x steps.
  • CPU voltage: from 0.80 V to 1.75 V and an extra overvoltage configuration of up to +0.75 V at 0.05 V steps.
  • Memory voltage: With the memory voltage jumper on its normal position (see Figure 15) you can adjust the memory voltage from 2.60 V to 3.20 V at 0.10 V steps and with the jumper on “boost” position you can increase the memory voltage up to 4.1 V.
  • Chipset voltage: Can be set from 1.2 V to 1.5 V. 
  • PCI Express voltage: Can be set from 1.5 V to 1.85 V. 
  • Dynamic overclocking: from 1% to 15% for the CPU and video cards based on NVIDIA chips.

K8N Diamond Plus has good overclocking settings, especially the memory voltage configuration, which can reach up to 4.1 V – value we don’t recommend even in a very aggressive overclocking due to the risk of drastically reducing the life span of your memory modules or even burning them.
Figure 15: CoreCell chip and jumpers set for increasing the memory voltage.

One particularity of socket 939 motherboards based on nForce 4 SLI X16 motherboards is the presence of two HyperTransport busses. When performing overclocking with motherboards based on this chipset you must control the frequency of both HyperTransport busses in order to prevent them from going over 1 GHz (Figure 16).

On Figures 16 to 21 you can check the several overclocking options provided by this motherboard.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard ReviewFigure 16: HyperTransport busses frequencies.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard ReviewFigure 17: Several overclocking options.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard ReviewFigure 18: More overclocking options.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard ReviewFigure 19: Complete memory timings settings.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard ReviewFigure 20: More memory timings settings.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard ReviewFigure 21: Dynamic overclocking

MSI added a switch on the motherboard for clearing the contents of the CMOS memory without the need of changing the position of a jumper, making it easier to clear the CMOS when you are setting your overclocking.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard ReviewFigure 22: Switch to clear the CMOS memory.

On Figures 23 and 24 you can check the overclocking we could achieve with this motherboard. In Figure 23 we could put HTT clock at 300 MHz and in Figure 24 we could put our CPU running at 2,798 MHz (279 MHz x 10).

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review
Figure 23:
HTT configured at 300 MHz.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus Motherboard Review
Figure 24:
Our 2.2 GHz CPU running at 2,798 MHz (279 MHz x 10).

With K8N Diamond Plus we could put our CPU running stable at 2,798 MHz (279 MHz x 10), an increase of 27.18% on its internal clock rate, an excellent result. To achieve this overclocking we had to change the HyperTransport bus multiplier to 3x, the memory voltage to 2.80 V, the CPU voltage to 1.5 V and keeping the memory clock always below 250 MHz.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

As you can notice by reading our results there is almost no performance difference between socket 939 motherboards. This occurs because Athlon 64 has an embedded memory controller, so the chipset doesn’t play any drastic role on performance on this platform. The decision on what socket 939 motherboard one should buy must be based on extra features, price and overclocking.

MSI K8N Diamond Plus offers the maximum number of features and technologies available nowadays for the socket 939 platform.

The possibility of running the two x16 PCI Express slots at full bandwidth under SLI mode is excellent for those having very high-end NVIDIA video cards running games at the maximum resolution and image quality settings. Those that don’t have a very high-end VGA won’t feel any performance difference compared to motherboards based on nForce 4 SLI.

Its Soundblaster Audigy on-board audio together with its vacuum tube pre-amplifier will please the users that enjoy high quality sound for sure.

We have two criticisms to K8N Diamond Plus. One is regarding its layout, where the chipset cooler is too close to the CPU, what can prevent the installation of bigger CPU coolers. The second one is regarding the lack of heatsinks on the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator.

Its price is higher than nForce4 SLI motherboards, but it is at the same level of competing motherboards based on nForce4 SLI X16 but with fewer features, like ASUS A8N32-SLI Deluxe.

If you want a motherboard with an attractive look, amazing number of features and exclusive accessories and also with a tremendous overclocking capability, MSI K8N Diamond Plus is an excellent choice.