Good Things, Small Packages, Cliche Cliche

FedEX has been busy as of late delivering to my house, and today I received a gem from them. This micro-ATX motherboard based on the unreleased AMD 785G chipset is a shockingly complete motherboard with many high end components. Stuff usually relegated to full size ATX boards. Will this be the latest power-user micro-ATX board, and furthermore be the board of choice for HTPC users? More testing is needed to confirm that, but the first look is certainly impressive.
The AMD 785G chipset has been one of the worst kept secrets in some time, and while the official release is still some days away, we are seeing the first motherboards featuring this chipset hit the market.  Newegg had a couple of 785G boards for sale for about half a day before pulling them down, and several customers were able to get their hands on these “leaked” units.  While I cannot talk about the actual chipset itself, it is no secret that it is an entirely new product from the chipset folks at AMD.  DX10.1, improved UVD, and more performance in modern games are the hallmarks of the 785G chipset.

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A rather unassuming board by MSI standards.  No spaceships or scantily clad women to be seen.  I like it.

For many years I have had mixed feelings about MSI.  They put out some very interesting things, but oftentimes they cut a few corners here and there that, while making them more profitable, leaves a bad taste in mouths due to quality or reliability concerns.  It certainly seems that MSI is attempting to keep up with the Gigabyte’s and Asus’ of the world, and from what I am seeing with their latest motherboard products, corners are not being cut.  When I received the 785GM-E65 today, I was more than pleasantly surprised at the seeming quality of the build and components that were used with this board.  The overall design, layout, and spacing is also quite pleasant considering that this IS a micro-ATX motherboard.

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The contents are minimal, and don’t expect a floppy cable to be included.

The board is a true AM3 product, and it only supports AM3 CPUs and DDR-3 up to 1600 MHz.  It utilizes the SB710 southbridge, which contains all of the same features as the more expensive SB750, except without the support for RAID 5.  It features 5 internal SATA ports, and 1 e-SATA port on the backplane.  It features 6 USB ports on the backplane, and another 3 USB headers on the motherboard itself (for a total of 12 possible USB ports).

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The power circuitry does not feature MSI’s Dr.MOS technology, but it still is a pretty beefy 4+1 phase array.  All caps on the board are solid/polymer and the chokes are the ferrite core units.  While not as exciting as 8+2 units, fitting that onto a micro-ATX board, while completely fleshing it out at the same time, could prove to be impossible.

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140 watt CPU ready means that this board can actually handle the older Phenom X4 9950 chips.  This could potentially mean some good overclocking for the 125 watt and below Phenom IIs and derivatives.

The heatsinks are also a pleasant surprise.  The southbridge is covered by a basic unit, which is about all it needs as the SB710 was never really a hot running chip.  The northbridge and MOSFET sink are a bit beefier and connected with a heatpipe.  The heatsinks are finished in a pleasant pewter color which complements the rest of the motherboard color choices.

The backplate features the aforementioned 6 USB ports, as well as 1 PS2 keyboard/mouse port, optical SPDIF port, DB-15 (VGA), DVI, HDMI, Firewire, e-SATA, Gig-E, and 6 analog audio plugs.  The HDMI port is of great interest because of the upgraded 785G, which is now HDMI 1.3 compliant and can support 8 PCM streams.  HTPC buffs can stop licking their chops now.

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MSI could not fit another thing onto their backplane, no matter how big the shoehorn or how much KY Jelly used.

Firewire is provided by a VIA chip, while the ethernet duties are taken up by the Realtek PCI-E 8111L controller.  The Realtek ALC889 is handling the audio, and it appears to come with full Dolby Digital Encoding as well as full Blu-Ray audio support (Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoding).

Perhaps the most interesting little feature about this board is the inclusion of a dipswitch which controls FSB overclocking.  There are four settings which can take the FSB from stock speed, up through 10%, 15%, and 20% overclock.  While the FSB can be controlled in the BIOS as well, it is interesting to see a motherboard manufacturer go back to dipswitch overclocking.  I thought we got over that after the K6 and Athlon days?  Still, an interesting little wrinkle that could appeal to a certain group of people.

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That little red dipswitch should remind users of a simpler time.

Performance numbers and a deeper look into the features of the board will have to wait for a few days until the official 785G embargo date is passed.  Until then, enjoy the view of this very interesting little board from MSI.