MSI DKA790GX Platinum Review

ajmatson - 2008-09-11 20:54:17 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: October 26, 2008
Price: $155.00

Introduction:

Recently we took a look at the Foxconn A7DA-S motherboard which introduced us to one of the newest chipsets from AMD the 790GX. The 790GX platform brought us new and updated technology designed to maximize our computing experience but the most notable addition was the inclusion of Sideport Memory used to boost the onboard graphics. The Sideport Memory helps increase the graphics processing by giving you a faster frame buffer before using the shared system memory. This feature however only works when using the onboard video or a discrete card paired with the onboard video in Hybrid CrossFireX. The 790GX also offers dual PCI Express 2.0 slots for CrossFire combination's that will make your mouth water.

Today we are looking at another 790GX based board from MSI the DKA790GX Platinum. The MSI 790GX series boards come in four flavors the KA790GX, the KA790GX-M which adds Sideport memory, the DKA790GX which adds DrMOS with no Sideport memory, and the DKA790GX Platinum which has both DrMOS and the Sideport memory. This boards Sideport memory comes in as a 1Gbit (128MB) DDR3 1333MHz chip directly soldered to the motherboard ready to add a fast performance increase to your onboard video, up to 15%. This is only the tip of what the MSI DKA790GX Platinum has to offer so let's get into the review to learn all about it.

 

Closer Look:

This motherboard comes packaged in a gamer oriented design featuring a grizzly mascot ready to tear stuff up. Along side him are logos of hardware supported including 140w processors, Quad Core CPU's, and the ATI chipset. There is also a box showing what the DrMOS supports to keep your system more efficient. On the back of the box there are pictures of highlighted features on the DKA790GX Platinum motherboard as well as an overall picture of the board itself.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Once you get the box opened up you can get a look of  what is included with the DKA790GX Platinum. Inside are the quick install guides and manuals, three CD's for Vista/XP drivers and additional software, four SATA cables, a floppy cable, an IDE cable, two 4-pin to SATA power adapters, a USB header bracket, two CrossFire bridges, and the M-Connectors.

 

 

 

Now that we have everything out of the box let's move on and get a better look at the board itself. 

Closer Look:

The MSI DKA790GX is very well laid out with plenty of space so that components do not block each other too much that it creates a lot of problems. MSI uses a black colored PC Board with a color scheme that is easy on the eyes while showing off its wares. This board is based off of the AMD 790GX Northbridge and the SB750 Southbridge for speed and dependability. With this combination your system will never leave you wanting more. The back of the motherboard has the CPU heatsink retention bracket whick evens the load from the CPU heatsink to prevent damage to the board. The Northbridge also has embedded ATI Radeon HD 3300 graphics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The I/O back panel offers a lot for your computing needs. There is a legacy PS/2 port which is colored purple for keyboards however it will accept a mouse also, there are six USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA port, a FireWire port, an optical SPDIF port, and the analog 7.1 channel HD audio ports. For video you have it all: a DVI port, an HDMI port, and the legacy VGA port.

 

 

Sliding down to the expansion slots you have two PCI Express x16 slots which support CrossFire and CrossFireX. The top slot runs in x16 mode for a single card and x8 when paired with another card in the lighter blue slot which runs at x8 only. For single GPU setups only use the top darker blue slot. There are also two PCI Express x1 slots for the newer expansion cards coming out on the market and two legacy PCI slots for older expansion cards.

 

The CPU area is pretty clear considering the size of the cooling solution the DKA790GX Platinum uses. I had no problem installing a stock heatsink as well as the OCZ Vendetta II which is a large obtrusive heatsink. The MSI DKA790GX Platinum uses a five phase power designs supported by DrMOS, which has not been implemented on an AMD board until now. DrMOS is a driver-MOSFET package which MSI claims is very power efficient. The DKA790GX Platinum supports up to 8GB of DDR2-1066MHz memory in four DIMM slots. Each color represents a channel and MSI recommends using the orange slots when running only two DIMM's for dual channel.

