MSI P7N Diamond Review

ccokeman - 2007-08-27 18:41:15 in Motherboards
Category: Motherboards
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: May 18, 2008
Price: $259.99

Introduction:

So you want to run a dual GPU setup, and deciding whether you'll go with ATI or Nvidia cards is obviously the most important choice you'll make. Let's say you think Team Green is the way to go, but what's next? Well, the first thing you'll need is an Nvidia SLI-capable motherboard with multiple PCI-E x16 expansion slots, and then you'll want to pick up those graphics cards we talked about to build the high-octane gaming monster your friends will drool over. There are several fine SLI chipsets to choose from, but why reach back into the past for something that does not offer bleeding edge features like Tri-SLI and support for Intel's new 45nm CPU's? Nvidia's 780i SLI MCP (Media and Communications Processor) platform offers those features and more, and is billed as one of the newest and most overclocking-friendly chipsets around.

The 780i SLI platform is very popular among Nvidia's board partners - but today, the focus is on MSI and its P7N Diamond motherboard. The P7N Diamond is based on the 780i SLI Northbridge and NF570 SLI Southbridge, and features PCI-E 2.0 support. The sound solution is provided by Creative Labs' X-Fi Xtreme Audio MSI Edition sound card, and is a member of the first generation of PCI-E X-Fi products from Creative. So will this new chipset be an improvement over the 680i? Did Nvidia get past the FSB holes and chipset heat issues that have plagued their Socket 775 motherboards? We will see! 

  

 

 

 

Closer Look:

The P7N Diamond comes in a box well suited to the name of the product; it's very flashy, and is a perfect fit for the "Diamond" moniker. The front of the box displays a large diamond and some basic specs, while the rear panel gives a full breakdown of the P7N Diamond's most important features, including the Circu-Pipe Northbridge cooling assembly and the Creative X-Fi sound card.

 

 

MSI has added a cool flip-up panel on the P7N Diamond's packaging, which gives you a view of the CPU socket, as well as detailed info on the board's Tri-SLI support, and its Dual-Channel PWM and solid capacitors - which will provide your most important components with the clean, stable power they need to provide optimal performance.

 

 

As I pulled the P7N Diamond's contents from its package, I find that MSI has included a number of useful accessories and thorough product documentation; this is the type of attention to detail that thrills enthusiasts. When I finally dug through the wealth of extras, I found the subject of this review - the MSI P7N Diamond.

 

 

Now that we've had a glance at the P7N Diamond, let's take a deeper look at what your hard-earned dollar gets you.

 

Closer Look:

MSI has included more than enough accessories and features with the P7N Diamond for the casual user, and just about everything the enthusiast would expect. First off, we've got the standard manuals and driver disks - and MSI even includes a Quick-Start guide to help power users get their new motherboard set up as soon as possible. There are driver and utility disks provided for Windows XP and Vista, each OS gets its own disk. Also, MSI is the first motherboard manufacturer to include a Creative Labs X-Fi PCI-E sound card, which comes with its own manual and driver disk! Awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Creative X-Fi Extreme Audio MSI Edition sound card is an 8-Channel audio solution which uses Creative's CA0110 audio chip. Users can set up two, four, six, or even eight speakers in a surround-sound configuration, and because the X-Fi pulls all the power it needs from the PCI-E bus, no additional power source is needed.

 

 

One of the best features on the P7N is its Tri-SLI capability, and MSI has provided the bridge connections to make that a reality, including one long and two short SLI bridges. For those who don't know, Tri-SLI is a graphics solution that combines the power of three compatible video cards, but only Nvidia's 8800 and 9800 series GTX, and 8800 Ultra cards are capable of Tri-SLI. The I/O shield is pretty much standard fare - no need for anything fancy when you won't see it anyhow.

 

 

MSI has drive connectivity covered, as they include a floppy drive cable, an IDE cable, and six SATA cables with power pigtails. An expansion-slot bracket sporting one FireWire and two USB 2.0 ports is included, as is another expansion bracket that offers external SATA data and power connections.

 

 

 

The final item included in the accessory bundle is a set of "quick connectors" that are meant to take the pain out of hooking up the front panel connections. MSI calls these little time savers "M-Connectors", and they're designed to allow users to connect front panel wires to a block, which then hooks up to the headers on the motherboard. Plus, MSI includes an M-Connector instruction book just in case you get a little confused. This means no more cramming my massive paws into a mid tower to get the job done - pretty sweet deal!

 

 

 

Now that we've explored the P7N Diamond's accessories, let's have a look at the actual motherboard!

