Articles: Mainboards
 

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PCB Design and Features

The two MSI mainboards are similar visually although we can’t say they use the same PCB design. You can spot a number of differences on closer inspection.

The mainboards both use a 12-phase CPU voltage regulator. Active Phase Switching (APS) technology can dynamically change the number of active power phases depending on the current CPU load as is indicated by the CPU Phase LEDs. The manufacturer claims that Military Class II components are used in the mainboard including solid-state capacitors with a long service life, Super Ferrite Chokes with a low operating temperature, and tantalum Hi-c capacitors. The hot components of the voltage regulator are equipped with two additional heatsinks connected with a heat pipe. Every heatsink, including the chipset one, is securely fastened with screws.

Each mainboard has Power and Reset buttons together with an OC Genie button that allows you to overclock your system in an instant. There are also two BIOS chips and a V-Check Points panel which, together with the included V-Check Cables, can help you measure system voltages manually by means of a voltmeter. The MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3) has only one eSATA 6 Gbps port at the back panel. It's based on a Marvell 88SE9128 controller. Another such port is available as an onboard header. USB 3.0 is implemented through two Renesas (NEC) D720200AF1 chips without VLI VL810 hubs, therefore there are fewer USB 3.0 connectors on the MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3) than on the P67A-GD80 (B3). The former also lacks a coaxial S/PDIF but has video outputs.

Here is a full list of the components you can find on the mainboard’s back panel:

  • PS/2 connector for keyboard or mouse;
  • Optical S/PDIF, and six analogue audio-jacks provided by eight-channel Realtek ALC892 codec;
  • Clear CMOS button;
  • 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;
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (blue connectors) implemented via NEC D720200AF1 controller, the second controller like that provides support for two more USB 3.0 ports;
  • One eSATA 6 Gbps port implemented via Marvell 88SE9128 controller, a second port is available as onboard pin-connector;
  • Two local network ports (network adapters are built on Gigabit Realtek RTL8111E controllers);
  • DVI-D and HDMI video outs.

Each of the two MSI mainboards has three graphics slots that work in the same modes. A single graphics card installed into the top slot will work in full-speed PCIe 2.0 x16 mode. If two graphics cards are in use, the graphics slots are x8 each. The third graphics slot has four PCI Express lanes, but if it's occupied, the following becomes unavailable: the eSATA and the additional SATA port, the onboard USB 3.0 connector, both PCI slots, and the back-panel IEEE1394 (FireWire) port.

The mainboard’s specs are summarized in the table:

Thus, the MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3) seems to be a cleverly designed product. Like its cousin, it offers a full range of modern interfaces including eSATA, USB 3.0, SATA 6 Gbps and IEEE1394 (FireWire). There are a few exclusive features peculiar to MSI products like the OC Genie button and the V-Check Points for voltage monitoring. Compared to the MSI P67A-GD80 (B3), it has fewer ports and connectors but instead offers video outputs (DVI-D and HDMI). The only questionable solution is the use of a 6-pin power connector for the graphics card slots. A single graphics card wouldn’t need additional power. And if two or more cards are installed, it is likely that all of the PSU's 6- or 8-pin connectors will be used up and you'll have to buy power adapters.

 
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