MSI uses a black PCB measuring 30x30cm, black boards from MSI are the signature of the Diamond line and in the past, the Premium lines. As for the layout, MSI has done quite a good job.
MSI has located the 24-pin ATX power connector, FDD and the 2 IDE connectors to the right hand side of the board behind the 4 DIMM sockets. This is the ideal placement to keep all the bulky cables in the once place. MSI also changes over from using a 4-pin 12v AUX connector to the new 8-pin EPS12v connector, however, you still can use the 4-pin PSU's on this board as the 8 pin connector is backwards compatible. The 8-pin connector is located between the bottom left of the CPU heatsink mount and the I/O ports. We would prefer to have this at the top of the heatsink mount; however, this location is good enough.
MSI uses a three phase voltage regulation system with switching type regulators to allow the BIOS full control over the voltage range. MSI doesn't use any cooling on the Mosfet's, which is a shame as these babies do tend to warm up quite a bit when under a lot of load.
The rear I/O panel is pretty standard for the MSI layout; in fact, most of the MSI premium lines of boards use this exact I/O panel. If you have a previous MSI Platinum board you won't need the new I/O shield.
The K8N Diamond Plus motherboard uses the nForce 4 SLI x16 chipset, the newest beast from nVidia. This chipset gives you a total of 32 PCI Express lanes for graphics cards alone; this means you get full speed PCI Express x16 slots. MSI uses a small interconnected heatpipe and fan design to keep the two chipsets as cool as possible - and this is especially great news for end-users who like to build quiet computers. That's right - nForce 4 SLI x16 is a two chip solutions. nVidia worked this by placing the extra 16 lanes on the Southbridge chipset and uses a 1600Mhz Hyper Transport link to connect the Northbridge to the Southbridge.
The expansion slots on the MSI K8N Diamond Plus uses 2 PCI Express x16 slots for the graphics cards running at full x16 speed, 2 PCI Express x1 slots, a Universal PCI Express x4 slot and 2 PCI slots. The PCI Express x4 slot supports an additional graphics card, however, the x4 slot only has two PCI Express lanes routed to it, so you won't get the full x4 speeds from this slot.
While the nForce 4 chipset gives you 4 SATA-II ports, MSI has added an extra two ports thanks to the Silicon Image 3132 PCI Express controller chip. These are colour coded dark blue SATA ports below the 4 purple Southbridge controlled ports.
Rather than using an AC'97 audio solution, MSI has gone the whole hog here and added in a Creative SoundBlaster Audigy SE controller chip. This gives you true hardware 7.1 Audio functions, Creative's EAX systema and all the goodies you expect from a Creative soundcard.
Last but not least is the VIA VT6306 PCI based Firewire controller chip. This baby gives 3 IEE1394a ports, one is located on the Rear I/O panel and the other two come from an included PCI riser bracket that plugs into green headers on the board.