If you want AMD performance without the cost, MSI’s K9A2 Platinum might be the ticket. It’s a bare-bones yet performance-oriented board for Phenom procs.
Based on the AMD 790FX chipset, the MSI K9A2 Platinum sports four x16 physical PCI-E 2.0 slots. While most boards today sport six expansion slots, MSI goes the max with seven slots. Four are full-length PCI-E slots, two are PCI and the seventh is a dinky x1 PCI-E. You pay a price for it though. The extra slot forces the top slot so close to the RAM that you’ll have to remove the GPU if you want to pull the RAM out.
Also irksome are the six SATA ports, which point straight up. If you run a large PCI-E card in the slot above it, you’ll block access to some or all of the SATA ports. The K9A2 Platinum also gives you a slight edge over its direct competitor, the Asus M3A32-MVP Deluxe Wi-Fi in SATA. You get two eSATA ports and MSI uses a Promise controller that supports both SATA and SAS drives. If you’re a true drive aficionado, thisdoes give you a cheap and easy way to access the higher-speed SAS drives that you just can’t get in SATA today.
Like the Asus M3A32-MVP Deluxe, the K9A2 Platinum uses a fairly moderate heat pipe design for the north and south bridges and the voltage regulators. That’s perhaps one of the better messages with the 790FX chipset–thermals. While Nvidia can’t make a cool-running chipset to save its life, ATI’s chipsets have always been spectacularly miserly in thermal generation.
What you get in heat savings, though, you give up in south-bridge functionality. The SB600 maxes out at four SATA drives while Nvidia chipsets give you six ports. Ethernet port teaming and other advanced features such as packet prioritizing are also MIA when compared to comparable Nvidia chipsets.
On the performance front, we found the board to be the equivalent of Asus’s pricier M3A32-Deluxe Wi-Fi board. That’s no surprise though. Unless a vendor has screwed up the BIOS, Phenom and Athlon 64 chipsets rarely show much of a performance difference due to the on-die memory controller. So with our 2.5GHz Phenom X4, GeForce 8800GTX, 2GB of DDR2/1066, and Windows XP Professional installed, it was pretty much a tie. That’s something we’re likely to see as Intel adopts an on-die memory controller as well this year.
One thing we continue to love about MSI boards is the company’s updating utility that will search out and install driver and BIOS updates for you. It’s damned better than Asus’s horribly slow website and update utility, which successfully connects with a server only one out of five times.
Not all is good with MSI utilities though. If you ever have to update the BIOS via DOS and floppy disk, may the gods help you. You don’t just boot from a floppy disk, update the BIOS, and call it a day. You have to boot onto a floppy disc that can create a RAM disk. You then copy the BIOS file and updater to the RAM disk and flash from there. If you try to flash directly from floppy disk, kiss the BIOS goodbye. Fortunately, the windows-based updater works 90 percent of the time so it shouldn’t be an issue for most folks. Still, it’s annoying at best. If Asus and every other vendor can perform disk-based BIOS updates without the need to use a RAM disk, why can’t MSI?
So where does the MSI fall? The SATA ports could be placed better, but even that’s not a fatal flaw, as there are plenty of x16 physical PCI-E slots. What we do like is the SAS support, one extra PCI-E slot, better web support, and a pretty damned good street price of $150.
MSI K9A2 Platinum
SAS support and super-low pricing.
Poor SATA port placement; fallback DOS update method is horrible.