 

 

On this motherboard there are headers a plenty. Starting from the bottom left of the board there is a front panel audio header, a CD in header, the floppy port, three USB 2.0 headers, a power button, a reset button, a clear CMOS button, two front panel headers, five SATA II 3.0Gbs ports, and an IDE port. To the bottom right of the Southbridge heatsink there is a TPM header (Trusted Platform Module), and a COM header for legacy COM devices. (Yes the COM device is old but if you are a network admin you know when the COM port is still needed). Four of the SATA ports are set at 90 degrees so that they are unobstructed when a large graphics card is placed in the second PCI Express x16 slot however one is still straight out and you may have problems accessing it with some cards installed.

 

 

 

MSI has implemented a Flat Circu-Pipe design for the cooling of the DKA790GX Platinum motherboard to keep the critical parts of the board as cool as possible. This includes a heatsink on the voltage regulators, a circular fin heatsink on the Northbridge, and a small fin type heatsink on the Southbridge. The North and Southbridge is connected via two heatpipes used to whisk away heat from the chipsets and dissipate into the case. All of the heatsinks and pipes are constructed of copper for beter thermal conductivity.

 

 

 

Two special items that need to be pointed out are the onboard overclocking switches and the Sideport memory. First the overclocking switches allow you to overclock the board using a combination of the dip switches. The four options, which adjust the HyperTransport Speed, are stock 200MHz, 10% overclock for 220MHz, 15% overclock for 230MHz, and 20% overclock which is at 240MHz. This does not alter your multiplier however if you are using a Black Box CPU. Second under the Northbridge heatsink you will notice a chip marked Elpida. This is the onboard Sideport Memory used to boost the onboard graphics giving it a faster frame buffer than what the shared system memory can provide. This chip is a 128MB capacity DDR3-1333MHz chip which offers up to a 10% boost for your onboard graphics.

 

 

Now that the board is out and examined let's install everything and boot her up.

Closer Look:

The BIOS is where all of the computing magic takes place. This area of a motherboard is very overlooked by most users as they do not understand the potential of what you have control over. I will be taking a look at the BIOS of the MSI DKA790GX Platinum for you in sections so that you get a better understanding of what it has to offer. This board uses an AMI (American Megatrends) BIOS which uses a menu system for easy navigation so that you can find exactly what you need without wasting time searching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard CMOS:

The Standard CMOS section is where you can set the date and time of the system as well as get drive and system information.

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

The Advanced BIOS features section is where you can change features such as enabling and disabling the onboard video, boot options such as boot order, and CPU features such as C1E. For the onboard video you have the option to use only system memory or system memory and the Sideport memory together. You can also select the amount of system memory you want to allocate to the video and the speed at which the Sideport memory will operate at.

 

 

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

The Integrated Peripherals section is where you can change the onboard options such as USB, FireWire, LAN, SATA, IDE, and COM functions. You can set how the onboard SATA will operate in RAID mode such as in IDE, RAID, or ACHI which makes the drives hot swappable for things like servers.

 

 

 

 

Power Management & Hardware Monitor:

The Power Management section allows you to choose how the system will handle its power properties. You can set the ACPI states, how the power button responds when pushed and how the computer responds to Wake requests. The Hardware Monitor allows you to check on your systems temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds as well as control how the fans are running.

 

 

User Settings:

This section allows you to save and load any BIOS profiles you have set so that it is easier to switch between them or to recall them in the event your system goes down.

 

Closer Look:

Cell Menu:

The overclocking section of the MSI DKA790GX Platinum is called the CELL Menu. This is where the magic takes place. MSI has separated this in sections also so that you do not get all confused when navigating it. I will start from the top and split it in sections also. First, is where you can change the speeds of the processor. You have control over enabling and disabling the Cool N Quiet feature for when full power is needed. You can also change the Bus speed and the multiplier of the CPU and the HyperTransport. You can select to alter all cores together or independently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Onboard VGA overclock section allows you to change the speed of the integrated video. The default is 700MHz. Below that is the DRAM configuration. Here you can change the strap which alters the frequency based on the speed of the CPU. You can also change the timings for the memory to tweak them as fast as you can.

 

 

The last part is where you can change the HyperTransport Link speed based on the multiplier chosen and the voltages for the devices like the CPU, memory, HyperTransport Link, and more.

 

 

 Now that everything is configured let's install the drivers and utilities to get started.

