K8T-Neo FIS2R Motherboard Review (BIOS V1.2)
For this review, the BIOS (version 1.2) were used. Always check motherboard reviews to see which BIOS was used during the review process.
Micro-Star International Co., Ltd., is one of the worldwide leaders in motherboards. They have been churning out motherboards, graphics cards, optical storage devices, and much more for nearly 16 years. Nonetheless, as recently as a few years ago I had no idea who MSI was as they had not entered the North American market. I first came across MSI from a friend that built a computer using one of their motherboards. Since then it has made huge strides and is among the most popular motherboard makers for AMD and Intel chipsets.
We are taking a look at one of the first motherboards MSI produced for the AMD Athlon 64 line of processors, the MSI K8T-Neo FIS2R. It is a Socket 754 motherboard based on the VIA K8T800 chipset. For our review, we will use our AMD Athlon 64 3000+, which we reviewed some time ago.
I actually purchased this motherboard as a combo with my Athlon 64 3000+ on Boxing Day week for a good price. The box is bigger than usual and is very attractive with a green color scheme and information regarding the motherboard and its features all around the packaging. There is a reason why the MSI K8T-Neo FIS2R’s box was big. MSI bundles many items, including:
The layout of the MSI K8T-Neo FIS2R is very open and eye-catching. The board is a very sexy red color that will look great in windowed cases. The motherboard layout is clean, simple, and has good space between connections.
The motherboard has a passive heatsink on the VIA chipset and even heatsinks cooling the MOSFETS, something you usually don’t see. Unfortunately, the VIA 8237 chip on the lower right is not covered. While it shouldn’t need one to operate, it’s nice to cool it anyway :)
The AGP slot has the clip lock at the end that locks the video card into place and prevents it from coming off when transporting your computer.
The ATX connector is in an excellent place on the right, which I liked. However, the 4-pin P4 connector is on the left and it makes the system look unorganized, as the wires have to cross the motherboard. Like the ATX connector, they should be on the right. You also have four 3-pin fan headers on the motherboard and the USB connectors are near the bottom. One of the things I like is the motherboard header located in the lower right hand corner. These are color coded which makes them easy to plug in speakers, HDD LED light, and more.
One of the things that bothered me is that MSI should have placed the chipset under the retention frame area a bit lower. You never know if an add-on heatsink will be big enough to reach the side of the chipset heatsink.
I also have no idea why MSI chose not to cut out those four extra-uncut holes around the retention frame area. These holes are used for extra support in waterblocks that can utilize them for more pressure in each corner and it would much neater for MSI to have gone ahead and done the cutting.
As I noted, the MSI K8T-Neo FIS2R supports AMD Athlon 64 line of processors that have 754 pins, the Socket 754 platform. Currently those processors are the 3000+, 3200+ and 3400+. The board is driven by the VIA K8T800 chipset in which the HyperTransport operates at a frequency of 800MHz. AGP 8x is supported.
The VIA VT8237 is capable of handling four IDE Hard Drives (2 IDE slots onboard) and two SATA Hard Drives in RAID 0 and RAID 1. A bonus with this motherboard is the fact that not only can the VIA chipset do SATA RAID, but MSI goes to the length of adding in a second SATA controller based on the Promise 20378 which can also handle up to two SATA Hard Drives in either RAID 0 or RAID 1. Just to note that both RAID solutions are software based and not hardware based. The same Promise controller can handle two IDE Hard Drives (1 IDE connector onboard).
The MSI K8T-Neo FIS2R has five PCI 2.2 slots to boot. FireWire is made possible by the VIA VT6307 controller and is capable of pushing up to 400Mbps. This is a great addition for folks doing digital video as most use FireWire. Most motherboards do not have FireWire at all so this is great to see one integrated on the board.
In the audio aspect of things, the MSI K8T-Neo FIS2R has integrated 6-channel software audio by Realtek and includes a SPDIF port. While not the best sound card, it certainly is not the worse and it’s good to have it ready to go.
