Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:

  • MSI X79A-GD65 (8D), MS-77360 ver. 1.1 mainboard (BIOS version 1.6);
  • Intel Core i7-3930K CPU (3.2-3.8 GHz, Sandy Bridge-E rev.C2, 32nm, 130 W, LGA 2011);
  • 4 x 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R (16 GB, 1866 MHz, 9-10-9-27 timings, 1.5 V voltage);
  • MSI N570GTX-M2D12D5/OC graphics card (Nvidia GeForce GTX 570, GF110, 40 nm, 786/4200 MHz, 320-bit GDDR5 1280 MB);
  • Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps);
  • Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • CoolerMaster RealPower M850 PSU (RS-850-ESBA);
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version, Nvidia GeForce Driver 285.62 graphics card driver.

Start Up and BIOS Recovery

We had no problems assembling our test configurations around the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) apart from the abovementioned mistake of plugging our memory modules into wrong slots, which prevented the system from booting up. When the modules were reinstalled into the black slots, the mainboard started up successfully, showing us a picture with a helpful reminder about supported hotkeys.

If you turn the startup picture off, the mainboard will report some basic info like CPU and memory clock rate. And you will still get the reminder at the bottom of the screen telling you that pressing Del will open the BIOS while pressing F11 opens up a boot device selection menu.

We had to switch to the second BIOS chip immediately because the first chip of our sample of the mainboard contained BIOS 10.2B1 beta which refused to see the latest BIOS file (version 1.6) on our USB flash drive.

The backup BIOS chip contained the basic BIOS 1.0 which easily upgraded to the newest version 1.6. We don’t think that off-the-shelf samples of the mainboard will come with a beta BIOS version, yet this situation helped us check out MSI’s BIOS recovery feature.

MSI mainboards have but recently begun to use two BIOS chips. At first, it worked like Gigabyte’s DualBIOS: we could only access the first BIOS chip. If it failed (or the mainboard thought it had failed), the recovery system automatically rewrote it with the contents from the backup BIOS chip. In its current implementation, MSI's recovery system does not work automatically, which is good as we have access to two completely independent BIOS chips. And restoring a corrupt BIOS chip seems to be very easy. You only have to use Multi BIOS Switch to switch to the healthy BIOS chip, start the mainboard up, enter its BIOS Setup and find the M-Flash subsection in the Utilities. Then you save the current BIOS code to an attached USB flash drive, switch back to the corrupt BIOS chip (using the same Multi BIOS Switch), and restore the BIOS code.

The procedure is simple indeed, but after we updated the BIOS code in the first chip, the mainboard acted up as if we had used the Clear CMOS button. After starting up, it would demand that we enter the BIOS to set everything up or load default settings. We could get rid of that annoying message neither by loading optimal settings nor by pressing Clear CMOS, nor by removing the battery.

At some moment during our numerous and fruitless attempts to revive the first BIOS chip we thought we hit the cause of the problem. The version 1.6 BIOS was a 6-megabyte file when saved by M-Flash to the USB drive although the same version downloaded from the MSI website was 8 megabytes. However, the latter file changed nothing. The mainboard still halted after each start. So, we have to admit that the current BIOS recovery implementation works incorrectly on MSI mainboards. We had to use the second BIOS chip for our tests.

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