 

Closer Look:

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.

 

Closer Look:

The motherboard's BIOS is where all of the basic functionality of the installed hardware is set up, and is also where the overclocking magic happens. A good BIOS can help a mediocre board perform extremely well, while the opposite is also true - a bad BIOS can handicap a great motherboard. We'll take a brief look at each page in the BIOS to see what the MSI AMI BIOS has to offer; the "Cell Menu" will be covered in more detail, as it's where the magic happens in this BIOS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standard CMOS Features:

Under this tab, the date, time, and basic information about the installed drives - optical, hard, and floppy can be seen. Under System Information, basic info about the installed CPU and RAM is available.

 

 

Advanced BIOS Features:

This tab features a few different sub menus to control the CPU features such as C1E and Execute Bit support. The boot order is configured here, as well as settings for the boot logo and which graphics bus (PCI-E or PCI) you want to initialize first. If you're using a PCI-E video card, then PCI-E would be the logical choice.

 

 

Integrated Peripherals:

As the name of this tab implies, this is where all of the on-board devices are configured; enabling and disabling on-board devices is done in this menu and its sub-menus. USB, FireWire, Ethernet adapters, RAID configuration and more are set up here.

 

 

Power Management Setup:

This tab allows you to set up ACPI and other power-related functions.

 

 

Hardware Monitor:

Under this tab you, can check the voltages set in the Cell Menu; temperature monitoring, fan speed, and power efficiency can be monitored as well.

 

 

BIOS Password Setup and User Settings:

This is where you would configure the BIOS to request a password before its settings could be changed - although if you don't set up a password, no harm will come to you. Also, this page allows you to store an alternate BIOS configuration - so whether you'd like backup BIOS protection in the event of a disastrous overclock, or a handy, pre-configured overclocked BIOS ready at the flick of a switch, you're covered.

 

 

 

Next, we'll move on to the Cell Menu to get a feel of the P7N Diamond's overclocking functions.

 

Closer Look:

The hardware-specific adjustments for the processor, system memory, and chipset are normally located in the BIOS somewhere, sometimes in a special menu that requires a strategic key-press to enter, other times out in the open. Whether the manufacturer calls it Extreme Tweaker, UGuru - or in this case, the Cell Menu - this section this is where you make the magic happen, or at least it's where you make a valiant effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cell Menu:

 

The first thing you'll notice in the Cell Menu is a box at the top of the page that displays CPU frequency, FSB, and RAM speed. Right below that box is the toggle for the Dynamic Overclocking (D.O.T.) function, which can be used to dynamically adjust CPU speed based on system load. EIST (Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology) should be disabled if you will be overclocking the system, since this tool relies on the system being configured at stock settings. EIST works similarly to D.O.T., except that its function is reversed - the system lowers CPU clock speed when there is no load in an effort to conserve energy, and kicks the frequency back up when the computer has a job to do. SLI-Ready Memory and Maximum OC are pre-determined RAM overclock settings built into some memory modules that the user can switch on and off; these settings will provide a mild or extreme overclock, respectively.

 

 

System Clock Mode allows three different configurations - Auto provides an automatic configuration, Linked syncs CPU and RAM speeds, and Manual allows the independent clocking of the CPU and system memory. The CPU core clock can be adjusted from 400MHz to 2500MHz, while the RAM can be adjusted from 400MHz to 1400MHz. Because Intel processors are "quad-pumped", the real CPU speed will range from 100MHz to 625MHz. A similar situation happens to the system RAM, which operates at a "double data rate" (DDR), so speeds of 100 to 700MHz are the reality. The CPU multiplier can be adjusted up or down, with the CPU's instructions being the limiting factor; for example, the Q6600 used in this review has a maximum multiplier of 9x, with 6x being the minimum.

 

 

 

Advanced DRAM Configuration is where you will set RAM sub-timings to maximize your system's memory performance. An important RAM setting known as TRFC is conspicuously absent from the memory tuning page, and this may have a negative impact on 780i owners who intend to use 4GB RAM or more. Hopefully this can be incorporated into a newer BIOS, and for now, you can use the Memset utility to change TRFC within Windows.

 

 

The PCI-E Bus frequency can be adjusted from 100MHz to 200MHz; adjusting this upwards can increase the bandwidth available for video cards and some RAID controller cards. Auto Disable PCI/DRAM frequency turns off unused PCI and DIMM sockets.

