Design and Functionality
It must be noted right away that MSI offers two LGA2011 mainboards with very similar names: MSI X79A-GD65 and MSI X79A-GD65 (8D). The additional “8D” means that the latter model has eight DIMM slots as opposed to the former's four. This is not the only difference between them, though. The two models are actually quite different products, so don’t get confused.
Unlike the gloomy-black Big Bang-XPower II, the X79A-GD65 (8D) looks lively thanks to the numerous blue-colored elements.
Color coding and other factors help you identify the mainboard’s slots and connectors. It is equipped with three PCI Express 3.0/2.0 x16 slots (at x16, x16 and x8 speed) that have handy broad latches for ejecting the installed card. There is also one PCI Express 2.0 x1 and two slots that look like PCI Express x16 but work as PCIe 2.0 x1. You can tell them apart from the full-featured graphics slots by the ordinary latches. The four SATA 3 Gbit/s ports provided by the Intel X79 Express chipset are black whereas the white connectors are SATA 6 Gbit/s. There are an additional two white SATA 6 Gbit/s connectors based on an ASMedia ASM1061 controller but the sticker over them indicates which ports should be used for disks in the first place. The labels within the connectors will help you tell USB 2.0 from IEEE1394.
The manufacturer has obviously tried to make it easier to assemble a computer around this mainboard and keep users from doing something wrong, yet we still have one concern about the color of the memory slots. As you know, DDR3 modules should be installed starting from the slots which are the farthest from the CPU socket and the user manual is also very detailed about the mainboard's operation with different memory configurations. So, there can hardly be any problems installing four or eight DIMMs, but what about three or six modules you want to use in triple-channel mode? The user manual discusses such cases with charts and illustrations, which is good. However, we were unconsciously lured into installing our four memory modules into the cute-looking blue slots rather than the black ones as was necessary. We guess the colors of the DIMM slots should have been swapped.
As for cooling, there was no free room on the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) to install an auxiliary heatsink, so it comes with only one heatsink on the CPU voltage regulator components. The heat pipe is still useful, though. The heatsink is large and massive but its base is very small; it only expands in the middle and top part. So, there’s a heat pipe going along the base to transfer heat to the top of the heatsink. The latter may seem to have too simple a shape, but our practical tests confirm its high efficiency at high CPU load. Of course, the heatsink got very hot because LGA2011 platforms consume quite a lot of power, yet it was never as scorching hot as the heatsinks of most other mainboards we had tested. We guess the high-quality Military Class III components employed by the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) contribute to this by featuring high efficiency. By the way, the heatsinks are securely fastened with screws.
The mainboard back panel has the following ports and connectors on it:
- PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
- Eight USB 2.0 ports, four more USB ports are available as two onboard pin-connectors;
- Clear CMOS button;
- Coaxial and optical S/PDIF, and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec;
- IEEE1394 (FireWire) port implemented via VIA VT6315N controller, the second port is available as an onboard pin-connector;
- Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via NEC D720200 controller, the second controller like that provides support for two more USB 3.0 ports;
- A local network port (network adapter is built on Gigabit Intel 82579V controller).
There are no eSATA ports on the mainboard’s back panel but a dual-port eSATA bracket for the back panel of the system case may be included into the box (along with another such bracket with two USB 3.0 ports).
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) features two BIOS chips you can switch between by means of the Multi BIOS Switch. Then, there are two Low Temperature Booting jumpers on the PCB that help start up at low temperatures ensured by liquid nitrogen cooling systems. Besides the back-panel Clear CMOS button, the mainboard has Power, Reset, OC Genie (for automatic overclocking) and Direct OC (for changing the base clock rate on the fly) buttons on the PCB. There is a line of V-Check Points for measuring voltages with a voltmeter. A POST code indicator can help you monitor the startup process. There are five 4-pin fan connectors on this mainboard.
There are a lot of bright blue LEDs of various functions all around the mainboard. You can turn them off in the BIOS if you want to.
We summed up all the major technical specifications of this mainboard in the following table: