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[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

K9N Diamond (a.k.a. MS-7226) is the most high-end socket AM2 motherboard from MSI based on NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI chipset and targeted to Athlon 64 CPUs supporting DDR2 memory. Its main feature is its on-board audio, controlled by a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE chip – feature not available on competing products. It also features a copper cooler on its north bridge chip and a copper heatsink on its south bridge chip, and they are connected through a copper heat-pipe. Let’s see how this motherboard from MSI performs.

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 1: MSI K9N Diamond motherboard.

Even though this motherboard features a cooper heatsink and a copper cooler connected by a heat-pipe, they are not as fancy as the solutions used by ASUS M2N32 SLI De Luxe and Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5. As a matter of fact, the solution used by these two boards is fanless, while the north bridge cooler from K9N Diamond uses a fan.

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 2: Cooling solution used by K9N Diamond.

This motherboard does not have any cooling solution on its voltage regulator transistors, which is quite strange for a company like MSI.

This motherboard provides two x16 PCI Express slots that truly run at x16 when two video cards are installed. It also features two x1 PCI Express slots and two standard PCI slots. One of the PCI slots is orange and MSI says that this slot is special for communication devices, but no further info is given. On motherboards from ECS with a “special” PCI slot with a different color there is really something different on the hardware: better electrolytic capacitors are used on that particular slot. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with this motherboard from MSI.

On the memory side, K9N Diamond has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, supporting up to 8 GB up to DDR2-800. On this motherboard sockets 1 and 2 are green and sockets 3 and 4 are orange. To use DDR2 dual channel on this motherboard, you will have to install one module on a green socket and the other module on an orange socket. Pay attention because on the other two motherboard based on nForce 590 SLI we’ve seen, you had to install the modules on sockets with the same color, not on sockets with different colors.

This motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard) and three FireWire (IEEE1394) ports (one soldered on the motherboard), controlled by VIA VT6306 chip. What is unique about this motherboard is that its USB headers are colored, helping a lot installing the USB ports from the case – once you learned the color code, you don’t need to read the manual anymore; in fact not even this, as there is a big plus and a big minus signals printed on the header, meaning D+ and D-, so you can install the frontal USB ports from the case without reading the manual. We hope other manufacturers start to adopt this same idea soon.

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 3: USB headers are colored.

Following MSI tradition, the USB I/O bracket containing two USB ports have a LED diagnostics device (“D-Bracket 2”).

On the storage side, this motherboard has six SATA-300 ports supporting NCQ, RAID0, RAID1, RAID0+1, RAID5 and JBOD, provided by nForce 590 SLI chipset. It also has one ATA/133 port. You can see the SATA-300 ports in Figure 3.

[nextpage title=”Introduction (Cont’d)”]

This motherboard has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, both controlled by the south bridge using two Vitesse SimplyPHY chips (VSC8601XKN) to make the physical layer interface.

MSI K9N Diamond
Figure 4: Rear panel.

On the rear panel (Figure 4) you can find the two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one FireWire port, four USB 2.0 ports, analog audio input/outputs (7.1 format), SPDIF coaxial and optical outputs, plus one serial port, one parallel port, PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard connectors.

This motherboard also has an extra 12V power connector using a regular peripheral power plug. MSI does not explain when this extra connector should be used. We recommend you using it.

On the motherboard you will also find a clear CMOS button.

The audio section of this motherboard is its main advantage over competition. It features a Creative CA0106 sound chip, the same used by Sound Blaster Audigy SE sound card (SB0570), plus a Cirrus Logic CS4382 codec. This set provides 7.1 surround audio, 24-bit resolution, 96 kHz sampling rate, 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) – which is a professional level – and support to EAX Advanced HD 3.0 and Dolby Digital EX.

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 5: Codec and audio chip used by this motherboard.

The majority of electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard are Japanese, from Chemi-Con. Four electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard, however, are from Taiwanese Teapo. Even though Teapo claims that they buy their raw materials from Japan, we wonder why MSI didn’t use all capacitors from Chemi-Con. These four Taiwanese capacitors, however, aren’t used on the voltage regulator circuit, which is the most critical part of the motherboard as capacitors are concerned (low-end capacitors on this section can lead to capacitor leakage).

In Figure 6, you can see all cables and accessories that come with this motherboard: six Serial ATA cables, three Serial ATA power adapters, one parallel IDE rounded cable, one floppy disk drive rounded cable, one SLI bridge, one metallic bracket for fastening the SLI bridge to the case, one USB bracket with two ports, one FireWire bracket with two ports and the I/O rear plate for the case.

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 6: Cables and accessories that come with this motherboard.

This motherboard comes with two CDs with motherboard drivers and utilities.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

MSI K9N Diamond (MS-7226) main features are:

  • Socket: AM2.
  • Chipset: NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI.
  • Super I/O: Winbond W83627EHG.
  • Parallel IDE: One ATA-133 port controlled by the chipset.
  • Serial IDE: Six SATA-300 ports controlled by the chipset (NCQ, RAID0, RAID1, RAID0+1, RAID5 and JBOD).
  • USB: 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets; this motherboard comes with one I/O bracket with two ports; four ports are left).
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394a): Three ports controlled by VIA VT6306 chip, one regular connector soldered on the motherboard and two available through an I/O bracket that comes with the motherboard (one regular-sized and one miniature-sized).
  • On-board audio: Produced by a Creative CA0106-WATLF chip together with Cirrus Logic CS4382 codec (eight channels, 100 dB signal-to-noise ratio, 24-bit resolution, 96 kHz sampling rate) with optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs soldered on the motherboard.
  • On-board video: No.
  • On-board LAN: Yes, two Gigabit Ethernet controlled by the chipset together with two Vitesse SimplyPHY chips (VSC8601) chips.
  • Buzzer: No.
  • Power supply: ATX12V v2.x (24-pin).
  • Slots: Two x16 PCI Express slots, two x1 PCI Express slots and two PCI slots.
  • Memory: Four DDR-DIMM sockets (up to 8 GB up to DDR2-800/PC2-6400).
  • Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: 2 CDs.
  • More Information: https://www.msicomputer.com
  • Average price in the US*: USD 190.00

* Researched at 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: 1.1.
  • Motherboard revision: 1.1
  • Processor: Athlon 64 X2 5000+ (2.6 GHz) with 512 KB L2 cache.
  • Cooler: AMD.
  • Memory: Two Corsair PC8500 CM2X512-8500 modules with 512 MB each, installed under DDR2 dual channel configuration (5-5-5-15 timings).
  • Hard Drive: Maxtor DiamondMax 9 Plus (40 GB, ATA-133).
  • Video Card: XFX GeForce 7800 GTX.
  • Video resolution: [email protected]
  • Power Supply: Antec Neo HE 550.

Software Configuration

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

Driver Versions

  • NVIDIA video driver version : 84.21
  • NVIDIA nForce 590 SLI driver: 9.35
  • Sound Blaster Audigy driver: 5.12.1.519

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 program 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 compared the reviewed board to Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5, ASUS M2N32 SLI De Luxe (both also based on nForce 590 SLI) and ECS KA3 MVP Extreme (Radeon Xpress 3200). You can see the results on the graph below.

MSI K9N Diamond

In this test MSI K9N Diamond achieved the same performance level of all other socket AM2 motherboards we reviewed.

[nextpage title=”Processing Performance”]

We measured processing performance using PCMark05 Professional program. PCMark05 Professional measures the system performance by running several tests. The System batch, which was the one we used, performs the following tests: HDD XP Startup, Physics and 3D, 2D Transparent Window, 3D Pixel Shader, Web Page Rendering, File Decryption, 2D Graphics Memory – 64 lines, HDD General Usage and three multithreading tests. The results are given in a PCMark05 specific unit.

MSI K9N Diamond

In this program all motherboards achieved the same performance level.

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

You may be asking why we are using Quake III, an old game, to evaluate motherboard performance. When we have a high-end video card installed, like was our case, newer 3D benchmarking software measures only the video card performance, and other components – the motherboard, in particular – don’t affect much the measurement taken by these programs. Since we were willing to measure the performance impact the motherboard would have on the system, such programs wouldn’t fit our needs.

Quake III, on the other hand, is very sensitive to any changes on the hardware configuration. So we decided to use this program instead of newer ones.

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 K9N Diamond

Here MSI K9N Diamond was faster than the other motherboards included in our comparison: it was 7.11% faster than ASUS M2N32 SLI De Luxe, 9.98% faster than Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5 and 11.54% faster than ECS KA3 MVP. “LinkBoost Technology” we will talk about in the next page may have caused this difference.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking”]

Following MSI tradition, K9N Diamond features dynamic overclocking technology (D.O.T.). Setting this feature your motherboard will be automatically overclocked. D.O.T. can be set in five different levels: Private (1%), Sergeant (3%), Captain (5%), Colonel (7%) and General (10%). During our review we disabled dynamic overclocking.

