There are several changes to this motherboard layout that make it stand out from the standard motherboard layout we are used to seeing.
(Click to Enlarge)
First, you’ll notice that the orientation of the memory slots has changed from vertical to horizontal and that they have moved to the top of the PCB. Also note that the DIMM installation method for this board is sequential: you put the memory modules in directly after each other as the two channels of memory are not separated by spacing but rather by color. Channel A is green and channel B is purple. This is a deviation from what we are used to seeing on dual channel memory motherboards.
The Socket 939 is placed almost in the center of the board layout, where we would usually see the north bridge chipset. However, the nForce3 Ultra chipset is a single chip solution, and thus the layout is more malleable. There is ample room for all the heatsinks we have tested in house here and of course any fansink that uses the default AMD retention system will fit perfectly fine. The Zalman heatsink did cause a small issue with the IDE cables coming from the right of the processor socket, but they were minor and only required a slight installation complexity.
The image above gives window to two points I want to address. First, notice that though this board has 4 SATA channels, there are only two in this image, where you would normally see all the storage options available. Referencing the full image above, you can see that two of them are in fact located above the AGP slot, to the left of the processor. MSI’s reasoning for doing this is really up in the air at this point. It could be to allow the SATA cables that are notorious for being short to have a longer reach up for larger cases, or it could be that they simply ran out of room on the crowded south side of the board layout.
The other issue here is the placement of the AGP retention clip and the chipset fansink. You can tell that they are very close to making contact and this caused me some frustration when it came to uninstalling my graphics cards. On most boards I can simply push my finger under the video cards PCB and push the retention mechanism down to pop out the card, but in this case I can’t push down as the heatsink prevents my finger from doing so. In order to remove the card I had to use a small flat head screw driver and come in from either the side of the back of the card and use it to push the clip down. It is these small items that can drive you crazy the quickest when installing a motherboard.
MSI has included two Gigabit LAN connections, but neither of them courtesy of the on-board NVIDIA MAC. They are instead powered by the Marvell and Realtek chipsets. The 7.1 channel audio that you see with all the built in outputs is also powered by Realtek and their ALC850 codec.