Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

All performance tests were run on the following test platform:

  • MSI XPower, MS-7666 ver. 1.1 mainboard (LGA1366, Intel X58 Express, BIOS version 1.4);
  • Intel Core i7-930 CPU (2.8 GHz, Bloomfield D0);
  • 3 x 1024 MB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1866, KHX14900D3T1K3/3GX, (1866 MHz, 9-9-9-27 timings, 1.65 V voltage);
  • HIS HD 5850, H585F1GDG graphics card (ATI Radeon HD 5850, Cypress, 40 nm, 725/4000 MHz, 256-bit GDDR5 1024 MB);
  • Kingston SSD Now V+ Series (SNVP325-S2, 128 GB);
  • Scythe Mugen 2 Revision B (SCMG-2100) CPU cooler;
  • Zalman CSL 850 thermal interface;
  • CoolerMaster RealPower M850 PSU (RS-850-ESBA);
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7600) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version, ATI Catalyst 11.1 graphics card driver.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

When we put together a system based on MSI XPower mainboard we faced only one problem: long chipset pins hanging off the bottom of the PCB wouldn’t let us use the backplate for our Scythe Mugen 2 cooler. Yes, it is a drawback, but it is common for almost all contemporary mainboards from different vendors, so we won’t consider it too critical. As for everything else, the mainboard worked perfectly fine in nominal mode. We were particularly pleased to see all Intel and MSI power-saving technologies up and running full throttle by default without any preliminary setting up. As a result, the mainboard turned out very energy-efficient despite its full-size ATX form-factor, certain design complexity and an abundance of additional onboard controllers. Of course, effective cooling system over the chipset and processor voltage regulator contributed to that as well as high-quality electronic components used across the board.

However, everything we have just said refers to the nominal mode. During overclocking we had to take it easy with praising MSI XPower, because we faced a number of issues and problems. First of all, as soon as you change the base clock frequency, MSI’s feature APS system (Active Phase Switching) shuts down right away and no longer dynamically changes the number of active processor voltage regulator phases. In the “Green Power” section of the mainboard BIOS we can only disable a selected option: there is no way to force the APS technology. And if the settings are at Auto and you do some overclocking, then the power-saving stuff get disabled right away.

Moreover, the higher you set the base clock, the higher gets the CPU Vcore, unless you changed the “Auto” setting to a fixed value. How far will it increase? There is no way to tell, we can only get an idea from the monitoring utilities. In situations like that brand name software may come in handy, such as “MSI Control Center”, for instance. We have already discussed the functionality of this program before, but we discovered numerous errors and unreliable data. At this time the program remained perfectly stable, and we didn’t experience even one failure due to some type of error. As for the correctness of the reported data, things haven’t improved a bit.

The utility reported that our CPU Vcore was 0.031 V, while in reality the mainboard had automatically increased it approximately to 1.4 V. Sometimes we even saw negative values, although the voltage was in fact increased. Besides, the QPI and CPU PLL voltages were displayed incorrectly, but compared with the processor voltage discrepancy, this was a “trifle” we could disregard. Unfortunately, MSI Control Center utility is still practically useless.

When we overclock by raising the base frequency we can avoid excessive automatic increase in the processor core voltage by setting a necessary value in the mainboard BIOS. However, in this case this voltage will remain constant and will no longer drop in idle mode, because the mainboard can only add the voltage to the nominal value and at the same time keep all processor power-saving technologies intact. As a result we were forced to give up power-saving during our overclocking experiments and use this simpler and easier overclocking approach. We tried to push our CPU to 4 GHz, which turned out to be too much for our CPU sample and cooling system. We had to stop at 3.9 GHz, like on other similar mainboards.

However, unlike other mainboards, Intel processor power-saving technologies were only partially active on MSI XPower: they only lowered the clock frequency multiplier in idle mode, but not the CPU core voltage. The slight difference in voltages can be attributed to Vdroop function, which slightly increases the processor Vcore under heavy load. Had the power-saving technologies been working, the voltage would have dropped to about 0.9-1 V.

Besides, as you can see, the mainboard couldn’t get the memory to work at 1770 MHz. We had to lower the frequency to 1416 MHz and lower the memory timings accordingly, which also wasn’t very exciting.

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