MSI Eclipse Plus Review

RHKCommander959 - 2009-04-15 22:37:47 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: RHKCommander959   
Reviewed on: June 11, 2009
Price: $389.99

Introduction:

With most of the major motherboard manufacturers having a few motherboards on the market for Intel’s Core i7 architecture, manufacturers have been trying to remain competitive with high-end designs and also by reworking past designs. Consumers have a large choice for high-end Core i7 motherboards, the basic versions generally come with two PCI-Express slots and some only officially support Crossfire and come with a single LAN port, while other, more expensive boards come with dual-LAN, and three PCI-Express slots for tri-SLI and tri-Crossfire setups.

After the successful MSI Eclipse SLI motherboard was released, higher end motherboards have come out that are very competitive and leaving the Eclipse SLI with few unique features that would cause consumers to buy it over other motherboards. The newest flagship model from MSI is the Eclipse Plus, a revamp of the older Eclipse SLI, which includes an additional PCI-Express x16 slot; the board sports a NF200 chip for full graphics bandwidth in multi-card configurations - the X58 chipset only provides 36 lanes - typically motherboards based on the X58 chipset have three PCI-Express x16 slots with either a x16/x16/x4 or x16/x8/x8 configuration. The motherboard also sports a more uniform and elegant design with blue and black as the color theme with shorter and thicker heat sinks for the power and chipset. All of the SATA ports are now located in the same row, the Eclipse Plus also drops another PCI slot down to one to make room for the extra PCI-Express slot. Onboard overclocking has changed from switches to a knob, with all of the buttons moved to the corner of the motherboard, making it easier to use with a video card in the lower slots. Another nice feature is the debug LED located in the I/O Panel for an alternative to the D-LED2 kit, which can be blocked by a video card.

Micro-Star International was founded in 1986 and is a major motherboard provider that employs over 2,500 engineers in their research and development team with the goal of improving MSI’s products, and bringing new and innovative products to the table. Products include motherboards, video cards, notebooks and barebones computers, server devices, and more!

Closer Look:

Opening the shipping box reveals the large and shiny, dark MSI box. MSI and the MSI logo are virtually in each corner of the box, which also states that this is a Gaming Series motherboard. The board also features the ability to run Crossfire and SLI, as do most X58 i7 motherboards. The front flap also shows that the package includes a copy of Norton, as well as some features of the DrMOS enabled motherboard – GreenPower (Highest Efficiency), XpressCool (Zero Noise), and RapidBoost (Best Performance). Opening the front flap reveals a plethora of information as well as a glimpse at a few accessories and the motherboard itself. The package states that the Eclipse series offers “the ultimate gaming platform,” and goes on to explain the features on the front cover. GreenPower energy efficiency comes with the 3-phase power with APS technology, which improves efficiency up to 93.6% from single-phase power designs, and also brings 128 levels of voltage adjustment. GreenPower Center is a program that can be used to activate other energy-saving settings. XpressCool is the use of separate heat sinks for the chipset and power regulation circuitry, claiming to keep the DrMOS and chipset at around 45C. Combined with this are the Hi-c capacitors that bring higher over-voltage and overclocking capabilities, and are rated for 40,000Hrs at 85C. Lastly, RapidBoost, which consists of Drive Booster and VGA Booster. Drive Booster is enabled through four blue SATA ports and provides Plug & Play RAID and claims to boost performance without complicated settings or CPU usage. VGA Booster supports both SLI and CrossFireX in full bandwidth, combined with PCI-E Express 2.0, which doubles the effective bit rate and should allow multi-GPU users to enjoy the full capabilities of their cards. On the inner flap, two cutouts show off the GreenPower Genie, DrMOS, and SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio module. The Genie module connects the power supply to the motherboard and provides the first hardware power savings. It allows users to monitor and manage the motherboard's power configuration. DrMOS supports Active Phase Switching APS, which allows dynamic power modulation. It also claims very high power efficiency of up to 95% and an average temperature that is 16C lower than discrete MOSFET in high loading. The SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio module plays audio in 24-bit/96KHz, providing high-quality audio.

