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MSI Eclipse Plus Intel X58 Express Motherboard Review

MSI Eclipse Plus Intel X58 Express Motherboard Review - PCSTATS
Abstract: As MSI Computer knows, sometimes overkill is a good thing. This seems to be the philosophy behind the MSI X58 Eclipse Plus motherboard - a jet black beauty built around Intel's X58 Express and ICH10R chipsets for the Intel Core i7 family of socket 1366 processors.
 95% Rating:   
Filed under: Motherboards Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: MSI Jan 04 2010   Julian Apong  
Home > Reviews > Motherboards > MSI Eclipse Plus

Intel X58 Express / nForce 200 Chipsets and Power Draw Tests

Intel's X58 Express chipset is a big departure from the way Intel has designed their core logic for the past five or so years.

The biggest change is the removal of the Front Side Bus, which used to be the communications path that let the CPU, northbridge and memory send data to one another.

The replacement for the Front Side Bus is called Quick Path Interconnect, and it runs directly from the X58 northbridge to the Core i7 CPU. This new data interface reduces the amount of congestion and bottle necking that the FSB could cause in previous Intel chipsets. The QPI for Intel's X58 chipset can support up to 6.4 giga transfers/second per direction, for a total of 12.8GB/s of aggregate bandwidth.

So if QPI is connecting the CPU and the northbridge together, how is the memory communicating with anything? Well, Intel has taken a page from AMD's book, and has placed the memory controller on the processor, instead of making the northbridge responsible for it. This reduces overall memory latency and frees up system bandwidth.

Currently, for all of QPI's dramatic changes from traditional FSB-based architecture, it still operates very much like Intel's previous chipsets, and most won't notice that the memory controller has migrated. However QPI's nature as a point-to-point interface (instead of a bottleneck-prone all encompassing 'stream', the way FSB is), open up possibilities for it to be used in multi-processor systems, where two physical processors can be used on a single motherboard, both of them connecting to an I/O core logic chipset like the X58 simultaneously through a pair of QPI links. This is all in the future for desktop computers, although dual and quad-socket server boards designed for Nehalem-based Xeon processors are already starting to appear.

The Intel Core i7's memory controller supports DDR3 memory only, with official support for speeds of PC3-6400 and PC3-8500 memory (also known as DDR3-800 and DDR3-1066), optimized for triple-channel bandwidth. On certain motherboards like the MSI Eclipse Plus, it's possible to use faster DDR3-1333 memory. The total memory capacity for the Intel X58 Express chipset is 24GB.

An important note about DDR3 memory - watch the voltages! Running DDR3 voltages above 1.65v can cause permanent CPU damage over time. Since some DDR3 modules that were designed for older chipsets natively require higher voltages, it's wise to be very careful about memory choices when you're setting up an Intel X58 motherboard.

Intel Chipsets Feature Breakdown
Intel X58 Express Intel X48 Express Intel X38 Express Intel 975X Express Intel P35 Express
CPU LGA 1366 Core i7 LGA775 Core 2 Quad LGA775 Core 2 Duo LGA775 Core 2 Duo LGA775 Core 2 Duo
Front Side Bus (FSB)/QPI 6.4 GT/S 1600/1333/1066/800 MHz 1333/1066/800 MHz 1066/800 MHz 1333/1066/800 MHz
Intel XMP Memory Yes Yes Yes No No
Memory Support DDR3 1066/800 DDR3 1600 (XMP)
/1333/1066/800
DDR2 1066/800/667
DDR3 1333(unofficial)/1066/800
DDR2 800/667/533 DDR2 1066/800/667
DDR3 1333(unofficial)/1066/800
Maximum Memory Capacity 24GB 8GB 8GB 8GB 8GB
Integrated Graphics - - - - -
PCI Express 2.0 x16 2 2 2 2 1
PCI Express x1 6 6 4 4 6
Intel Matrix Storage Technology Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
SATA/IDE HDD 6/0 6/0 6/0 4/1 6/0
SATA Speed 3GB/s 3Gb/s 3Gb/s 3Gb/s 3Gb/s
RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 (with ICH10R) 0, 1, 5, 10 (with ICH9R) 0, 1, 5, 10 (with ICH9R) 0, 1, 5, 10 (with ICH7R) 0, 1, 5, 10 (with ICH9R)
Hard Drive NCQ Yes Yes Yes - Yes
USB 2.0 Ports 12 12 12 8 12
PCI Masters 6 6 6 6 6
Audio High Definition Audio (Azalia) High Definition Audio (Azalia) High Definition Audio (Azalia) High Definition Audio (Azalia) High Definition Audio (Azalia)

The Intel X58 Express chipset has 36 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth that can be divided into different combinations to power PCI Express slots depending on the motherboard configuration. The MSI Eclipse Plus takes this a step further and adds in the NVIDIA nForce 200 SLI processor.

The most important job of the nForce 200 chipset is enabling NVIDIA's Scalable Link Interface. If you're an NVIDIA fan, you likely already know that SLI lets you run multiple Geforce graphics cards together, and that up until now SLI was limited to NVIDIA chipsets only. The nForce 200 SLI processor changes all that, allowing both two and three-way SLI configurations in conjunction with the Intel X58 chipset.

This secondary NVIDIA chip does a few other things to augment the abilities of the Intel X58 chipset. The nForce 200 is a bridge chip that sits on one of the Intel X58 chipset's PCI Express 2.0 x16 bandwidth lanes, and doubles the front-end connectivity to the videocards to 32 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 bandwidth.