 

 

The P7N Diamond's voltage settings are abundant enough to get the system to perform, but users will notice that this board goes about altering voltages differently than most. To safely increase the CPU's voltage for overclocking, the user must know their chip's VID, as it is regarded by the BIOS as the stock voltage, and all overvolting will build upon that VID number. The CPU used in this review had a VID of 1.275v, so adding .2250v to this base voltage would give me a grand total of 1.50v. DRAM voltage maxes out at 2.8v, the Northbridge at 1.6v, and the Southbridge at 2.0v; the remaining voltages can be used to fine tune the system.

 

 

 

Last - but not least - is the Spread Spectrum control, which can be Enabled and Disabled.

 

Configuration:

After you install your OS, you'll want to install the drivers for the motherboard and whatever components round out your system. Start with the motherboard drivers, and then move on to the MSI-exclusive Creative X-Fi sound card drivers. MSI provides a driver disk for both windows XP and Vista, and I will be using the Vista disk for this review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon inserting the drivers disk, the MSI installation GUI will open showing several tabs labeled with their function, and each tab has a unique set of options to choose between in order to get the drivers and applications installed. Each window is color-coded to indicate the difference between tabs, but you will see a "Vista" graphic superimposed on the GUI, so you know that this disk contains the Vista driver packages. The first tab contains the drivers for the system and the JMicron controller.

 

 

The Utility page carries the installation package for the MSI Dual-Core Cell and Ntune utilities, each under the respective listing.

 

 

The Website tab contains links to websites to download additional software that could prove useful, and the last tab contains contact information as well as CD information. By clicking this option you can browse the disk, and can exercise the option to manually install the drivers.

 

 

Dual-Core Center:

This utility is a Windows-based overclocking and monitoring tool. Each tab supports a separate function, and the minimized GUI compacts all of the tabs into one small interface. As you can see, the D.O.T. function can be enabled to dynamically set system performance based on operating load, and no part of the system can be overclocked if you plan to use this tool. The E button brings up a window to show how efficiently the system is running in real-time, and off course efficiency at load will be less than at idle.

 

 

Here, we see that there are four screens for each of the four Dual-Core Center functions - temperature monitoring, fan speed control, voltage monitoring and adjustment, and overclocking.

 

 

 

Those who have used Creative X-Fi sound cards before will be familiar with the Creative Console interface. The main window acts as a sort of "command central" where you can select and adjust numerous different settings to get your audio just right.

 

Let's take this board on a few test runs, and see how she handles.

 

Specifications:

Socket 
775
CPU
Supports Socket 775 for Intel® Core 2 Extreme, Core 2 Quad, Core 2 Duo, P4, P4EE, Pentium D, Pentium XE processors.
• Supports FSB 1333/1066/800/533MHz.
• Supports EIST technology.
• Supports Intel® Hyper-Threading technology.
FSB
533/800/1066/1333
Chipset
NVIDIA® nForce 780i SLI    NVIDIA® nForce 570i SLI Chipset
DDR2 Memory
 Supports dual-channel DDR2 533/667/800/1066, using four 240-pin/1.8V DDR2 DIMMs.
 Supports a maximum memory size up to 8GB
DDR3 Memory
N/A
DIMM Slots
4
Max Memory (GB)
8
PCI-E x16
4
PCI-E x8
N/A
PCI-E x4
N/A
PCI-E x1
 2
PCI
1
IDE
Two IDE controllers (IDE1 by NVIDIA® nForce570i SLI, IDE2 byJMB363
- Supports PIO Bus Master and Ultra DMA133/100/66 operation modes.
- Can connect up to 4 IDE devices.
SATA
On-Board SATA
• nForce 570i SLI supports 6 SATA II ports
- Transfer rate is up to 3Gb/s.
- 2 eSATA port by JMicron JMB363
RAID
NV RAID
- 6 SATA ports support RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 or JBOD is supported
LAN
10/100/1000*2
TPM
1
USB ports (Rear)
6
Audio ports (Rear)

5+Optical SPDIF   Creative® SB X-Fi Xtreme H/W Audio Card (MS-4132)
- 24-bit / 96KHz audio quality
- 100dB SNR clarity
- Up to 7.1ch EAX 4.0 Surround Sound

Serial ports (Rear)
N/A
1394 ports (Rear)
1
eSATA
2
VGA
N/A
DVI
N/A
HDMI
N/A
Form Factor
ATX

 

Features:

All information sourced from MSI product page.

