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Closer Look

There are no surprises as far as the supported CPUs and memory are concerned: the MSI K8N Diamond can work with any Socket 939 processor of the Athlon 64 family (on ClawHammer, NewCastle, and even the new Winchester core). There are four DIMM slots on the mainboard where you can install DDR400/333/266 SDRAM and use it in the dual-channel mode. The memory slots are color-coded, but unlike with many other Socket 939 mainboards the slots belonging to the same channel have the same color. In other words, you must insert pairs of memory modules into DIMM slots of different colors to enjoy the benefits of dual-channel memory access.

Note that the maximum supported memory size is 4 gigabytes, although the Athlon 64 can address much bigger memory capacities. Moreover, if all four DIMM slots are occupied with dual-sided DDR SDRAM modules, the memory cannot be clocked above 333MHz.

The MSI K8N Diamond offers two PCI Express x16 slots for graphics cards. Ordinarily you should put your graphics card into the slot which is closest to the CPU socket. The second PCI Express x16 slot then works as PCI Express x2, since these interfaces are compatible physically and logically. When you install a pair of identical graphics cards of the GeForce family into the system and enable the SLI mode, both PCI Express x16 slots transform into PCI Express x8 ones.

You select the operational mode of the PCI Express slots of the MSI K8N Diamond by installing a SLI Switch card between them at a certain side. When the card is installed one side up, the SLI switch card configures the slots as PCI Express x16 + PCI Express x2, but when rotated by 180 degrees this card makes the slots work as PCI Express x8 + PCI Express x8.

Besides the PCI Express x16 slots there are three ordinary PCI slots on board. The third slot is colored orange and is intended for the installation of a special wireless card enclosed with the mainboard. The card supports Bluetooth and 802.11g protocols.

I would like to say a few more words about this “wireless” card. Besides the lat PCI slot, this expansion card is also connected to one of the onboard USB ports because its Bluetooth controller is implemented as a USB device, while the PCI interface is only used by the wireless WLAN adapter. This expansion card supports the wireless data-transfer IEEE 802.11b/g protocol and provides a transfer rate of up to 54 Mbps. After installing the software you receive with the card, you can use your computer in the Ad Hoc as well as in the Infrastructure mode. The card can serve as a software access point for up to 31 clients. Thus, using the Wi-Fi kit provided with the MSI K8N Diamond you can deploy a new wireless network or connect to existing ones.

Another exclusive feature of the MSI K8N Diamond mainboard is its unique audio solution. While a majority of mainboard makers prefer to use the AC’97 interface integrated into the nForce4, along with NVIDIA’s driver and nvMixer, MSI decided to take a different way. They gave up the AC’97 sound which is of average quality as our earlier tests showed. Instead, MSI K8N Diamond carries a full-featured hardware PCI audio controller – a SoundBlaster Live! 24-bit from Creative!

In fact, do not get too excited about the sound solution we have just mentioned, but at the same time you will not ever complain about the low sound quality or its insufficient features. Of course, this is not the top-end Audigy2, but a low-end chip, yet it ideally suits gamers with its support of the 7.1 sound and EAX 3.0. The other well-balanced characteristics (24bit/96kHz, 100dB SNR, digital output) make it suitable for all other users, too.

Of course, when it comes to actual testing, the integrated AC’97 sound of the nForce4 chipset turns out absolutely no match for it, as you can see from the table below:

Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB:

+0.07, -0.13

Very good

Noise level, dB (A):

-99.2

Excellent

Dynamic range, dB (A):

94.5

Very good

THD, %:

0.0067

Very good

IMD, %:

0.013

Very good

Stereo crosstalk, dB:

-100.0

Excellent

IMD at 10 kHz, %:

0.013

Very good

General performance: Very good

So, MSI’s decision to use a discrete PCI controller from Creative instead of the integrated audio seems absolutely reasonable. A majority of owners of the MSI K8N Diamond should be happy with the sound quality they are getting and shouldn’t worry at all about purchasing an add-on audio card.

The SoundBlaster Live! 24-bit supports seven audio connectors: five audio jacks and optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs.

 
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