MSI Eclipse Plus ReviewRHKCommander959 -
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With the motherboard out, one of the more beautiful MSI boards is shown. The overall color scheme is black and blue, with hints of silver from the components. Four PCI-Express x16 slots, two PCI Express x1s, and a sole PCI slot for expandability. The power phase heat sink is separated from the North and South bridges, which are connected by a flattened heat pipe. The design is definitely better looking than the older one used on the Eclipse and Pro line. MSI refrained from using push pins and opted for screws instead, improving mounting pressure, although the Southbridge and NF200 chip share only one screw in between each other. Five rows of SATA ports with two connections a piece provides a total of ten internal SATA ports - six from the Intel ICH10R chipset with RAID 0/1/5/10, and two each from the JMicron 322 chips with RAID 0/1 available. Additionally, a JMicron 362 chip provides two eSATA ports with RAID 0/1/JBOD supported. The CMOS battery is located between the first two PCI Express x16 slots, an inconvenience for some although the I/O panel has an clear CMOS button. The Eclipse Plus lacks IDE and floppy connections, now relying on SATA for hard drives and disk drives, with BIOS updates through the OS or a USB drive. Most x58 motherboards come with memory slots in six rows, while others only come in three. Rotating around to the back of the motherboard shows the mounting screws, along with some dirt around the motherboard which could be flux residue. Rows of pins for the power regulation circuitry and memory/expansion slots also litter the back.
The I/O panel features PS/2 ports for both keyboard and mouse, eight USB ports, two eSATA ports thanks to the JMicron 362 chip, two PCI Express 10/100/1000 Ethernet LAN ports via Realtek's 8111C controller, an IEEE FireWire port through the VIA VT6308 chipset (with a second header inside), a Clear CMOS button for an easily accessible method to reset the BIOS (handy for overclockers who push the limits), and a hex-coded Debug LED. The included sound card has five ports with an additional Optical S/PDIF out. The six SATA ports in black are provided by Intel's chipset ICH10R and supports RAID 0/1/5/10, while the four blue SATA ports are provided by two JMicron 322 chipsets that support RAID 0/1/JBOD. The Southbridge/NF200 heat sink is low profile, with most of the fin area being covered by a metal casing displaying the motherboard's name and MSI logo.
The upper half of the motherboard itself has four fan headers, one of which is four-pinned for the CPU fan and provides both voltage and PWM support. This should enable most users without fan controllers to power most case fans through the motherboard. The RAM slots alternate between blue and black and are labeled 1.5v. The 24-pin ATX power connection is in a pretty convenient location, especially for power supplies which are mounted above or even mounted underneath with long leads. The 8-pin auxiliary power connection is in a pretty good spot as well, but some may have problems reaching it with the lower-mounted power supplies. The heat sinks for the MOSFET and Northbridge both leave plenty of room around the CPU socket and expansion slots, and shouldn't pose a problem to almost any user. A few capacitors are near the socket, but even gargantuan water blocks fit in just fine without touching them.
Near the lower right corner, the MSI D-LED2 module plugs into the motherboard and displays boot information. Underneath it are five switches and a knob - power button, reset button, D-LED two button, GreenPower button, OC Dial On/Off button, and the OC Dial that can be used to change the BCLK (changes the uncore, memory, CPU, etc operating speeds). Nearby are some indicator LEDs and another fan header. The CMOS battery is located between the first two PCI Express x16 slots near the release mechanism. The bottom has most of the headers, two USB, the TPM module header, IEEE FireWire, another fan header, and more. The last fan header is located directly under the memory. The expansion slots are configured with four PCI Express x16 slots (the last one operates in PCI Express 2.0 x4), two PCI Express x1 slots, and a sole PCI slot.
Removing the three-spring screws from the Southbridge sink, and two from the Northbridge allow the two to be removed. The MOSFET heat sink is held in place by three screws as well.
The stock paste used in the Eclipse Plus is far better than the purple paste used on prior x58 MSI boards, but replacing it is still a good idea to achieve better thermal delivery. A thermal pad is used to cool the Intel ICH10R chipset, while the NF200 lays directly under the heat pipe. The fin design of the heat sinks are definitely improved over the older design used on MSI's x58 line, although good airflow is still virtually necessary. Mounting a fan to the Northbridge can easily drop temperatures to around 55-65C or lower while without a fan the temperatures rise to around 75-85C depending on settings.
Although the Southbridge heat sink only uses three screws, each chip has two mounting holes allowing non-reference cooling to be used in place of the stock cooler. The miniature NF200 chip is what allows the motherboard to pack in three full bandwidth PCI Express x16 slots, all the while contributing heat to the already hot x58 chipset. The x58 chipset is nearing the die-size of processors, resembling the Pentium-M. ICS has provided the chip for reference 133 BCLK.
With the motherboard examination complete, it is time to move on to the software!