MSI K7N2 nForce2 Motherboard Review
Layout and Features
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The MSI K7N2 motherboard shares a lot of features with its younger brother that was based on the original nForce chipset. The first thing to note is that the CPU socket does not include the four mounting holes necessary for some heatsink installations. The capacitors that lie below the socket are rather close, but no more than on any other nForce2 board we have looked at thus far. The ATX power connector is to the left of the processor socket as is a 4-pin power socket for added stability to the system with a lot of components. Also on that corner of the board you will notice that MSI has included heatsinks on the MOSFETs that enable power phases to the motherboard.
The nForce2 north bridge (or SPP) uses a standard passive heatsink for cooling and plops a more than necessary amount of heatsink compound beneath that may actually hinder the heatsinks performance. If necessary, a simple removal, cleaning and reinstallation of the heatsink would take care of it. Following the majority of the north bridge traces will take you to the DIMM slots which include three banks for memory for two channels of DDR – the first two for channel 1 and the last one for channel 2. For the best performance on the motherboard, placing equal amounts of memory in the 1st and 3rd slots will yield the best results as it fills up both of the DDR memory channels equally for shared usage. On the MSI motherboards, the DIMM slots do not interfere with the AGP slot at all; a rare feat among nForce2 boards so far.
The slot configuration of the MSI nForce2 boards is a 5//0/1/1 (PCI/ISA/ACR/AGP) where the 5th PCI slot and the ACR slot are shared. The AGP slot does have a now standard AGP retention clip on it to keep heavy cards in place (a point that is made even more valid with the recent release of the GeForce FX). For IDE devices the actual model that we got, the K7N2, was lacking a lot of features that we might expect. However, other models including the K7N2G and K7N2-L include the extras that were left out (but with placements for them) on the model we have here. There are two IDE channels and a third one that can be used in conjunction with the Serial ATA ports or by itself. There are also two Serial ATA channels available to use for RAID or independently as well.
Other features that varying models of the K7N2 will feature include Firewire and dual network interfaces. Models with on-board graphics will also soon be available but will be tested in a different review.
The on-board audio on this version of the board is 6-channel Realtek audio that should be okay for most users. The K7N2 also includes 4 USB 1.1 ports and 1 integrated network connection. So, this model of the motherboard is actually very plain, and very inexpensive.