Now it's time for MSI to put on its Sunday best. While they have impressed us with a very good bundle, if the board is no good then all the trimmings aren't going to mean a thing. The Eclipse SLI is based around a full sized 6 layer ATX layout in the 30x24cm measurements, so there's nothing different here. The board is powered by the X58 Northbridge or IOH and the ICH10R Southbridge or ICH. The colour scheme MSI has chosen is black based with blue overtones and a copper colouring to its cooling systems.
In the past MSI boards have lacked some design style when it came to the placement of connectors. But on a high quality board like this, there are no excuses for bad design and thankfully MSI seems to recognise this. The 24-pin power connector gets placed behind the six DDR 3 memory slots on the right hand side of the board; these slots are colour coded blue for Channel A and black for Channel B. In order to make the board work with only three DIMMs you need to have them installed into the blue slots; if you have them in the black, the board refuses to post. The aux 4/8 pin power connector gets its new home between the Mosfet heatpipe assembly and the PS/2 tower ports, keeping the cables well away from the CPU and other heat generating components which allow for a much better case air flow path.
To keep things as tidy as possible with the cabling, MSI places its cable connectors all on the right hand side of the board and rotates them 90 degrees. There are six black SATA ports, four blue SATA ports and one blue IDE port. The six black SATA ports are connected to the ICH10R's SATA channels and support RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 and JBOD as well as AHCI mode for hot plugging. The four blue SATA ports are controlled by two separate Marvell SATA controllers running off the PCIe x1 bus from the ICH10R and are capable of being routed to e.SATA operations.
For high-end boards designed for the overclockers, stable power is a must; if you can't keep the power up to the CPU at a stable level as well as the rest of the system, it's just not going to happen. MSI uses its DrMOS technology to replace conventional Mosfet and voltage regulators with Driver Mosfets, which allow a much greater range of control over the power distribution. The board has six phases supplying voltage to the CPU as well as two phases supplying the IOH and two phases for the QPI/DRAM controller. The system is designed to help reduce power by supplying each section with its own phases. MSI is certainly pushing for a more stable and less power hungry X58 board here.
MSI's rear I/O section is actually quite bare when you first look at it. There are your standard two PS/2 ports and a plethora of USB ports on the rear. In fact, eight out of the 12 supported by the ICH10 are on the back. The two e.SATA ports need to be activated in the BIOS, but if you activate them you lose two of the blue ports on the board which get routed to the rear I/O e.SATA, but this isn't a huge loss. There are no sound related ports as you need to use the X-Fi audio card to get any sound with this board.
You may note on the back a small press button; this is used to clear the CMOS in the event of a bad overclock. While the board does have a watchdog timer that resets the overclock in the event of a bad boot, sometimes it won't work if the board managed to get so far into the post and freeze. This is where this reset comes in handy; you can simply press and hold the button for 4 seconds and boom, you're back to the CMOS defaults.
Expansion slots on the X58 series of boards comes down to a few different config options; MSI has gone hardcore here. There are a total of three PCIe x16 slots; two black and one blue. The two black slots are capable of full speed x16 operations if using one or two graphics cards. If you want to run a third video card in the blue slot, 8 lanes from the middle black slot are stolen and routed to the blue slot to give you a 16/8/8 arrangement. All three of these ports are routed off the 32 lanes from the I0H and are PCIe 2.0 compliant. Just above and below the top black x16 slot are two PCIe x1 slots. The top slot is recommended for the audio card and if you install a double height graphics card in the top x16 slot, the x1 slot below it is rendered useless. Two blue PCI slots are also included for legacy cards, but we don't' see much use for PCI now, thanks to all devices moving to PCIe.
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