MSI K7N420 Pro nForce 420-D Motherboard Review
Features and Layout
This content was originally featured on Amdmb.com and has been converted to PC Perspective's website. Some color changes and flaws may appear.The K7N420 Pro motherboard is based around the NVIDIA nForce 420-D chipset. I will touch a little bit on the specifications and technologies behind this chipset, but if you want to be fully aware of the things that I will be mentioning and discussing, you should read the NVIDIA nForce Chipset Preview article from a couple months back.
First up to discuss is the nForce IGP that is analogous to the standard north bridge of a chipset from VIA, ALi or any others. The IGP controls the memory, processor and AGP functions and also adds integrated video to the mix. Before anyone gets uptight about this, you should first know that the on-board video is not a pathetic attempt at a gaming video card. Instead, it is the equivalent of a GeForce 2 MX 400 external graphics card. While that is not up to snuff when comparing it to the GF3 Ti500’s of the world, for low-level gamers and those who don’t engage in a lot of gaming the power of the GF2 MX400 is more than adequate.
Another theoretically interesting feature of the nForce 420-D chipset is the TwinBank memory architecture. While all other DDR SDRAM memory platforms use a 64-bit memory bus between the north bridge and the physical RAM, the nForce 420 uses dual 64-bit buses for a maximum of 128-bit memory bandwidth. Of course, as with all kinds of asymmetric technologies (SMP included), the gains are not quite as high as the theoretical math would show.
I might as well mention this now: there is a slight "bug" or "feature" (depending on your view) in the memory configuration. I think it is best described in an article over at GamePC. In a nutshell, the placement of memory in the DIMM slots can dramatically affect the performance of the system in synthetic and realistic benchmarks. In their testing, and I found the same results here, having DIMMs 1 and 3 filled comes to bring the best performance from the motherboards. The feature is called Superstability and it effects the memory timings under certain circumstances. For the best and most thorough explanation, check out this page of the GamePC article.
The south bridge of the nForce 420 chipset is the MCP or Media and Communications Processor. The MCP supplies the motherboards with the rest of their great features. MSI has included the 10/100 network interface as a standard feature on the motherboard. Also available in the MCP is a modem and sound. The modem is not currently available on the MSI K7N420 Pro – however an additional riser card for it may become available soon.
The riser card that does come with the K7N420 Pro facilitates the 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio of the nForce chipset. The audio is compatible with Creative’s EAX, Aureal 3D and Direct Sound. Plugging the expansion card into the CNR slot at the very bottom of the motherboard gives the user the ability to connect the extra channels of audio and use the optical output for connection to a digital receiver of some kind. This would make the nForce chipset a great choice for a small home theater computer.
To even further that idea, I learned yesterday that MSI is planning on releasing a riser card that will also include video output. That means you could very easily hook your PC up to your receiver and have it act as your digital DVD player, cable (if you had an input card) as well as perform all kinds of other functions.
The layout of the motherboard is quite efficient. Starting at the top, the processor socket has more than ample room for the largest of Athlon heatsinks. The socket is still turned 90 degrees the wrong way (in my opinion) to facilitate easy heatsink installation and removal, but that is easily worked around – simply put the heatsink on before putting the motherboard in the case.
There are three memory slots, one of which that is separated from the other two. This is due to the TwinBank memory architecture. The first slot is connected (physically) to the first memory controller and the second two slots to the second controller. I discussed the problems with this previously, so let’s move on. :)
Moving on down, we notice there are two IDE channels and a single floppy channel. As of this time, MSI had no plans to make an IDE RAID version of the K7N420 Pro motherboard, but said that it may be possible to have that feature in a future nForce 415-D chipset motherboard.
Finally, the slot configuration shows the board having five PCI slots, one AGP slot, no ISA slots and a single CNR slot. (5/0/1/1). While in most cases I might mention something about removing the CNR slot for the additional PCI slot, the nForce chipset motherboards will be the exception. Why? Because this time, you will actually use a CNR slot on the board! :)