Features of the MSI 648 Max -L
Packaging and Contents
MSI uses its traditional approach to packaging the motherboards. For a few months now, MSI has been using pretty simple and plain boxes for their motherboards like the 845E Max2 and other varieties. Once you open the box you get a few extra connectors and cables than the Gigabyte board. You get your board, user manual, driver CD, USB 2.0 bracket with D-LED onboard, 6.1 sound bracket and all the cables needed for your IDE and FDD connectors.
For a budget based board, the 648 Max-L comes fully set with a 1/6/0 (AGP/PCI/Riser). This gives the best in expansion possibilities with a full 6 PCI compliment. Being AGP 8x based, you are not able to use older 2x AGP cards on this board as doing so will fry not only the video card but the motherboard AGP controller, resulting in instant death.
The placement of the power connectors on this baby, for a non-overclockers based board, has had some serious thought put into it. The 20 pin ATX connector being placed behind the three DIMM slots keeps the messy cables well out of the way. The 4 pin connector, which usually ends up in the most ridiculous places on some boards, is well place, just to the upper left hand corner of the CPU retention mechanism. This keeps the 4 pin cable clear off the CPU and heat sink.
Chipset - SiS once again delivers the punch
Since this is a SiS 648 roundup, it would be weird to see something other than SiS powering the show. Thankfully we aren't that weird here (well not yet). The 648 SiS Northbridge is used to give 400/533Mhz FSB support, AGP8x operations and the fastest DDR-SDRAM memory controller available to-date. Teamed up with the SiS 963 Southbridge, you receive the benefits from ATA-133 IDE, USB 2.0 (a total of six ports are possible) and even Firewire can be accommodated. Like Gigabyte, MSI have elected to dispose of the Firewire controllers on this board.
Gigabit Ethernet - Power for the Budget
Something that I never expected to see on a budget board was Gigabit networking. The Broadcom controller was included onboard with the MSI 648 Max-L to give 10/100/1000mbps networking options. As a result, this board can truly be classed as a light weight workstation board.
Bluetooth available, but optional
MSI was amongst the first to include an onboard Bluetooth system. MSI supplies (optionally with the FIR version) a small bracket for 2.4Ghz Bluetooth operations, located next to the blue USB connector is a header labelled JBT1. This is where you connect the Bluetooth cables into for your system to benefit from the Bluetooth experience.
Cooling to the Max
This was what impressed us about MSI's 845E Max 2 motherboard. MSI has included two ram sink like units on the voltage regulators. This allows cooler voltage regulators, which allows for a more even and "clean" current for the CPU voltage regulators. This looks like an overclocking board from here.
Overclocking, like on the Gigabyte board, was almost totally non-existent. Being a budget board we weren't expecting super overclocking features, but we hope for more with the extra cooling design and layout of this board like just mentioned. The only major options for overclocking are the FSB frequency which you can change from 100MHz up to 200MHz in 1MHz increments. While you can change the V-Core, only 1.6v is allowed, which totally limits any serious overclocking.