 

 

Turning to the back of the box reveals the features of the motherboard and all of the included peripherals. The motherboard is standard ATX (305x245mm), and supports Intel Core i7 processors with QPI up to 6.4GT/s, with six 240-pin DDR3 SDRAM slots that support tri-channel DDR3-1333/1066MHz up to 24GB. The motherboard comes with dual LAN ports that operate at 10/100/1000 Mbits/sec and supports teaming through the Realtek Ethernet controller. Audio is provided for by the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio module, which provides HD audio for up to 7.1 channels, through five analog audio plugs and one optical S/PDIF digital audio. Video output is supported through four PCI Express x16 slots that support both SLI and CrossFireX. The board also has two PCI Express x1 slots and a single PCI slot. Supported interfaces are composed of twelve USB 2.0 ports, six SATA 3.0Gbps ports through the Intel ICH10R supporting RAID, four SATA 3.0Gbps ports with hardware RAID function and two eSATA 3.0Gbps ports, and two IEEE-1394a interfaces with one internal header and one external port, as well as PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports. Accessories include a pair of guides, driver DVD, HDDBackup CD, three CrossFireX cables, three SLI cables, eSATA bracket/cables/power converter cord, SATA and SATA power cables, USB 2.0 bracket, and M-Connectors. The top comes with a handle for carrying the box and a sticker with barcode and basic information. The handle feels fairly sturdy.

 

 

Both sides are the exact same, with large MSI and Eclipse Plus logos and Gaming Series/Core i7 badges. Not too much to be seen here.

 

 

With the box opened, two smaller boxes are inside, one for the motherboard and the other for all of the many accessories. Covering the motherboard is a formed plastic case that holds the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio card and GreenPower Genie.

 

 

The motherboard is protected by the plastic layer and by a plastic anti-static bag that sits on top of a foam sheet. MSI has narrowed the color scheme for the Eclipse Plus to black and blue. Opening the accessories box shows plenty of cables and the manuals that are included.

 

 

With everything unpacked, let's move on and snag a closer look at the accessories included!

Closer Look:

In the box come a user guide, quick installation guide, SoundBlaster guide, poster, MSI Extras disc, and HDDBackup for hard drive backup. An I/O panel, eSATA kit, three SLI cables with one longer to reach from the first and third slot, three CrossFire cables, an external USB port, Molex to SATA power, MSI's M-Connectors for easy connecting of motherboard headers and USB/IEEE, SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio card, GreenPower Genie and cables for both the GreenPower module and D-LED2. Overall, a nice kit that is pretty well rounded out and should get most people a good start, but lacks IDE and floppy cables - indicating that the motherboard does not support either!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MSI GreenPower Genie is a hardware-level power management device that hooks up from the power supply 24-pin and then into the motherboard. The device also has a 3-pin connector that hooks into the motherboard. The short 24-pin cable to bridge the device to the motherboard is not sleeved, which will be an eyesore for some.

 

 

The MSI D-LED2 hooks directly into the motherboard through eleven pins and is supported by two feet opposite from the pins. There are two pins at the side for a thermal diode; the whole device comes apart with the snap of a clip. The circuitry inside is very basic but the module works just fine - showing boot information in detail, rather than the older beep codes, LED error lights, and even hex LED readouts, which the Eclipse Plus board also sports on the I/O panel.

 

 

 

The CrossFireX cables included are all the same length and proudly bear the MSI logo. Each is individually packed, as are the SLI cables, which include a longer cable for Tri-SLI. All of the cables are flexible and allow for triple-graphics configurations in either SLI or CrossFire in any of the top three slots.

 

 

The motherboard also comes with four packs of Molex to SATA power adapters and two SATA cables apiece. In total eight SATA cables, one for each SATA port on the motherboard. It also comes with a bracket for eSATA, which has two ports for eSATA and a Molex output to convert to eSATA power. The kit comes paired with a Molex to eSATA power cable that can only power one device, so the other port cannot be used. Also included is an SATA to eSATA cable, again only allowing the use of one of the ports.

 

 

The board supports up to twelve USB connections, with eight on the motherboard's I/O panel. The accessories include a bracket to turn an onboard header into two more ports, and save another for users to use with devices such as front panel USB. The GreenPower Genie needs the short 24-pin cable and another 3-pin cable to hook up to the motherboard, while the D-LED2 device can use the 2-pin thermal diode.

