Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

No wonder that a contemporary mainboard from a well-known maker has very well-thought-through and convenient design, however, it is really satisfying to point it out once again:

According to Micro-Star, one of their boards’ major advantages is high-quality “military” component base, which has already evolved into “Military Class II” stage and includes solid-state capacitors with extended lifespan, SPF (Super Ferrite Choke) units with lowered operational temp, and Hi-c CAP tantalum capacitors. The processor voltage regulator circuitry consists of 12 phases and the number of active phases may dynamically change depending on the current processor utilization due to APS (Active Phase Switching) technology. Any changes in the number of phases are immediately reflected by a row of CPU Phase LEDs. The voltage regulator components emitting substantial heat are topped with two additional heatsinks connected with a heatpipe. By the way, all heatsinks, including the chipset one are installed with reliable screw-on retention.

Overall, MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) mainboard looks pretty common, although there are a few peculiarities typical of Micro-Star mainboards. The Power On and Reset buttons have become quite common on many mainboards, although in MSI’s products they are joined by the “OC Genie” button used for instantaneous system overclocking. Starting recently, higher-end MSI mainboards started to come with two BIOS chips. Besides, there is a “V-Check Points” panel. Together with “V-Check Cable” kit it will allow you to manually monitor the current voltages of the most important system knots by simply using a voltmeter. You only notice the mainboard’s greatest unique peculiarity when you look at the back panel carrying six USB 3.0 ports. This is particularly amazing, because besides these six USB 3.0 ports, the board also has two additional USB 3.0 pin-connectors that provide support for another four ports. MSI engineers didn’t have to load their mainboard with five additional controllers to deliver ten USB 3.0 ports. There are two Renesas (NEC) D720200AF1 controllers and two VLI VL810 hubs. It is a truly refined and unique approach, which so far has been used on Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD7 mainboard, for example.

The complete list of ports and connectors on the mainboard back panel looks as follows:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Clear CMOS button;
  • Optical and coaxial S/PDIF, and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec;
  • IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented via VIA VT6308P controller, the second port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
  • Four USB 2.0 ports, six more USB ports are available as three onboard pin-connectors;
  • Three USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via a combination of Renesas (NEC) D720200F1 controller and VLI VL810 hub, the second pair of these controllers provides support for four more internal USB 3.0 ports;
  • Two eSATA 6 Gbps ports implemented via Marvell 88SE9128 controller;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controllers).

I have to say that an abundance of additional onboard controllers creates certain problems: the chipset doesn’t have enough free PCI Express lanes to connect them all. For example, the mainboard has three graphics card slots, which have pretty common operation modes for an Intel P67 Express based mainboard. A single graphics card installed into the top slot will work at full PCI Express 2.0 x16 speed. With two graphics cards the slots will work at half that speed each. The third slot has four PCI Express lanes and if it is occupied, then you won’t be able to use both eSATA ports, two onboard USB 3.0 ports, both PCI slots and one USB 3.0 port on the back panel (the top USB 3.0 port next to audio-jacks).

The table below sums up all the technical specifications of MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) mainboard:

At this point we can conclude that MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) is designed very smartly and conveniently. It supports all contemporary interfaces such as eSATA, USB 3.0, SATA 6 Gbps and IEEE1394 (FireWire). It boasts a few unique Micro-Star’s proprietary features such as “OC Genie” button and a special “V-Check Points” voltage control panel. A special treat is, of course, the ability to connect 10 USB 3.0 ports.

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