Since the nForce 200 SLI processor introduces more connectivity to videocards than it can communicate to the Intel X58 chipset, there's a bandwidth bottleneck when running three videocards at x16 bandwidth. MSI takes the remaining x4 lanes of bandwidth from the X58 and uses them in a fourth PCI Express x16 slot.

This effectively means that the MSI Eclipse Plus, along with other Intel X58 + nForce 200 motherboards, lets you plug in three PCI Express x16 slots for a total front-end of 48 + 4 lanes of PCI Express bandwidth, but the chipset still only has enough width to accept 36 lanes.

I'm not particularly happy about this configuration for a couple of reasons. The nVidia NF200 SLI processor is a little misleading about how much bandwidth it actually offers, it's effectively an x16/x8/x8 connection. Having an additional processor to go through on the PCI Express pipeline will also introduce some latency, which will always have a negative impact on performance. Finally, it adds to the overall price of the motherboard, and the MSI Eclipse is expensive enough as it is.

There continue to be six PCI Express lanes associated with the ICH10/R Southbridge. Between the Intel P45 Express Express Northbridge and ICH10/R Southbridge is a dedicated 2GB/s Direct Media Interface (DMI).

The Intel ICH10R Southbridge chipset supports six 3GB/s Serial ATA II channels (RAID modes 0, 1, 5 and 10) as well a 7.1 channel Intel high definition audio, 12 USB 2.0 ports, six PCI Express x1 lanes, and an integrated Intel GigABIT MAC that runs through the PCI Express bus. Parallel/IDE has been dropped completely, so you're out of luck if you want to plug in legacy optical drives or hard disks.

The MSI Eclipse supplements the MSI Eclipse Plus' storage capabilities with a pair of JMicron JMB322 controllers, each of which control two SATA ports in RAID 0, 1 and JBOD modes. There's also a JMicron JMB362 controller that powers a pair of eSATA ports, which can also operate in RAID 0, 1 and JBOD modes.Now that we covered all of that, it's time for some power testing and overclocking action!

System Power Draw

Energy efficient computers are a good thing, so it helps to know how power efficient, or power hungry different parts of a computer are when stressed with different tasks. Since it is very difficult to isolate a videocard or CPU and measure power draw separately, PCSTATS measures total system power draw with the aid of an Extech 380803 AC Power Analyzer and A-PFC compliant PC Power and Cooling 750W power supply. The meter is placed between the 120V AC outlet and the PC power supply.

Total System Power Draw
MSI X58 Eclipse Plus Motherboard

Graphics Solution

Idle CPU Loaded


nVidia Geforce GTS250
(Discrete Graphics)

157W 225W
(At desktop) (via Prime95)

By stressing the test platform's graphics solution or processor, it's then possible to measure power draw relative to the PC at an idle state. The test system is measured at Idle (Windows desktop), Graphics Loaded (3Dmark06) and CPU Loaded (Prime 95) states.

PCSTATS Benchmark ReportSystem Power Draw Tests: (PCPower 750W PSU)
Desktop Idle (W) Points Ranking
Asus Striker II NSE (NF 790i SLI 333/1066 GF 8800GTS 320MB) 138
MSI X58 Platinum (X58 133/1066) 145
MSI Eclipse Plus (X58 133/1066) 157
Asus P5E3 Premium/wifi (X48 333/1333) 140
Gigabyte GA-X48DS5 (X48 333/1066) 151
Gigabyte GA-EP45-DQ6 (P45 333/1066) 145.5
ECS P45T-A (P45 333/800) 146
Biostar TPower I45 (P45 333/1066) 126.6
Asus P5Q-EM (Intel G45 200/800 C2D E6750 GF 8800GTS 320MB) 131
Prime95 Stressed (W) Points Ranking
Asus Striker II NSE (NF 790i SLI 333/1066 GF 8800GTS 320MB) 176
MSI X58 Platinum (X58 133/1066) 217
MSI Eclipse Plus (X58 133/1066) 225
Asus P5E3 Premium/wifi (X48 333/1333) 187
Gigabyte GA-X48DS5 (X48 333/1066) 197
Gigabyte GA-EP45-DQ6 (P45 333/1066) 197.7
ECS P45T-A (P45 333/800) 196
Biostar TPower I45 (P45 333/1066) 183.8
Asus P5Q-EM (Intel G45 200/800 C2D E6750 GF 8800GTS 320MB) 182

System power draw is quite high for the MSI Eclipse Plus motherboard, although that's to be expected given the Core i7's four cores and hyperthreading capabilities. Compared to the only other motherboard on our test bench, the MSI X58 Platinum, the overall system power draw isn't significantly more, and can be attributed to the many extra system controllers included with the MSI Eclipse Plus system.

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Contents of Article: MSI Eclipse Plus
 Pg 1.  MSI Eclipse Plus Intel X58 Express Motherboard Review
 Pg 2.  Performance Tuning Features and Controls
 Pg 3.  Motherboard Highlights Photo Gallery
 Pg 4.  — Intel X58 Express / nForce 200 Chipsets and Power Draw Tests
 Pg 5.  Overclocking and BIOS Screenshots
 Pg 6.  Motherboard Benchmarks: SYSmark 2007
 Pg 7.  Motherboard Benchmarks: PCMark Vantage
 Pg 8.  Motherboard Benchmarks: Sandra 2008 Processor
 Pg 9.  Motherboard Benchmarks: Sandra 2008 Memory
 Pg 10.  Motherboard Benchmarks: 3DMark Vantage, 3DMark 06
 Pg 11.  Motherboard Benchmarks: FEAR and Conclusions

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