 

 

On to the motherboard!

Closer Look:

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!

Closer Look:

Installing the drivers is very easy, GreenPowerCenterII is a straightforward installation. Installing the OverclockingCenter is just as easy, although that program failed to operate under Vista Ultimate 64-bit Service Pack 1, unfortunately. GreenPower CenterII has various categories ranging from operational voltages and drivers revisions, BIOS version, power usage and efficiency, temperatures, and the ability to customize energy efficiency and voltage levels on the fly for performance or energy savings. The program is pleasant enough, blending in with Vista's default theme very nicely, also it seemed to work problem-free and with the voltage options combined with the Easy OC knob on the motherboard, overclocking can be pushed even further - especially if the OverclockingCenter application worked - although stable overclocking is best done through the BIOS. Overclocking in Windows can be good for a suicide run in which users go for their highest unstable speeds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With GreenPowerCenterII loaded, the first main tab is the System Info tab, with Motherboard as the sub-tab. Motherboard manufacturer, name, chipset information, and BIOS vendor/version/build date are listed. To the right of the motherboard information, the installed CPU name, core voltage, external clock, number of threads, processor ID, and family/model/stepping information is available, as is the main videocard name/BIOS/driver. Clicking the memory sub-tab brings up a page detailing the total amount of system memory, memory in use, and specific SPD information about each installed memory module and their possible settings under the Timings Table.

 

 

Switching to the GreenPower tab brings about a page detailing energy efficiency, consumption, and effective voltages. The amount of power saved can also be viewed, as can the power consumed. Chipset and CPU temperatures are also listed here; the more efficient a system runs, the cooler it should run. Switching to the Advance tab to the Motherboard opens up voltage controls ranging from CPU, memory, and motherboard voltages. The listed controls mirror the available options in the BIOS, and should help extend the amount of overclockability that the Easy OC knob can deliver.

 

 

 

Installing the DriveBooster application is really simple, with a better looking interface than the prior programs - one that matches the GreenPowerCenter II application's user interface. Once installed, it allows drive management, information, and drive status. The program can manage RAID arrays as well.

 

 

Configuring Drive Booster is simple, just the clicking of a picture sets the drives up, with the ability to add a password for added security. If any problems or other events occur, they should be recorded into the Event Log for analysis, the logs can also be saved elsewhere which should allow novice users to get expert opinions.

 

 

MSI also provides a driver update program called Live Monitor, it keeps an entire system updated with the latest drivers and software. Installation is a breeze and takes only a few moments. Once installed, the program searches for drivers to update any of the system's hardware, displaying any applicable updates that can be downloaded for each device. The frequency at which the application can be automatically executed is adjustable making it easy to choose how up-to-date users want to be while keeping the startup somewhat less bogged down. This is a good application for users who like to be up to date, although the old adage to "don't fix what ain't broken" still applies - do research before installing updates and generally only when the situation necessitates it, because not all updates work properly!

 

 

Let's see how far we can tweak the MSI Eclipse Plus in the BIOS!

Closer Look:

MSI BIOS is powered by American Megatrends, with a fairly common layout nowadays. The BIOS has options for Standard CMOS Features, Advanced BIOS Features, Integrated Peripherals, Power Management Setup, H/W Monitor (hardware monitor), Green Power, BIOS Setting Password, Cell Menu, User Settings, M-Flash, and Load Fail-Safe Defaults/Load Optimized Defaults, Save & Exit Setup/Exit Without Saving. Overclockers will focus mainly on Cell Menu (CPU/Memory/etc settings are changed here), H/W Monitor (for observing system temperatures, fan speeds, and voltages), and User Settings (allows for user settings to be backed up in event of the BIOS being cleared, great for pushing overclocks), while for general system performance to be changed users will likely use Standard and Advanced BIOS Features, and possibly the Green Power tab. The bottom also lists basic F-key commands and general information: arrow keys to move around, Enter key to select an option, +/- keys to change values, F10 to save, ESC key to exit, F1 for general help tips, F4 for the CPU specifications, F5 for Memory-Z memory specifications, F8 for Fail-Safe Defaults, and F6 for Optimized Defaults. Opening Standard CMOS Features allows users to change the system date and time, and view information about the system and anything attached through the SATA and eSATA ports.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features has many general settings for the motherboard and CPU, with BIOS Flash Protection, Full Screen Logo Display control, Quick Booting, Boot Up Num-Lock LED control, IOAPIC Function, MPS Table Version, Primary Graphic's Adapter, PCI Latency Timer, and controls for CPU and Chipset, along with changing the Boot Sequence and Trusted Computing setting. Integrated Peripherals control USB/IEEE controllers as well as LAN and SATA settings, covering most of the I/O panel, SATA settings, and connectivity headers.