Closer Look:

To install the drivers and software all you need to do is pop the CD into the drive and the program will auto start. You are presented with a menu system from MSI. There are several options for you to choose to install the programs and drivers. The first tab is the Driver tab which is where you can install the chipset drivers, the audio drivers and the drivers for the network connection. The second tab is the Utility tab which has the installations for the Live Update 3 utility and the Dual Core Center for overclocking. Third is the Website tab which gives you links to MSI's and other useful websites to get you up and running without any problems. Lastly is the Manual tab. This tab is where you can browse the CD and contact MSI for support should you need to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Installation of the drivers is a snap because it uses the same Catalyst Control Center install as do ATI video cards. Just follow the prompts, choose where and what you want to install and let the Control Center do its magic. After a few minutes you will be prompted to restart the system. I reccommend this so that everything runs properly and you get no errors.

 

 

 

There are two utilities that are available for you to install. They are the MSI Live Update 3 and MSI Dual Core Center. The Live Update 3 utility will allow you to search and install the latest BIOS and drivers for your hardware. It will launch a web based program and search their database. Once the latest version is found it will prompt you showing what you have installed and what the latest version is. If you need to update it just click the Live Update 3 button and it will handle the rest. The Dual Core Center Utility allows you to control your computers clocks and voltages to overclock your system easily. You can also create profiles based on your overclocking needs for quick switching.

 

 

 

 

Now that we have the software installed let's get on to the testing.

Specifications:

 

CPU:
AMD® Phenom/Athlon/Sempron CPU.
Chipset:
AMD® 790GX and SB750 Chipset
HyperTransport Bus:
HyperTransport 3.0 supporting speed up to 5200MT/s
AM2 CPU supports HyperTransport 1.0/2.0
AM2+ CPU supports HyperTransport 3.0
Memory:
Supports Dual DDR2 667/800/1066(only for AM2+)
4 DDR2 DIMMs (240pin / 1.8V)
Supports a maximum memory size up to 8GB.
Expansion Slots:
1 mazarine PCI Express x16 slot with x16 operation (PCI Express Bus SPEC V2.0 compliant)
1 light-blue PCI Express x16 slot with x8 operation (PCI Express Bus SPEC V2.0 compliant)
When 2 PCI Express x16 slots are all installed, the PCIE x 16 lanes will auto arrange form x16/ x0 to x8/ x8. Do not use the light-blue slot when only one PCI Express x16 card is installed.
2 PCI Express x1 slots
2 PCI slots, support 3.3V/ 5V PCI bus Interface.
Storage
On-Board IDE
One IDE port by AMD® SB750
Supports Ultra DMA 66/100/133 mode
Supports PIO, Bus Master operation mode
Can connect up to two IDE devices

On-Board SATA
5 SATA II (1~5) ports by AMD® SB750
1 eSATA port by AMD® SB750
Supports storage and data transfers at up to 3Gb/s

RAID Function
SATA II 1~5 support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 or JBOD mode by AMD® SB750
Audio:
Chipset integrated by Realtek® ALC888
Flexible 8-channel audio with jack sensing
Compliant with Azalia 1.0 Spec
Ethernet:
Realtek PCI-E GbLAN controller 8111C
Integrated Fast Ethernet MAC and PHY in single chip
Supports 10Mb/s, 100Mb/s and 1000Mb/s
Compliance with PCI-Express Bus specification v1.0a
IEEE 1394/FireWire:
Chipset integrated by JMicron® JMB381
Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps
Rear Panel:
1 x PS/2 keyboard or mouse
1 x 6 in 1 audio jack
6 x USB 2.0 ports
1 x RJ45 LAN jack
1 x optical SPDIF-out port
1 x eSATA port
1 x IEEE1394 Port
1 x DVI-D port
1 x Graphic Card port
1 x HDMI port 
Internal I/O:
ATX 24-pin power connector
ATX 4-pin 12V CPU power connector
CPU x 1 / System x 2 FAN connectors
CD-in connector
Front panel audio connector
Front panel connector
Chassis intrusion switch connector
3 x USB 2.0 connector support additional 6 ports
1 x Floppy disk drive connector
5 x Serial ATA II connectors
1 x ATA133 HD connectors
Serial port connector
Clear CMOS button
Power button
Reset button
OC switch
1 x Wake on LAN connector
1 x TPM module header
Mounting:
9 mounting holes
Dimensions:
30.4cm(L) x 24.5cm(W) ATX Form Factor