Besides that, on MSI K9N Diamond (1.1 BIOS) you will find the following overclocking options:

  • Base clock (HTT clock): Can be adjusted from 200 to 500 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • Main PCI Express x16 slot clock (“C51 PCI-Express Frequency”): Can be adjusted from 100 MHz to 148.4375 MHz in 1.5625 MHz steps.
  • Other PCI Express slots clock (“MCP55 PCI-Express Frequency”): Can be adjusted from 100 MHz to 200 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
  • CPU voltage: auto or from 1.200 V to 1.350 V in 0.025 V steps.
  • Extra CPU voltage: default or 0.05 V to 0.30 V in 0.05 V steps.
  • Memory voltage: 1.70 V to 2.10 V in 0.05 V plus 2.20 V and 2.30 V adjustments.
  • Main PCI Express x16 slot voltage (“NB to PCIE VGA Voltage”): 1.23 V to 1.35 V in 0.04 V steps.
  • Second PCI Express x16 slot voltage (“SB to PCIE VGA Voltage”): 1.50 V to 1.85 V in 0.05 V steps.
  • CPU to HyperTransport link voltage: 1.20 V to 1.50 V in 0.05 V steps.
  • HyperTransport voltage (“NB to SB HT”): 1.30 V, 1.34 V, 1.39 V and 1.43 V.
  • LinkBoost technology (see Figure 9): An automatic overclocking technology by NVIDIA.
  • Memory timings (see Figure 10).

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 7: Overclocking options on MSI K9N Diamond (BIOS v 1.1).

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 8: Overclocking options on MSI K9N Diamond (BIOS v 1.1).

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 9: LinkBoost Technology on MSI K9N Diamond (BIOS v 1.1).

MSI K9N DiamondFigure 10: Memory timings adjustment (BIOS v 1.1).

The PCI Express clock configuration is very important, as you can lock the PCI Express clock at a given value (100 MHz, for example). Usually when you increase the CPU base clock (HTT clock) you will automatically increase the PCI Express clock as well, and sometimes your overclocking will be limited not by the CPU but by the devices connected to the PCI Express bus. Thus with this option you can increase the probability of setting a higher overclocking. And this motherboard provides separated clock and voltage configurations for the PCI Express busses connected to the north bridge chip (i.e., the main SLI PCI Express x16 slot) and to the south bridge chip (i.e., all other PCI Express connections, including the second x16 PCI Express slot).

With this motherboard we increased the base clock of our CPU from 200 MHz to 220 MHz and the system worked just fine. We could configure our system above that, but it wasn’t stable (we only consider an overclocking successful if we can run PCMark 05 and Quake III three times without facing any problems).

The overclocking we achieved represents a 10% increase on the CPU internal clock, making our 2.6 GHz Athlon 64 X2 5000+ to run at 2.86 GHz. The performance measured by PCMark05 increased 6.06% and the performance measured by Quake III increased 25.32% with this overclocking – really impressive.

This is the same overclocking level we could achieve with Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5. On the  other two socket AM2 motherboard we reviewed – ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe and ECS KA3 MVP Extreme – we were able to go up to 221 MHz, not so different from what we got with this MSI model.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

Traditionally there is almost no performance difference between motherboards targeted to Athlon 64 CPUs, since processor based on AMD64 architecture have an embedded memory controller, so the chipset doesn’t play any drastic role on performance. Because of this the decision on what socket AM2 motherboard one should buy must be based on extra features, price and overclocking capability.

MSI K9N Diamond is the most high-end socket AM2 motherboard from MSI and competes directly with ASUS M2N32-SLI De Luxe and Gigabyte GA-M59SLI-S5. Even though all these three boards provide the same basic features provided by nForce 590 SLI – like two x16 PCI Express slots, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, six SATA-300 ports and 7.1 audio – and FireWire ports, there is an important difference between them.

The biggest advantage of MSI K9N Diamond over its competitors is its on-board audio, provided by an on-board Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy SE sound card. If you want a socket AM2 motherboard with high-end audio quality, MSI K9N Diamond is the way to go.

The other two boards, however, provides more Serial ATA ports, and Gigabyte’s model provides a third x16 PCI Express slot (working at x8 speed, though).

So the basic question is: do you need a motherboard with more than six SATA-300 ports and maybe a third PCI Express x16 slot or a board with a better audio quality?

As for performance, it is always good to keep in mind that MSI K9N Diamond was faster than the other socket AM2 motherboards we reviewed so far, probably due to NVIDIA’s dynamic overclocking feature, called “LinkBoost technology”, which was disabled on the other boards.