 

 

Power Management Setup contains settings for ACPI and standby, as well as settings to allow rebooting when power is lost and Wake Up controls for turning the computer on. H/W Monitor shows the CPU, IOH, and System temperatures, the CPU fan RPM along with three of the fan header's RPM, along with CPU voltage and 3.3V/5V/12V rail voltages. Fan speeds can also be adjusted, along with Chassis Intrusion detection.

 

 

The GreenPower tab allows the Phase Control for the CPU, QPI, IOH, and memory to be enabled along with adjusting the motherboards LED's for power management and efficiency. The GreenPower Genie also displays statistics for estimated efficiency and usages.

 

Continue on for more BIOS fun!

Closer Look:

The Cell Menu contains the options for changing voltages for the CPU, motherboard, memory, as well as changing the clock speeds of each of those. At the top of the page is the current CPU speed, memory speed, and QPI frequency. The CPU specifications can be seen through this page, or from another window accessed by hitting F4, which details the CPU frequency, multiplier, CPUID, number of cores, along with other facts including features such as whether the CPU supports the many phases of Streaming SIMD Extensions. CPU multipliers and base clock can be changed at the top, as can enabling EIST and C-State to control processor efficiency by allowing it to throttle itself. Underneath here are the settings for the OC Dial; options for controlling how much a click of the knob adds to the base clock and whether or not to even allow the knob to be used. The amount that the dial adds can also be reset or left alone. Near the middle of the page contains options for the memory, QPI, and PCI/PCI-E frequencies. The memory and uncore multipliers can be calibrated to match the memory standards, timings can be set manually or left to auto, or if the memory allows - the XMP profile can be loaded up to set the memory to an optimal setting. Moving on down to the bottom of the Cell Menu reveals the many voltage options for tweaking the system - CPU, memory, QPI, IOH, ICH, and nForce 200 along with other options round off the chart with plenty of options for over- and under-voltage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A feature of growing popularity is the ability to backup BIOS settings to the CMOS, especially handy for when overclocks are pushed too far or if the BIOS is accidentally cleared. MSI allows four settings to be saved and loaded - other companies allow each entry to be named as well but that is not the case here, so users will have to remember or load each entry and see what is in them. M-Flash is MSI's BIOS flashing solution, no longer do people have to suffer as they did in the old days of using floppy disks to flash BIOS, USB drives can be used to save and load BIOS files - much more reliable, useful, and simpler than the old floppy disk.

 

 

The bottom menu has some quick reference pages under F4 and F5 for CPU Specifications and Memory-Z respectively, which give the information about the CPU and memory in detail. SSE information, CPUID, CPU stepping, CPU multiplier and frequency, along with other details are along the CPU Specifications page. Memory-Z has timing information including sub-timings for each stick of installed memory. Neither of these have any adjustable settings, and are merely just for information.

 

 

Let's take a peek at the list of features for the MSI Eclipse Plus!