 

 

Features:

 

 

All information on this page is courtesy of MSI @ http://www.msicomputer.com/product/p_spec.asp?model=DKA790GX_Platinum&class=mb

Testing:

To put the MSI DKA790GX Platinum to the wall I will be running a series of scientific and video benchmarks which will push this motherboard to its limits. I will then compare the DKA790GX Platinum against other boards in its class including the Foxconn A7DA-S which is another 790GX based motherboard and the ASUS M3N78 Pro which is based on the latest GeForce 8300 chipset. To keep any variables from interfering with the scores and comparisons all of the boards will be run with the same hardware setup and everything will be set at their stock speeds, timings, and voltages unless noted as in the overclocking section.

 

Test Setup: 

 

Comparison Motherboards:

 

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

The overclocking on the MSI DKA790GX Platinum will come two fold. First is the overclocking using only the OC Dip Switches on the motherboard. I will place the switches at their maximum setting of a 20% overclock to see how the board configures the overclock. Before doing this you have to load the BIOS defaults so nothing is already overclocked. When the computer was up and running I took a look at CPU-Z and to my amazement the board was running stable at 3.0GHz. The switches upped the Bus Speed to 240MHz and the memory up to 960MHz. Not bad for throwing just a few switches.

 

While this is a decent overclock I wanted to see what the board really had to offer. So I started with my tinkering in the BIOS to see where I can get. I upped the multiplier to 16x little by little until I could no longer get a stable boot. Then I went over to the Bus Speed and pushed it up 1MHz at a time until I could not boot into Windows. Finally I had what was my wall for the overclock. With a VCore max of 1.45v I dared not to go any further. So for the overclocking scores I will be running at 3.280GHz  (205x16x) at 1.45v. The memory was bumped up to 1092MHz as a result of the Bus increase.

 

  

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewperf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. SiSoft Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. CineBench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional

Testing:

First up are the system specific benchmarks that will test overall scientific performance.

 

To get things started, I will begin with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:

 

The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB, and 500MB files, as well as test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

ZIP:

 

RAR:

 

 

In both Apophysus and WinRAR the MSI DKA790GX Platinum dominated the competition.

Testing:

SPECviewperf 10 is a benchmark designed to test OpenGL performance. I will be using the multi-threaded tests to measure the performance when run in this mode. The tests used for comparison are listed below. The default multi-threaded tests were chosen to be able to compare across platforms. In these tests, higher scores equate to better performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

PCMark Vantage is used to measure complete system performance. We will be running a series of tests to gauge performance of each individual board to see which board, if any, rises above the others.

 

The MSI board just blew by in Specview while tieing the other ATI boards in PCMark Vantage.

Testing:

SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key areas of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

 

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

 

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

 

 

Memory Latency

 

 

Cache and Memory

 

 

 

File System

 

 

 

Physical Disks

 

 

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

 

With the exception of the memory latency the MSI board came close to the other AMD boards and ran slightly slower than the NVIDIA counterpart.

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CineBench is useful for testing your system, CPU and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.

 

 

 

HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.

 

 

 

Sciencemark and Cinebench were just about dead on with all of the boards. In HDTune the MSI and Sapphire board smoked the others maintining their head on struggle.

 

Testing:

Crysis has been out for quite some time now. In that time, there has yet to be a single or multi-GPU setup that can fully showcase the graphics performance of the game.  The Crysis single player demo includes both CPU and GPU benchmarks to test the performance of your processor and video card.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

The 790GX score is within the margin of the other boards.

 

Testing:

PT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a new DX10 title that features its own proprietary graphics engine currently in development. The game is a combination of Real Time Strategy and Simulation. You have the ability to control the entire crew or just a single member. Play as the German, Russian or Allied navies, and prove your mettle on the open seas.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

The MSI board performed slightly better in PT Boats.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games out on the market, chronicling the building of a perfect Utopian society undersea gone horribly wrong - its inhabitants driven mad with the introduction of tonics and genetic modifications. Now Rapture is just a shadow of its former glory, with little girls looting the dead of what little they have left, while being shadowed by guardians known as "Big Daddies." It is a demanding game that will make your hardware scream for mercy. This First Person Shooter allows for an infinite number of weapons and modifications to provide a unique experience each time it is played. The environment as well as the story line will wrap you up for hours on end.