Testing:

MSI's P7N Diamond will be put through our benchmarking suite to see what kind of performance the motherboard delivers. The OverclockersClub series of benchmarks includes system tests and gaming benchmarks to verify the performance of this product. I will be comparing the performance of the Diamond against the Asus Striker II, the Abit IX38 Quad GT, the Asus Maximus Formula, and the Foxconn MARS. The tests will compare performance against one P35, one 780i SLI, and two X38 chipsets, to see if the MSI 780i SLI chipset can outperform the Intel built solutions. Testing will be a direct comparison of our stock speed benchmarking; all clock speeds and memory timings will be as close as possible to offer a fair comparison on each of the boards. All motherboard and video card settings were left at setup defaults, again to eliminate any variables.

 

Testing Setup:

Comparison Motherboards:

 

Overclocking:

Overclocked settings:

With the positive results I achieved with on the last 780i board I tested still fresh in my mind, I was looking forward to pushing the MSI P7N Diamond to the absolute limit. Unfortunately, the limit came rather quickly. I tried using the official BIOS and two of the available beta releases, and found that my overclocking efforts were severely hampered by an inability to lower the multiplier on my Q6600 processor. In fact, this same CPU has achieved rock-solid stability with its FSB set at 491MHz - but on the MSI P7N Diamond, stability stopped at 391MHz. The 780i boards are tough nuts to crack, but this one was just too tough, and did not produce much fruit for my labor. After spending a week trying to gain some semblance of stability, I found it at 391 x 9. Voltages up and down the spectrum were adjusted, and I even tried leaving them set to Auto just for kicks. Did the board overclock? Sure it did, but not to the extent I am used to seeing. It may be that a more mature BIOS is the key to unlocking all of the potential of the P7N Diamond.

 

Benchmarks:

  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. SPECviewperf 10
  4. PCMark Vantage Professional
  5. Sandra XII
  6. ScienceMark 2.02 Final
  7. CineBench 10
  8. HD Tune 2.54
  1. Crysis
  2. Knights of the Sea
  3. BioShock
  4. Call of Duty 4
  5. World in Conflict
  6. Call of Juarez
  7. 3DMark06 Professional

 

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 that's used to archive and compress large files to a more manageable size. We will use 10MB, 100MB, and 500MB files, and we'll record the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.

 

ZIP:

 

 

 

RAR:

 

 

 

In Apophysis, there is no difference in performance between the Intel based boards and the Nvidia based boards. In WinRAR, the Intel boards outperformed the Nvidia-based solutions. Even when overclocked, the Nvidia solutions had a hard time competing in the 100MB and 500MB tests.

 

 

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 mean better performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

Higher is Better

 

 

 

Higher is Better

 

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

 

The MSI offering is clearly the worst performer in this round of testing, even falling behind the Striker II.

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 the key areas of the motherboards.

 

 

 

 

 

Processor Arithmetic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Multi-Core Efficiency

 

Memory Bandwidth

 

Memory Latency

 

Cache and Memory

 

File System

 

Physical Disks

 

Power Management Efficiency

 

The results from the MSI P7N Diamond continue to closely follow those of the Striker II. The P7N suffers the same fate as the other 780i specimens, and performs poorly. Thankfully, the memory bandwidth test allows the P7N Diamond to shine, because there's not a whole lot more about the Sandra tests that casts the P7N Diamond in a positive light.

 

Testing:

ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the entire 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

 

The P7N Diamond clearly outperformed the field in the ScienceMark test suite; its closest competitor was the Striker II. In the Cinebench testing, the P7N finished second to the IX38 from Abit, while easily beating the other boards. The Diamond's HD Tune performance was similar to the other 780i board, and its average read speed was higher than the Intel solutions. CPU utilization is still high on the Nvidia chipset motherboards.

 

 

 

Testing:

Crysis is a new addition to the gaming benchmark suite used at OverclockersClub.com. This game is one of the most anticipated and system intensive games on the market right now. The Crysis single player demo includes a GPU benchmark to test the performance of the video card installed in the system. 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crysis performance was outstanding on the MSI 780i motherboard; at its worst, performance was equal to the other 780i board.

Testing:

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

 

The settings we will use are below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here again, the 780i motherboards produce similar results, and the MSI offering pulls ahead at lower resolutions and performs identically to the Asus 780i board at higher resolutions - each time beating the Intel-based solution.

 

Testing:

BioShock is one of the newest and most demanding games on the market, and it will make your hardware beg 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.

 

Settings:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The strength of the 780i chipset was clearly illustrated in the BioShock testing, as it consistently outperformed the Intel chipsets.

 

Testing:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the latest addition to the Call of Duty series. This iteration of the game puts players right in the middle of many modern-day hot spots, with today's best firepower and equipment. You can play as either a U.S. 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 frames per second using Fraps 2.9.3.