Specifications:

CPU
i7
Socket
1366
AM3 CPU Ready
N/A
FSB / Hyper Transport Bus
25.6GB/s
Chipset
Intel® X58 + ICH10R
DDR2 Memory
N/A
DDR3 Memory
DDR3 800/1066/1333*/1600* (OC)
Memory Channel
Triple
DIMM Slots
6
Max Memory (GB)
24
PCI-Ex16
4
PCI-E Gen 2.0
Gen2 (3x16, 1x4)
PCI-Ex1
2
PCI
1
IDE
N/A
SATA
10
RAID
0/1/5/10/JBOD
LAN 10/100/1000*2
TPM
1
USB ports (Rear) 8
Audio ports (Rear)
5(Creative® SB X-Fi Xtreme)
Serial ports (Rear)
N/A
Parallel ports (Rear)
N/A
1394 ports (Rear) 1
eSATA
2
VGA N/A
DVI
N/A
HDMI N/A
Display Port
N/A
DirectX N/A
VGA Share Memory (MB) N/A
Form Factor ATX
DrMOS Y
APS Y
Sideport Memory N/A
SLI Y
3-way SLI Y
Hybrid SLI N/A
CrossFire Y
Hybrid CrossFire N/A
D-LED2
Y
Green Power Genie Y

 

Features:

All information courtesy of MSI@http://www.msi.com/index.php?func=prodmbspec&maincat_no=1&cat2_no=170&cat3_no=&prod_no=1795#menu

Testing:

Testing the MSI Eclipse Plus is done by running the board through a barrage of different software for scientific and synthetic results including popular games (like Left 4 Dead and Call of Duty World at War) and said testing is then repeated again on the motherboard after it is overclocked. All i7 motherboards are based on the X58 Tylersburg chipset, so discrepancies should be minimal and only vary due to differences in each motherboard and their BIOS. The addition of the nForce 200 chip may also change things up with the competition. The Eclipse Plus will be pushed to a overclock that should be achievable but still high nonetheless, with average BIOS tweaking involved. If any flaws exist in this board, they will most likely show during the testing phase.

 

Testing Setup i7:

 

Comparison Motherboards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

Overclocking to 200 base clock on the MSI Eclipse Plus was fairly easy, although it did take some tweaks in the BIOS. Anything over 200 got difficult but there is still headroom. A fan is definitely necessary to keep the temperatures down, although the new thermal paste included stock was better than the older purple stuff on the MSI X58 Platinum. Using the OC Dial I was able to get a suicide run up to around 4.6GHz, while the system was tested at 4GHz. In BIOS the extra multiplier for turbo mode can be forced to be enabled, and it worked fine for pushing the overclock to the maximum.

 

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewperf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02
  7. Cinebench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.55
  1. Far Cry 2
  2. Crysis Warhead
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty World At War
  5. Dead Space
  6. Fallout 3
  7. Left 4 Dead
  8. 3DMark 06 Professional
  9. 3DMark Vantage

 

Testing:

The first part of our testing regimen will be the system specific benchmarks.

 

Let's get started 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lower is Better

 

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

 

ZIP:

 

 

RAR:

 

 

Overclocking definitely helps in both Apophysis and file compression, although Apophysis shows the greatest gains with a greatly reduced rendering time, performing around average amongst all of the boards while a little slow with RAR.

Testing:

Specview 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. Since the E8400 is a Dual core CPU results will only be shown in the 2 thread test.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

 

Higher is Better

 

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 Eclipse Plus scored in the lower echelon for Catia, around the middle for Maya, and higher in PROE especially in 4x where it beat the similar eVGA X58 by three. PCMark Vantage has the Eclipse Plus, eVGA X58, and older Eclipse scoring nearly the same, with the Asus P6T a little under and the X58 Platinum and P6T Deluxe scoring far below. The MSI Eclipse Plus comes out average again, performing very similar to the predecessor Eclipse SLI. Overclocking helped increase the scores minimally in SPECview 10, while PCMark Vantage showed a healthy improvement with the clock increases.

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

 

Processor Arithmetic shows the motherboards getting nearly identical scores, with the P6T Deluxe trailing off in Whetstone. Multi-Core Efficiency is also a similar tale, with the exception of the older Eclipse having nearly twice the latency of the Eclipse Plus. Memory performance is above the other boards slightly, except in latency. The Eclipse Plus fit into the average in Power Management Efficiency. Hard drive performance is average, fitting in well with the other motherboards. Overclocking the system pushed the results into a far lead for the CPU, while the memory wasn't pushed much.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better!

 

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.

