From the box size we surmised that the board was Micro ATX is design, so no surprised when we got the board out. MSI has gone with its traditional red PCB for its standard series of boards. For a basic board the layout is pretty good. The IDE port, FDD and 24-pin power ports are located behind the two DDR-2 memory slots. The board only supports two out of the total four that the AMD Athlon 64 range supports, so it is a cut down board, however it is Dual Channel compliant. The 4-pin power connector is located between the Northbridge and the rear I/O port.
MSI has gone with the 3 phase voltage regulation system. AMD processors draw a lot less power than the Intel Netburst series of CPU, so 3 phases is enough, 4 is better for overclocking, but being budget you cannot expect much overclocking. The capacitors used on this board are the standard electrolyte capacitors, no solid state products here, which is another indication this product has not been designed for high-end users with a focus on keeping the price as fair as possible, which is not a bad thing.
The Northbridge used is AMD's new 690G chipset which is based around the newest architecture from the former ATI. It has come from the RS690 ATI design which was already on the board before the merger and renamed upon launch.
The Northbridge supports a 16-bit 1GHz Bi Directional Hyper Transport bus to connect the CPU to the Northbridge. The 690G is the first chip to be designed with the latest graphics cores from ATI, known as the Radeon X1250 chipset core - its design comes from the older X700 series of graphics cards with UMA memory design. As for the Southbridge, ATI's SB600 that first appeared on the Crossfire 3200 chipsets makes its return for this 690G motherboard from MSI.
The rear I/O port layout is quite acceptable, in fact quite good for a HTPC setup. One of the first things we noticed was the inclusion of the HDMI port on the board which gives you the option to connect this to new HDTV's with a HDMI port for resolutions up to 1080p. While the board has a CRT board, we would have preferred to see a DVI port with a DVI to CRT converter to make it all digital monitor supported but it wasn't to be - if you wanted DVI support you could go out and buy a HDMI to DVI adapter but you should not really need to do that in our opinion. The rest is standard, but it is very nice to see the six stereo audio ports for 7.1 audio thanks to the HD Audio codec onboard. Then again it would have been even nicer to see optical audio in and out ports but you need to remember this is not a high-end motherboard. You could always an in an external sound card later if you are serious about your audio requirements.
Lastly we come down to the expansion slots and additional features that MSI provides. If you do not want to use the onboard graphics system, a single PCI Express x16 slot is included to allow discrete graphics to be used and a single PCI Express x1 slot and two PCI legacy slots round off the list here.
Additional features include a single Realtek Gigabit Ethernet controller chip on one of the spare PCI Express x1 channels and a VIA VT6307S Firewire chip on the PCI bus gives you the digital media expansion.
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