The MSI 648 Max Motherboard Review
Great Performance at a Great Price...

By, Robert Maloney
October 23, 2002

Increased competition often leads to technological advancement at a faster rate than normal, because one company constantly tries to out-do another.  This result of this competition usually leads to the end-user being rewarded with new products, at progressively lower prices.  With Intel and VIA still duking it out over the VIA P4X series of chipset's legality, and Intel's slower adoption of new technology like DDR333 and ATA/133, SiS has taken this opportunity to release the feature rich 648 chipset.  Early word was that boards based on the SIS648 would give even RDRAM based boards a run for their money.  The early samples we tested showed much promise, but we were very eager to find out how retail ready products performed.

The 648 Max from MSI is the second such board to land in the H.H. labs.  MSI has long been known for incorporating the latest technology into their motherboards, and we were not disappointed when we saw the 648 Max's feature set.  This board supports 533MHz FSB Pentium 4 CPUs, DDR333 memory (with unofficial DDR400 support), as well as AGP 8x, based on the new AGP 3.0 standard.  For connectivity with other PCs and devices, it supports USB 2.0, 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet and Bluetooth.  While Bluetooth is still a relatively untapped resource, the sheer numbers of devices in the pipeline that can take advantage of this technology show that it will probable one day be a necessity on all PCs.  To complete the package, onboard 5.1 audio is also provided, making this a very well rounded motherboard, that should appeal to many users.  The only feature we feel was missing was IDE RAID.  Let's take a look at the specifics:

Specifications / Features of the MSI 648 Max
SiS is back with a vengeance


CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

CPU
Supports single socket Intel Pentium 4 Socket 478 processors with 400/533 MHz Front Side Bus

Core frequency from 1.3GHz to 2.8GHz and up

Chipset
SiS 648 chipset Northbridge (839 pin BGA)
Supports Intel Pentium 4 processors with data transfer rate up to 533MHz
Supports 64-bit high performance DDR333+ / DDR333 / DDR memory controller
Supports AGP 8X/4X interface at 0.8v or 4X at 1.5v with fast write transaction
Supports bi-directional 16-bit data bus with 1GHz bandwidth MuTIOL
 

SiS 963 Southbridge (371 BGA)
Supports Dual-IDE ATA 66/100/133
Integrated audio controller withAC97 interface
Low pin count interface for SIO
Advanced power management and PC2001 compliance

Bus Frequency
533/400 MHz system bus

Memory
Supports three memory banks using three 184-pin unbuffered DDR DIMM on three memory DIMM slots
Supports up to 3GB memory size without EEC
Supports DDR200/266/333MHz and up

IDE
 
Dual IDE controllers integrated in SiS 963
Support P/O, Bus Master, Ultra DMA66/100/133 operation
Can connect up to four IDE devices


Audio
AC97 link controller integrated in SiS 963
6 channels software audio codec RealTek ALC650
Compliance withAC97 v2.2 Spec.
Meet PC2001 audio performance requirement
Can support SPDIF Out via S-Bracket only

System BIOS
2Mb Award BIOS w/ PnP, ACPI, SMBIOS 2.3, Green and Boot Block
Provides DMI2.0, WfM2.0, WOL, WOR, chassis intrusion, and SMBus for system management

Expansion Slots
One 8X/4X AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) universal slot
Six PCI v2.2 32-bit master PCI bus slots

LAN
Broadcom 4401
Integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet MAC and PHY in one chip
Supports 10Mb/s and 100Mb/s auto-negotiation operation
Compliance with PCI v2.2, mini PCI 1.0 and LAN on Motherboard (LOM) standard.

Internal I/O Connectors
1 floppy port supports 2 FDDs with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes
2 serial ports (COM A + COM B)
1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
1 IrDA connector for SIR/ASKIR/HPSIR
1 RJ-45 LAN jack (optional)
1 audio port
1 Bluetooth pin header
1 S-Bracket pin header
1 D-Bracket 2 pin header
6 USB 2.0 ports (4 Rear/2 Front)

Back Panel I/O
2 PS/2 connectors (keyboard and mouse)
2 9-pin Serial port
1 25-pin SPP/ECP/EPP Parallel port
4 USB 2.0 ports
3 Audio connectors (Line-out, Line-in, Mic-in)
1 Gigabit LAN port

Miscellaneous

ATX form factor
30.5 cm(L) x 22 cm(W)
Six mounting holes


Package Contents
MSI 648 Max Motherboard
Drivers and Utilities CD
Installation Manual
ATA 133 IDE Cable
Floppy Cable
D-Bracket2 (Optional)
S-Bracket (Optional)

I/O shield
MSI Case Badge

Special Features
Fuzzy Logic 4
Live BIOS / Live Driver
Live Monitor


The 648 chipset from SiS is a slight upgrade from the 645.  The major changes being the addition of AGP 8x support as well as a memory divider for PC3200 memory (DDR400).  The Northbridge connects to the Southbridge using a 16-bit bridge running at 533MHz, which offers total bandwidth of 1 GB/s.  Although there is a divider for DDR400 memory speeds, the board officially supports up to DDR333 SDRAM only.  As we mentioned earlier, the AGP interface supports AGP 4x / 8x video boards with Fast Write transactions.  Below is a block diagram of the SiS 648/963 chipset, showing its other features including ATA/133 support, USB 2.0, FireWire and 5.1 channel audio.

 

        
CLICK ANY IMAGE FOR AN ENLARGED VIEW

The MSI 648 Max is short on add-ons, but it covers the basics nicely.  Opening the metallic green box, we found the familiar MSI red PCB.  We also found a floppy cable, a single ATA/133 80-Wire IDE cable, a driver and utilities CD and an MSI case badge.  The two brackets shown in the pictures on the right are called the "S-Bracket" and the "D-Bracket 2".  The S-Bracket can be used in conjunction with the on-board audio, providing two more output jacks, one for the rear speakers and the other for a center channel or subwoofer.  There are also two S/PDIF jacks at the bottom supporting both Optical and Coaxial connections.  The D-Bracket 2 fulfills two different purposes.  There are four LEDs that can be used to diagnose hardware related problems without opening the chassis.  The LEDs light up in either green or red, and can generate up to 16 different error codes.  There are also two more USB 2.0 ports on the brackets.  If Bluetooth connectivity is enabled, however, only one of the two USB ports can be used, hence the blue sticker placed over the top port.

The BIOS, Layout and Quality