Higher is Better

 

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

Higher is Better

 

Lower is Better

 

Sciencemark has the Eclipse Plus coming out ahead by a couple points and besting the rest of the group. Cinebench single-threaded is the same story of victory, with multi-threaded bringing it to the high-group. Overclocking helps well with these two programs, while HDTune does not really gain anything. HDTune shows average performance with slightly low average and burst results.

Testing:

Far Cry 2:

"Featuring a new game engine named Dunia, this game looks to be another one to stress your video card. Built specially for Far Cry 2, this engine allows for real time effects and damage. This next generation first person shooter comes to us from Ubisoft surprisingly - not from Crytek. The game is set in a war-torn region of Africa where there is a non-existent central government and the chaos that surrounds this type of social environment. If you have seen the movie Blood Diamond, you know the setting. Ubisoft puts the main storyline of the game into focus with these statements: "Caught between two rival factions in war-torn Africa, you are sent to take out "The Jackal," a mysterious character who has rekindled the conflict between the warlords, jeopardizing thousands of lives. In order to fulfill your mission you will have to play the factions against each other, identify and exploit their weaknesses, and neutralize their superior numbers and firepower with surprise, subversion, cunning and, of course, brute force." In this version of the game, you don't have the beautiful water, but instead the beauty and harshness of the African continent to contend with. Most games give you a set area that can be played through, while Ubisoft has given the gamer the equivalent of 50km2 of the vast African continent to explore while in pursuit of your goals. The settings used are just a few steps below the maximum in-game settings and offer a good blend of performance vs. visual quality."

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eclipse Plus stays within the group average, not outscoring the group and occasionally dipping under slightly in the lowest resolution.

 

Testing:

Crysis Warhead is a standalone expansion pack situated in time with the story line of the original Crysis. As Sergeant "Psycho" Sykes, you have a secret mission to accomplish on the far side of the Island. Along the way there are EMP blasts and Aliens to contend with, as you hunt down the KPA chief. This game uses an enhanced version of the Cryengine 2.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again staying with the pack, the MSI Eclipse Plus does not disappoint in Crysis Warhead.

Testing:

BioShock is one of the creepier games you can play. 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 Daddys". 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 motherboard stayed on top in Bioshock, tying or beating its older sibling the Eclipse in each resolution.

Testing:

Activision's Call Of Duty World at War goes right back to the bread and butter of the franchise - WWII FPS action. In this rendition, you start off in the South Pacific and move through a series of missions that flip back and forth between the Russian front and the island hopping advance toward the Imperial Japanese homeland. Included is a mission on Peliliu Island, arguably one of the more difficult and costly battles in the Pacific theater. The gameplay in the single player mode is rather short, but the game makes up for this shortcoming in online gameplay. If you thought COD4 looked nice, this game is amazing with the graphics maxed out playing at a large resolution. This game just may be my reason to move to a 30 inch monitor. I will use Fraps to measure a section of gameplay in the Semper Fi map on Makin Island to compare performance of these video cards.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eclipse Plus was nearly the top scorer in Call of Duty World at War. Overclocking brings minimal gains of around 1 FPS.

Testing:

In Dead Space, as part of the crew of the USG Kellion you are headed on a repair mission to repair a ship in distress. Things go from bad to worse as starting with the crash landing and seemingly silent and "Dead" ship, the USG Ishimuru. Offering a non-traditional over the shoulder viewing angle, the game gets right into the action as soon as the ventilation systems are activated. From there things get worse with the appearance of the Necromorphs. Survival now becomes a primary concern for the primary character Isaac Clarke. Survive and you may find the loved one that was aboard the Ishimuru.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Dead Space the MSI board scored all over the place, never too far from the pack, however. The frame rate at 1920x1200 is extremely playable with the game looking great.

Testing:

Fallout 3 takes place after the nuclear holocaust that nearly wipes out civilization and leaves the world an irradiated mess. The vault, or fallout shelter, you are born in is Vault 101, situated in the Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The premise of the game is that the Vault has been sealed for 200 years and now your father has opened the vault and escaped without a trace. The Overseer believes you are involved, so you must escape as well into the wasteland that was once our nation's capital. I find myself looking for landmarks since I am familiar with the streets of Washington DC.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fallout 3 shows a small improvement with overclocking the CPU, overall average performance with the board never coming in at the bottom, and tieing for first at 2560x1600.