 

The settings used are listed below:

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although it didn't take first place, the MSI 780i put up a good fight against the Intel-based motherboards.

 

Testing:

World in Conflict is a newly released DX10 Real Time Strategy game that simulates the all-out war scenario that the world hopes will never come. 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.

 

The settings we will use are listed below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MSI P7N Diamond outperformed the Asus 780i chipset at the two lowest resolutions, performed identically to at 1680 x 1050, but was beaten at 1920 x 1200. The Intel motherboards beat out the P7N Diamond at every resolution, except for 1024 x 768.

 

Testing:

Call of Juarez is a DX10 First Person Shooter set in an 1800's Wild West era that is inspired, in part, by the "Spaghetti Western" movies of the 1970's and 80's, and features single player and multiplayer modes. The game focuses on realistic graphics and gameplay designed to take advantage of the latest video cards on the market.

 

The settings we will use are listed below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This test produced some interesting results, as the performance of the 780i boards was flip-flopped from what we saw in the previous round. Also, the MSI motherboard was outperformed by almost every competitor in the two lower-resolution tests, while the 1680 x 1050 test saw very similar scores across all platforms. The Diamond then took the lead at 1920 x 1200, beating every other motherboard by up to seven frames per second.

 

Testing

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

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The P7N Diamond's results in Company of Heroes were just amazing - I reran this bench seven times to make sure the results were accurate. The MSI board easily outperformed the competing boards in this benchmark.

 

Testing:

3DMark06 is one of the first benchmarks that comes up when a bragging contest breaks out, and is a serious performance test for much of the latest hardware. Let's see how this setup fares; the settings we will use are listed below.

 

Settings:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this test, we saw that the MSI board was second only to the Asus 780i at 1280 x 1024 and up. Overall performance across our entire set of benchmarks was lackluster at best; out of 32 gaming benchmarks, the MSI motherboard only posted top marks in 11. This translates to winning performances in only 33 percent of the gaming tests - not a good outcome for a board that's marketed towards enthusiasts and overclockers, even if it did "keep up" with the middle of the pack in many of the benches.

 

Conclusion:

Let's review what we've learned about the MSI P7N Diamond - at stock settings, this is a rock solid motherboard that certainly keeps the pace with other 780i-based boards, but its performance when overclocking leaves much to be desired. Using my trusty Intel Q6600 processor, which has been proven stable up to 491MHz FSB, the MSI P7N Diamond was barely able to function properly when the FSB was set at 391MHz. This is very disappointing, as the difference in real-world speed when using the Q6600's maximum 9x multiplier is 900MHz - certainly some performance is left on the table. To be fair, the top speed this MSI board achieved was just over 3.5GHz, which is 1.1GHz over the quad-core CPU's 2.4GHz stock speed - nothing to sneeze at. I think a lot of the Diamond's shortcomings stem from a BIOS that is relatively immature, and adding features to simplify overclocking - like changing the way CPU voltage is adjusted - might help this board's capabilities immensely. Some of MSI's beta BIOS' seemed like a step in the right direction, and the continued efforts to enhance this board's performance are a sign that MSI is committed to making this board reach its potential. At this time MSI is continuing the development of the next BIOS to fully realize the performance the board is capable of. Once a newer BIOS is released for the masses I will revisit the overclocking aspect of this review to validate any performance improvements it may provide. The Circu-Pipe cooling assembly definitely had a large impact on the chipset cooling front, and although it was slightly warm to the touch, it certainly didn't get as hot as many Nvidia-based Socket 775 motherboards. Due to the overclocking issues I experienced, the jury is still out as to whether Circu-Pipe will make a huge difference in ensuring overclocking stability - but it should provide users a good level of confidence when the full potential of this board is realized. MSI also scores points for the amount of available space around the CPU socket; even with the Circu-Pipe installed, I had no problem mounting a Tuniq Tower CPU cooler.

The MSI P7N Diamond also presents staggering graphics processing potential, with four PCI-E x16 slots and the ability to run Tri-SLI with compatible 8800 and 9800 GTX and 8800 Ultra video cards. MSI's literature claims that a Tri-SLI configuration provides 2.5x more graphics horsepower than a single card solution. Also, the Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio MSI Edition sound card performed flawlessly in our game tests, while watching movies, and just general computer use. Like many motherboards coming to market these days, the P7N Diamond helps save energy by using high efficiency components to reduce the actual power draw from the mains - which equates to a few extra dollars in your pocket. The MSI P7N Diamond has tons of potential; if the BIOS matures quickly, the P7N has the tools to overclock to the next level.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: