By Jeff Bouton
October 26, 2003

Specifications & Features of the MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R
As Complete as it Gets.

CPU:
Supports 64-bit AMD Athlon64 processor (Socket 754)

Chipset:
VIA K8T800 Chipset
HyperTransport connection to AMD Next Generation of CPU
8 or 16 bit control/ address. data transfer both directions
800/600/400/200MHz "Double Data Rate" operation both direction
AGP v3.0 compliant with 8X transfer mode
VIA VT8237 Chipset
Ultra DMA 66/100/133 master mode EIDE controller
Integrated dual channel native Serial ATA/RAID controller that will supply 150MB/s and support RAID 0, RAID 1
ACPI & PC2001 compliant enhanced power management
Supports 8 USB2.0 ports. (Rear x4/ Front x4)

Main Memory:
Supports three 184-pin DDR SDRAMs up to 2GB memory size
Supports DDR400*/DDR333/DDR266 DDR SDRAM (*Refer to MSI recommended modules)
Note: PC3200 (DDR400) maximum 4 banks (2 double-sided) only
Due to the High Performance Memory design, motherboards or system configurations may or may not operate smoothly at the JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) standard settings (BIOS Default on the motherboard) such as DDR voltage, memory speeds and memory timing. Please confirm and adjust your memory setting in the BIOS accordingly for better system stability.
Example: Kingston HyperX DDR500 PC4000 operates at 2.65V, 3-4-4-8, CL=3.
For more information about specification of high performance memory modules, please check with your Memory Manufactures for more details.

SLOTS:
One AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) 1.5V 4x/8x slot
Five PCI 2.2 32-bit Master PCI Bus slots. (support 3.3v / 5v PCI bus interface)

BIOS:
The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and expansion cards of the board automatically.
The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface (DMI) function which records your mainboard specifications.

On-Board IDE:
An IDE controller on the VT8237 chipset provides IDE HDD/CD-ROM with PIO, Bus Master and Ultra DMA 66/100/133 operation modes. It can connect 4 Ultra ATA drives.
Serial ATA/150 controller integrated in VT8237
Up to 150MB/s transfer speed

Can connect up to 2 Serial ATA drives
Support RAID 0, RAID 1

Promise 20378 Onboard:
Supports ultra ATA, Serial ATA, Ultra ATA RAID 0 or 1, Serial ATA RAID 0 or 1, Ultra/ Serial ATA RAID 0+1
Connect up to 2 Serial ATA devices and 2 Ultra ATA 133 devices

IEEE1394:
VIA VT6307 IEEE1394 controller
Provides onboard one 6-pins port and one 4-pins port
Transfer rate up to 400Mbps

Audio:
6 Channel software audio codec Realtek ALC655
Compliance with AC97' v2.3 Spec
Meet PC2001 audio performance requirement
Provide onboard SPDIF out

Network:
Realtek 8110S Dual layout
Integrated Gigabit Ethernet MAC and PHY transceiver, auto-negotiation operation.
Supports single-port 10MB/s, 100MB/s, 1000MB/s Base-T application.
Compliance with PCIv2.2 and LAN on Motherboard (LOM) standard.

On-Board Peripherals:
1 floppy port supports 2 FDDs with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes
1 serial ports COM1
1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
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
1 IrDA connector for SIR/ASKIR/HPSIR

Dimension:
30.5 cm(L) x 24.5 cm(W) ATX Form Factor

Accessories:
D Bracket
2 Serial ATA Cables
Round Cable


The MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R Motherboard:

Built on a red PCB, indicative of an MSI product, the K8T Neo-FIS2R is a beautiful looking board.  The component placement is excellent and the feature set is equally impressive.  The board is designed around the VIA K8T800 chipset which is comprised of the K8T800 Northbridge and the VT8237 Southbridge.  The Northbridge supports up to 2GBs of DDR400 RAM with 3 DIMM slots while the AGP slot is AGP 3.0 compliant with 2.1GB/s of available bandwidth.  The VT8237 Southbridge supports up to four IDE devices as well as two SATA drives.  Additionally, the Southbridge can power up to 8 USB 2.0 ports with 4 located at the rear of the board and the rest available through 2 headers on the motherboard  The Promise 203978 on-board RAID controller offers support for 2 SATA drives and one ATA133 device.  The RAID can be configured with one ATA and one SATA drive or two SATA drives, although a total of 2 SATA and 2 IDE drives can be connected at the same time.   The Southbridge also provides SATA RAID support for 2 drives in either a RAID 0 or 1 configuration.

The on-board 6 channel audio is handled by the RealTel ALC655 codec.  Expansion brackets are provided that offer two S/PDIF connectors and optical/coaxial connections.  The RealTek 8110S chip handles on-board Gb LAN while VIA provides IEEE1394 with their 6307 chip.  To aid in stability with this board, MSI has implemented a number of techniques to help keep the system running smooth and stable.  The first thing they did was add heat sinks to the mosfets around the rear of the Socket 754 to keep heat levels under control.  What is less obvious but even more effective is the implementation of MSI's Core Cell technology.

The Core Cell Chip is designed to automatically monitor the systems current state and adjust the system accordingly.  By monitoring system temperatures, including the CPU, the Core Cell Chip adjusts system fan speeds based on load.  The Core Cell also works in conjunction with MSI's Core Center Software which provides a visual monitor of the current system status as well as enabling "Cool'n'Quiet" mode, throttling the system fans on demand.  Additionally, the Core Center works in conjunction with the BIOS to allow for overclocking on the fly from within Windows.  MSI's Dynamic Overclocking Technology (D.O.T.) can minimize the risks of overclocking by automatically adjusting the system for best performance.  The system monitors CPU load and dynamically increases the processor's speed when the CPU is heavily taxed, while reducing the speed to normal when the system doesn't need the extra power.  This feature offers the best of both worlds by only overclocking the system when needed, reducing unnecessary stress and temperature on critical components.

Along with the typical PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, the board sports 1 Serial and 1 LPT port.  Where the second serial port would be typically found, MSI opted to add one standard and one mini FireWire port.  A S/PDIF connection is mounted above one of the 3 rear USB 2.0 ports, while the other two are mounted under the integrated RJ-45 Gb LAN Jack.  The on-board audio has a total of six ports including Line-In, Line-Out, MIC, Rear Speaker, Center/Subwoofer Channel and S/PDIF-Out.  It's nice to see that MSI is moving away from utilizing multiple D-Brackets to supply the extra component connectors.  In the past you would have to give up as many as 3 PCI slots with their D-Brackets, but now they've reduced it to one while integrating the connections into the rear cluster.  Nice job.


The BIOS:

Along with its solid features on the outside, the MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R is also well equipped on the inside with its AMIBIOS.  The Advanced Chipset Features menu provided an ample selection of adjustments to hone memory and AGP performance.  There are some settings that may be unfamiliar, since they relate directly to the Athlon 64s HyperTransport Link.  The Memlock mode is used for limiting the clock speed of the memory, most useful in overclocking situations as well as when slower memory is installed into the system.  The operative word to remember is "limiting" since this setting will not increase the memory speed any higher than its rating.  Essentially it behaves just like a divider setting, but the values are registered in memory rating (ie: DDR266, DDR333, DDR400) rather than a ratio.  The PC Status Screen offers a window into the heart of the systems voltage and temperature readings, most importantly CPU temperature.

When it comes to overclocking, the Frequency/Voltage Control page is your first stop.  While not the most comprehensive selection of overclocking settings, MSI does equip the motherboard with the basic essentials to help achieve the best performance possible.  The system can be set to adjust the CPU FSB from 190MHz to 280MHz in 1MHz increments while the DDR voltages range from 2.6v to 2.8v.  The CPU core voltage tops out at +15% while AGP voltages can range from 1.6v to 1.85v.  The Dynamic Overclocking setting is where you can configure how aggressive the Core Cell and D.O.T dynamically increase clock speeds under load.
 

Overclocking with the MSI K8T Neo-FIS2R
Slow and Steady

As we saw with Marco's introduction to the Athlon 64, overclocking the Athlon 64, at the moment, isn't terribly exciting, nor is the process like anything we've seen before.  Instead of the bus being adjustable, what is represented as the bus is really a clock generator that is used to set the processor speed.  He also demonstrated that the Athlon 64 does have a bit of head room with some added performance to be found.  It seems with the integrated memory controller on the processor itself, standard performance benefits nicely when overclocked, but the processor become susceptible to instability more quickly as well. 

CPU @ 2GHz
CPU OVERCLOCKED @ 2.18GHz

With that said, we went ahead and started to increase the clock generator until the board failed to load properly.  At 220MHz we were able to boot into Windows but none of the benchmarks would run properly.  We adjusted both CPU and memory voltages as well as clocking the memory down to DDR 333, none of which had any effect.  Ultimately we found the sweet spot to be 218MHz which resulted in the processor running at 2.18GHz.  This resulted in an increase of 180MHz which equals a gain of 9%.