Testing:

Left 4 Dead is a new release from Valve that leaves you as part of a group of survivors in a world where an infection has rapidly turned the populace into a zombie horde. You goal is to make it to a rescue point, all the while fighting what seems like overwhelming odds. Along the way there are safe houses where you can replenish your weapons and health. The movie 'I Am Legend' comes to mind to set the stage for this game. But unlike the movie, there are four characters and not just a lone gun and his faithful companion. The horde is not at all like the typical slow walking, foot shuffling zombie. These zombies are quick and work with the pack mentality. Your job: survival! Below are several screenshots to show some in-game action.

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eclipse Plus came ahead of the competition, scoring better than its predecessor, which also scored well. Left 4 Dead had virtually no gains from overclocking.

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With 3DMark06, the motherboard was in the lower groups, but still put up a good score. Overclocking the CPU pushed the score far beyond the others.

Testing:

Featuring all-new game tests, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. 'Entry' is 1024x768 progressing to 'Extreme' at 1920x1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.

 Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, average performance with the Eclipse Plus, especially in the higher settings. Slightly low in the first testing, the results overall are nothing to frown at.

Conclusion:

MSI has certainly delivered a great board with the Eclipse Plus, overclocking my i7 to 4GHz was fairly easy although with base clock frequencies past 200 some moderate tweaking had to be done, I even managed to get a CPU-Z at 4.5GHz. If an overclock fails, the motherboard must restart three times to clear - an annoyance but with the clear CMOS button near the PS/2 ports users can easily reset the BIOS and continue overclocking. The BIOS has plenty of options, and worked without a hitch minus a small glitch that I overcame with some work and CMOS clearing, but was likely due to (possibly unstable) overclocking runs. The memory voltage was being loaded at 1.2V rather than 1.6V, and a few other anomalies. Memory support only goes up to 1333MHz, with 1600MHz being possible through overclocking although higher is possible - it worked fine in testing although XMP support may have had a tiny bit of trouble. MSI finally solidified the color scheme to black and blue, removing the heinous copper heat sinks that stood out like sore thumbs and alternatively used matching heat sinks with metal casings with MSI's logos and created a much more serious looking board! The Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi audio card is a nice touch, providing good clear audio through my 5.1 setup through Vista 64-bit, sounding better than onboard audio. The Eclipse Plus features plenty of USB and SATA ports and the four PCI-Express slots are handy for Tri-SLI and CrossFireX configurations (or even folding farms), allowing builders to make even the most powerful setups possible. Speaking of extreme, the motherboard sports two debug LEDs, one on the corner of the motherboard and another on the I/O panel - keeping users informed on boot activity, definitely handy for overclockers! Near the DLED-2 module are buttons and a knob that also help out, especially the knob for on-the-fly overclocking of the base clock - effectively speeding up the memory and CPU, these features are great for test-bed systems!

The only downfall of this motherboard, and it is minor, is the passive heat sink seen on so many X58 motherboards. The design is improved compared to the Eclipse and other X58 MSI boards, and the thermal paste is somewhat better too! The switch from pushpins to screws is an added bonus and having a case with great airflow or adding a small fan drastically decreases temperatures. Without a fan, temperatures rose as high as 85C, while adding even a small fan decreased temperatures to around 60C, 65C at its hottest. Even without the fan the system ran just fine - so the con is only minor. The BIOS oddity that occurred was a nuisance but likely due to the possible instability of higher overclocking, but the extra turbo multiplier worked fairly well and allowed the CPU to run at 4.2GHz with 200 base clock, any higher base clock required more tweaking. The hardware GreenPower energy savings module works well, although is a bit large and comes with an unsleeved cable that does not look too good for a windowed system. The 90-degree bend could allow it to be hidden depending on the case, and at least it reduces power consumption, while possibly helping power supplies that are just too short to plug in the 24-pin cable.

The Eclipse SLI was no slouch, but the Eclipse Plus is definitely much better providing a more refined layout that builds upon the old design and improves upon both the looks and performance! Combine the NF200 performance providing three full lanes of PCI-Express x16 bandwidth with an audio card, overclockability, looks, and energy efficiency and you have a winner!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: