Conclusions and Final Thoughts
Looking at two of these motherboards at once sure does complicate the reviewing process, adding a whole new element. How do these two products compare to each other and how do they compare to other AM2 chipsets on sale today?
The performance on the ECS and MSI XPress 3200 motherboards is about what we expected to find. Because the memory controllers are in the CPU, as they have been since the Athon 64 was launched years ago, the impact that the motherboard core logic has on performance is somewhat minimal. That being said, because of the small BIOS issues that popped up in our ECS KA3 MVP motherboard (namely the initial lack of CAS latency and command rate settings) the ECS motherboard performed slightly slower than the MSI K9A Platinum motherboard. With the new BIOS that ECS provided us with, however, I would fully expect to see the ECS motherboard catch up with both the MSI K9A and the nForce 590 SLI chipset motherboards as well.
Speaking of the NF590 SLI chipset, there are a couple of places where the NVIDIA chipset is a slightly higher performer compared to the ATI XPress 3200 chipset. In the USB and FireWire performance tests, as well as in SPECviewperf, the NF590 SLI had noticeably and consistently higher scores. If these areas are of particular interest to you or your computing needs, then either platform is going to perform well enough with the AM2 platform to make great systems
Overclocking / BIOS
In comparing the two BIOS of the ECS KA3 MVP and the MSI K9A Platinum, MSI definitely gets the thumbs up with a more complete and better organized system. After the BIOS update that ECS sent to us after our initial testing (and thus probably won’t come with retail boards), the ECS motherboard did have the CAS latency and command rate timings that would have made it a very incomplete BIOS without them.
In all honesty though, after using the NF590 SLI motherboards like the Foxconn and Asus models, and even ATI’s own XPress 3200 reference boards, the overclocking options and organization of the BIOS’ on both the ECS and MSI seemed very lackluster. There weren’t any profile options or high voltage settings or anything else that really made it stand out from the crowd of any other enthusiast motherboard on the market.
As far as features go, the ECS KA3 MVP takes the win here from the MSI motherboard because it adds the additional SATA channels, external SATA dongle and nifty Top Hat flash device. Neither MSI or ECS have the same feel as the Asus Crosshair or Asus Deluxe motherboards that have a “complete package” kind of polish to them where everything you could possibly need for your new system build is included in the box.
Pricing and Availability
As of this writing, both the ECS KA3 MVP and the MSI K9A Platinum are available at various online retailers. The ECS KA3 MVP can be found starting at around $145 and the MSI K9A Platinum is priced around $150 online as well. Priced so similarly, its hard to give one the edge in this category, but both have a leg up on the likes of the Asus Crosshair and M2N32-SLI motherboards that are priced upwards of $200 to start.
If you are looking for a new CrossFire setup on the AMD platform, you are going to be looking at these two motherboards using the ATI Radeon XPress 3200 chipset. Both have their strengths, but the MSI K9A Platinum is a slightly better choice in our opinion due to the minor BIOS and layout quirks that we didn’t like on the ECS KA3 MVP. Both boards are a slight let down after the strength of the ATI reference board and the first Socket 939 motherboards based on the XPress 3200 chipsets. Both might gain a lot of ground with steady BIOS updates, but neither manufacturer has shown signs of taking this route either. ATI needs to be pushing vendors to get with the program so their platforms can compete with NVIDIA and make their CrossFire technology more widespread.
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