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The MSI K8N Diamond still has surprises aplenty, particularly in terms of hard disk drives support. MSI thought the chipset alone would be not enough and added a Serial ATA RAID controller - SiI3132 from Silicon Image. As a result, the chipset of MSI K8N Diamond supports two Parallel ATA channels (for up to four devices) and four Serial ATA II channels (these drives can be combined into RAID arrays of level 0, 1 and 0+1). Besides that, there are two Serial ATA II channels implemented in the Silicon Image controller (the drives attached to the controller can be combined into RAID arrays of level 0 or 1). So, this mainboard offers you as many as six channels for your Serial ATA II devices.

Note also that the SiI3132 controller used on this board belongs to the new generation of Serial ATA RAID circuitry. Besides complying with the Serial ATA II specification (3GB/s data-transfer rate, “hot swapping”, Native Command Queuing, connection of two devices per channel) it works across the PCI Express x1 rather than PCI interface. Theoretically this should ensure higher transfer rate than the previous generation Serial ATA RAID controllers provided.

In this case, it would be interesting to compare the two SATA controllers available on the MSI K8N Diamond, to find out which one is more efficient. We carried out a brief performance test for a RAID0 array made up of Raptor WD360GD drives from Western Digital, attached first to the chipset controller and then to the SiI3132. We measured the performance of the array in the HDD test set from Futuremark PCMark04:

 

Silicon Image Sil3132

NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra

Overall

5883

7105

XP Startup, KB/sec

10340

12672

Application Loading, KB/sec

7656

9158

File Copying, KB/sec

47959

55155

General HDD Usage, KB/sec

7250

9026

The numbers of the dual-channel Serial ATA II controller integrated in the nForce4 chipset are notably higher in this test than those of the SiI3132, so we recommend that you first use the Serial ATA connectors the chipset is responsible for and leave the external controller’s ones in reserve. Another argument in favor of using the chipset Serial ATA controller is the configuration utility nvRAID that simplifies the management of disk arrays from Windows. There are no analogs of this program for the Silicon Image SiI3132.

Speaking about the peculiarities of this mainboard solution, we should mention that as the specification says, the MSI K8N Diamond is equipped with two Gigabit Ethernet controllers. We already know the capabilities of the one integrated into the nForce4 Ultra/SLI chipset – its key feature is the hardware network protection tool aka ActiveArmor thanks to which NVIDIA’s firewall puts a small load on the processor when filtering network packets. The second controller is an external Marvell Yukon 88E8053 chip and we are familiar with it too, since it is often installed on i925/i915-based mainboards. This controller is connected via the PCI Express x1 bus and is capable of achieving data-transfer speeds close to the theoretical peak of 1Gbit/s in real life.

Let’s then compare the two network controllers, to see which one works faster on MSI K8N Diamond. We used the NTttcp utility from Microsoft Windows NT DDK as a measurement tool. We disabled NVIDIA Firewall 2.0 for this test session.

 

Marvell Yukon 88E8053

NVIDIA nForce4 Ultra/SLI

Data packet size

1500

9000

1500
(AA On)

1500
(AA Off)

9000
(AA On)

9000
(AA Off)

Bandwidth, Mbit/s

953.2

987.0

890.0

947.1

933.1

958.2

CPU utilization (Athlon 64 3800+)

43.9%

17.3%

20.9%

31.9%

12.0%

19.0%

As you see, the Marvell Yukon chip is better in terms of bandwidth, but loads the CPU more, especially if we compare it to the nForce4 with enabled hardware ActiveArmor.

The MSI K8N Diamond also carries three 400 Mbps IEEE1394a ports – courtesy of the VIA VT6306 chip. One of the ports is laid out at the mainboard rear panel, and two more are onboard pin-connectors. To make these pins available to you, you can use the FireWire bracket enclosed with the mainboard. One of the bracket ports is 6-pin, the other is 4-pin.

At last, the MSI K8N Diamond supports ten USB 2.0 ports: four at the rear panel, and six on the PCB. As I have mentioned above, you get a D-Bracket 2 with the mainboard – this bracket for the back panel of the system case carries two additional High-Speed USB ports and a diagnostics D-LED system consisting of four two-color light emitting diode indicators.

The D-LED works in a very simple way: different combinations of the indicators correspond to different phases of the POST procedure. If there is a problem during the boot-up process, the user can diagnose the cause (looking up the meaning of the indicator combination in the manual). That’s not a very serious diagnostics system, but it definitely better than nothing. It can’t match full-featured POST controllers, but at least shows the main phases of the POST.

 
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