 

Video Settings:

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MSI board was in the middle of the scores lined up with the other 790GX based board.

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the successor to the Call of Duty crown. This iteration of the game is fought in many of the world's hot spots with modern armaments and firepower. You can play as either a US Marine or British SAS trooper. Since this game does not feature an in-game test, I will run through a section of the game and measure average FPS using Fraps 2.9.3.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MSI board near the end started to fall off slightly but within margins.

Testing:

World in Conflict is a  DX10, Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war the world hopes never comes. The difference in this RTS game is that it is not the typical "generate wealth and build" type of game. Instead, you advance by conquering your foe.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

All of the boards were just about even.

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DX10, First Person Shooter set in the Wild West of the late 1800's. The game is inspired, in part, by the movies of the Wild West genre of the seventies and eighties. The game can be played as both single player and multiplayer. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MSI board was right on the tails of the other board the whole time.

Testing:

Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts is the latest chapter in the Company of Heroes series. The scene is WWII. The mission is Operation Market Garden, the first Allied attempt to break into the Third Reich. Play as the British or Germans. This Real Time Strategy game is brought to us by Relic Entertainment.

 

Video Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compared to the rest the MSI board started off slow but shined as the resolution grew.

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the benchmarks that always comes up when a bragging contest is begun. 3DMark06 presents a severe test for many of today's hardware components. Let's see how this setup fares. The settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just as in other benchmarks all of the boards were very close to each other in 3DMark06.

Extras:

There are a few thinks of note I want to point out about the MSI board and 790GX Platform. First is this board does have the ATI HD 3300 Integrated Graphics built in and while you might not be power gaming on it I want to show how the Sideport memory can increase your experience. I ran the Call of Juarez benchmark at the low settings and a shadow size of 2048x2048, turned off the AA and placed a resolution of 1280x1024 which is pretty low compared to today's gaming standards. While I know the game will still be unplayable I wanted to see how much of a jump the Sideport Memory gives when turned on not what the FPS is in general. So I set the UMA (Shared memory) to 512MB and ran one loop with Sideport turned off and one loop with Sideport turned on and set at 1333MHz. Below are the scores for each run. Again while they are low and unplayable at this speed turning on the Sideport Memory gave a 16% increase over using just the shared memory alone. Not bad for a memory chip soldered to the motherboard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second thing I wanted to point out is the integrated video works very well for watching movies thanks to ATI's Unified Video Decoder and ATI Avivo. This allows playback of videos and other media using only the onboard graphics. The processing is done via the HD 3300 graphics and off loads it from the CPU leaving your computer to run other tasks in the background. This is nice because that means no more choppy videos when watching your favorite DVD's. If you look at the picture below while playing the new Incredible Hulk DVD there is little to no CPU usage leaving the system free to do whatever else it needs without interrupting each other.

 

Conclusion:

This board was a pleasure to work with. It was very stable and overclocks very easily with either the dip switches, via the BIOS, or using the AMD overclocking utility. The scores speak for themselves this board was built for gamers in mind. The 790GX and SB750 combination provide the power needed to run any system and MSI takes that combination and puts it in a very solid platform for your computing pleasure. The Circu-Pipe heatsink design keeps the DKA790GX Platinum at safe operating temperatures even while overclocked as far as I had it. Not once did it get too hot or did I need to add extra fans to cool it down. Having the memory on the outside slots also helped keep the air flowing well. I was kind of scratching my head as to why they place four of the SATA ports at 90 degree angles and not the fifth one. With large video cards this could pose a problem. This board is a very stable platform for any gamer or power user and with a great chipset you could not go wrong.

Also the integrated graphics while not built for gaming provide a rich computing experience when used for general computer use such as web surfing and watching your favorite movies. Add this to an HD 3450 for Hybrid CrossFireX and you can even play some games at low to medium resolutions. This would make the perfect HTPC platform for anyone wanting a solid board with great options and room for future expansion. If you are looking for an excellent board with good onboard video then the MSI DKA790GX will do you well. Even if you are not going to use the integrated video this is a very solid board with a great platform supporting it.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: