Starting with the expansion layout, MSI has chosen to use a 1/5/1 (AGP/PCI/Riser) design. They have used this on just about all of their feature packed motherboards to date; MSI believes that with the extras they have added you won't need so many PCI slots. the CNR slot nowadays is a waste of PCB space that could have been replaced with that extra PCI slot or just removed to save PCB real estate.
MSI has chosen for this particular board SiS' latest P4 creation, the SiS 645DX chipset. The 645DX is directly related to the 645 with all the features that it introduced and with an enhanced memory controller giving it even more power. The main difference between the 645 and 645DX is the official support of the 533FSB. This means you can run any Intel 478 CPU on this board, including the Intel Celeron and Pentium 4B CPU. Coupling it with the 961B Southbridge gives you ATA-133 IDE support, support for up to six USB ports (MSI has elected to use only four; this saved on bandwidth since USB 1.1 is becoming outdated), Rev 2.2 AC'97 codec for 6-channel audio to name a few features. The entire assembly is cooled by a passive cooling solution from MSI on the Northbridge. SiS' 645DX chipset does not generate much heat at all which makes it a good candidate for overclocking of memory and chipset components.
Realtek Networking - Onboard Support for Broadband
MSI has added to their already impressive looking board a Realtek RTL8101L 10/100 Fast Ethernet controller chip. This chip is identical in design to the 8139C chips used on many network cards. This allows you to connect to a home or office LAN system or, if you have broadband cable or DSL, you can hook it straight into the motherboard; no external cards needed.
USB 2.0; A Must Have
In today's fast digital-data world, to have a successful motherboard requires you to have one of two things onboard. Either USB 2.0 support or Firewire. MSI has filled this requirement by adding the NEC USB 2.0 controller chip. MSI has been adding this chip for quite some time and it has proven itself to be about the best of the USB 2.0 controller chips currently available.
Achip RAID - No Promise?
Well, this is a change of pace. Normally we are used to seeing MSI motherboards paired with the Promise ATA-133 RAID controller chip. MSI has gone a different way this time, though, having added the Achip ATA-133 RAID controller. We haven't seen anything of Achip until this point, but since we didn't have our RAID disks available for this review, we won't comment on the RAID side of things yet.
AC'97 Advance Audio - What Happened to Hardware?
MSI has elected with this board to keep the price at a minimum. To this end, they have chosen not to use the C-Media 6ch audio controller chip, but to use the SiS 701 AC'97 Audio codec combined with Realtek's 6ch Audio processing system in it's place. This gives you reasonably good 6-channel audio, but it can't replace a hardware sound card. It does fill in the void if you don't have a hardware sound card with you, though.
Cooling the Board - Voltage Regulators Get Heatsinks
All I can say is It's about time. MSI has finally added some large passive cooling sinks to the Mosfets and regulators to keep them cool when running at overclocked speeds. This comes in very handy for delivering stable voltage to the CPU.
Overclocking the MSI 645E Max2 is a relatively painless affair. All your options are located in a new look AMI BIOS setup, and I am pleased to say that this AMI BIOS setup is one of a kind and has certainly come quite a long way from the older styles. Under the Frequency Control options menu in the BIOS you get your overclocking settings. While there are a few, they are still a bit limited. MSI needs to address this issue.
First for overclocking is your CPU Front Side Bus. You can set your FSB speed from 100MHz to 200MHz in 1MHz increments. Second you have the CPU voltage. This is where things get a bit restrictive. MSI only allows you to go +0.1v over standard. So if you have a Northwood CPU that uses 1.5v, then your maximum Vcore is 1.6v. This does tend to limit overclocking, but as most of us know, the Northwood doesn't need a huge amount of voltage for a good overclock. Third on the list is the AGP voltage. Here you can set your AGP voltage from 1.5v to 1.8v. A very attractive option for video card overclocking. Fourth and finally is DIMM voltage. You can set your DDR SDRAM voltage from 2.5v to 2.8v. This is well within the limits of acceptability.