The Realtek 8110S controls the onboard networking. The onboard Ethernet port is a Gigabit Ethernet port which future proofs you. It supports 10/100/1000 MB/s Base-T applications. This is an obviously bonus as broadband improves.
Other On-Board Peripherals include 1 floppy port, 1 serial port COM1, 1 parallel port, 8 USB 2.0 ports (Rear x 4 / Front x 4), 5 audio ports in vertical (Left, Center, Right, Line-in, MIC), 1 SPDIF out, 2 IEEE 1394 connectors, 1 RJ-45 jack, and 1 IrDA connector for SIR/ASKIR/HPSIR.
You are getting a motherboard, which contains not only the basic components but also many more neatly integrated features.
There are many options in the BIOS but I will go over the ones that have significant meaning to overclocking potential. In the Frequency/Voltage Control menu is where you will want to up the voltage in either the CPU/DDR/AGP areas. The CPU VCore settings ranges from 1.4V - 1.55V (higher voltages are desired in this area) this lowered my maximum overclock. The DDR voltages ranges from 2.55V - 2.85V which is pretty good and lastly you can up the voltages of your AGP (if you ever need to) from 1.55V - 1.85V.
In the Advanced Chipset Features menu is where you can tweak everything from memory timings to the HyperTransport settings.
The other areas are pretty much standard options but there is a good amount of things you can change. This is not a basic BIOS by any means.
CoreCell and CoreCenter
The CoreCell chip on the MSI Neo-FIS2R is a chip that does many things. It allows the motherboard to automatically diagnose the adequate parameters of the PC system. It also utilizes a couple of neat programs that allow the system to function on optimum performance. CoreCell is composed of 4 features: Speedster (for overclocking), PowerPro (for power management and saving), LifePro (for temperature control with a smart fan) and BuzzFree (for noise management). These are utilities that allow the user to clearly work with system features.
CoreCenter is a small utility that packs a couple of performance features. It displays the CPU and system temperatures that can be controlled according to current system loading and needs. CoreCenter also monitors RPM readings from the motherboard fan headers and allows for on the fly overclocking. There are numerous voltage readings for the power supply and the motherboard. You can tweak many things including voltage selection and increasing the frequency adjustable range of the CPU/AGP/DDR/PCI. These are one of the best utilities MSI has to offer.
Another program worth noting is LiveUpdate. LiveUpdate is a utility for MSI motherboards that automatically checks for new drivers, new bios revisions, and new related CoreCell programs to download. The BIOS update can be done through Windows and this is good if you don’t have a floppy or you are just plain scared of DOS. I have tried it and it works brilliantly.
Let’s get underway with testing on the MSI Neo-FIS2R. It will consist of these benchmarks.
As you can see, these are impressive numbers. One of the things I want to point out is the Peripheral speed of the EasyHardDisk 30GB drive. It has a healthy increase over the score of about 8000+ when it was reviewed on the older nForce 2 motherboard. All the other benchmark numbers are equally as inviting and very fast. In real world applications such as games, the motherboard shines. Games are silky smooth and not herky jerky such as what happens on the nForce 2 platform.
As for the memory performance, the Athlon 64 line easily achieves 3K in it's memory performance benchmark.
For the HD TACH benchmark, please note the real CPU Utilization is around 10 percent-ish. The 22.8% you see is not a real number because I had some programs running in the background. Around 10% of CPU Utilization is still a tad high but that is because the motherboard's SATA connections are software based.
I have had this motherboard for around 3 months and the MSI K8T-Neo FIS2R has met my expectations for what I want from a motherboard. It is quick, stable and very capable. It can be found for as low as 120USD. Please make sure you purchase compatible memory with the MSI K8T-Neo FIS2R because it is somewhat picky, such as with some Corsair modules that are aggressive on timings so be aware of this.
The software VIA Raid controller is very fast and handles everything with ease.
Overall, this is a very good motherboard with some feature-packed options not found on some motherboards and does all this for a really good price.