MSI P7N Diamond Reviewccokeman -
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MSI's P7N Diamond is an ATX form-factor motherboard designed for use with an Intel Socket 775 processor, and is built upon the Nvidia 780i SLI SPP and MCP chipsets. The P7N Diamond supports as many as four graphics cards - one for each of its PCI-E x16 slots - or three cards configured in Tri-SLI plus a physics processing card. MSI's all new Circu-Pipe Northbridge cooling solution allows the chipset to run cooler, and increases heat dissipation potential without taking up a ton of board real-estate. Toss in growing support for Intel's 45nm CPU's, and you've got a feature-rich board with tons of enthusiast potential. At press time, not all 45nm CPU's are supported - but more are being certified almost every day, so check MSI's website frequently for updates.
The P7N Diamond's I/O panel offers many of the connectivity options that are standard - or soon will be - on higher end motherboards, including two eSATA ports, two Gigabit Ethernet jacks, and a FireWire port. Users will also find six USB 2.0 ports, P/S 2 jacks for input devices, and an externally accessible Clear CMOS button, which makes resetting the BIOS from a failed overclock a breeze. Absent, of course, are the standard analog audio jacks, which are replaced by the sonically superior Creative X-Fi audio module.
Across the bottom of the motherboard, you'll find additional headers and drive expansion ports; here's where you'll see legacy connections for floppy and IDE drives, as well as a fan, FireWire and USB 2.0 headers. It's been awhile since we've seen two IDE jacks on a high-performance motherboard, but it's true that one can never have too many storage options.
The P7N Diamond certainly isn't lacking in expansion options, either - sporting four PCI-E x16 slots, two PCI-E x1 slots, and a single PCI slot. Of the four PCI-E x16 slots, the blue and white slots run at x16, and the yellow slot actually runs at x8. The included Creative X-Fi sound card can be run in any of the PCI-E slots, as they will automatically conform to the x1 standard.
Moving up the right side, we'll find the front panel connections, and using the M-Connectors makes installation so much easier. Six SATA II ports offer plenty of speedy storage and optical drive connectivity, and right behind the JP2 header is where we'll find the on-board power and reset buttons that have become an industry standard on enthusiast-grade motherboards. Moving up a little farther, we see the primary IDE port and the 24-pin ATX power plug.
Power is supplied to the P7N via two power connections - the 24-pin ATX main power plug, and the 8-pin EATX 12 volt auxiliary power receptacle; connection to both plugs is mandatory.
The P7N Diamond has an abundance of available space around the CPU socket - much more than many of the boards I have tested lately, which will make installing a large aftermarket HSF much easier. We have the dual-channel, four phase power circuit to thank for some of that wiggle room. The Diamond supports up to 8GB dual-channel DDR2 memory at a top speed of 1066MHz.
To help dissipate the heat generated by the 780i SLI chipset, MSI has produced what is called the Circu-Pipe cooling system, which, as you can imagine, is short for circular pipe. Using the Circu-Pipe Northbridge cooler as a base of operations, two copper heatpipes run towards the Southbridge and PCI-E Expander module respectively, and three more run out to the PWM heatsink located by the I/O panel to expel heat out of the back of the case. I was concerned about the height of the Circu-Pipe cooler, but it height did not present any clearance issues with the Tuniq Tower CPU cooler I used for this review. If anything, the additional airflow helped keep the chipset cooler, because as warm as the 780i chipset runs, any additional cooling is a big help. I found that this provided a cooling improvement over some of the 680i and 780i boards I have worked with.