MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 1
Making the leap to Intel latest chipset meant that you either had the GDP of a small country or were involved in some very suspect criminal activity. How else could you afford a new Motherboard, new RAM, new CPU, all at 'new tech' prices not to mention the inflated costs because of the economic downturn? The MSI X58 Pro has now made entry into the latest and greatest socket set that little bit less painful thanks to undercutting most of it's competition by over £40. With DDR3 prices tumbling and CPU prices surely to follow suit, you no longer have to wear a pinstripe suit and carry around your 'tommy gun' in a Violin case.
So where's the catch? Truth is this motherboard does not have the ludicrous amount of features the high end boards have, nor does it (officially) support SLI, only cCossfire (more on this later). It does however, have everything you need to get you going, 6 RAM slots, 6 SATA ports, 3 PCIe slots etc that you would find on most X58 boards. It is, from the outset at least , a no frills budget board. All to often now we are seeing the word 'pro' which is misleading as pro should mean feature packed, high end but in reality it is now associated with basic/budget rather than the term 'professional'. For the top of the line boards, it seems a derivative of a precious metal or Solar event is more appropriate.
Here's what MSI have to say about their latest addition to their X58 range of motherboards:
MSI, the world's leading mainboard manufacturer, today announced its most affordable one of X58 mainboard, X58 Pro. It offers an innovatively new architecture that adopts the latest Intel® X58 Express chipset that supports the latest Intel® Core i7 processor, along with ultra-high bandwidth QPI (Quick Path Interconnect) transmission system and high-speed 3-channel DDR3 memory, resulting performance so extreme that has ever seen in mainboards. X58 Pro also has utilised the Gen.2 DrMOS, which introduced exclusively by MSI since the P45 series, improving its power efficiency more than 93% to bring best performance.
The following specification was taken directly from MSI's website:
|CPU Support||Intel i7|
|Memory|| DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600* (OC)|
|Maximum Supported Memory||24GB|
|PCIe x16|| x 3|
|PCIe Gen 2.0||2x 16, 1x 4|
|USB|| 6(Rear) Expandable to 12|
|Audio Ports|| 6x3.5mm analogue + SPDIF|
|Form Factor|| ATX|
|Multi GPU Support|| Crossfire (yes), SLI (no)|
The features of the board, while not range topping, are very good for a motherboard of this price.There's plenty of room for upgrades too with a well chosen expansion slot configuration. Let's head over to the pictures of the boards itself...
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 2
Packaging & Appearance
The package feels rather light in comparison to X58 motherboards we have reviewed recently. I am however happy to report that the outer packaging is well designed and the main emblem is yet another skew on the eclipse emblem of it's flagship stable mate. The logos on the front of the box are not too intrusive but do inform the buyer that this motherboard arrives with DrMOS power control along with active phase switching. HDD Backup and Norton security is also bundled in with the software suite.
The rear of the package goes into more in-depth detail explaining exactly what DrMOS does and the benefits it can give the motherboard user such as higher efficiency, response speed and lower temperatures. VGA booster (ATI Crossfire to you and me) is also supported through the three PCIe slots. Again there is no mention of official SLI support. For official support you will need to buy the as yet unreleased SLI version of the X58 Pro.
The accessories are stripped down to the bare minimum. That isn't to say you will be missing anything to get you started as there's an IDE cable, 4x SATA cables, I/O Shield, Driver disk and utility disk along with a single Crossfire bridge. There are also the MSI time saving connectors that allow you to hook up USB and Firewire and your motherboard headers before attaching them to the motherboard with a single block for each component. This will no doubt save time when installing your motherboard as nobody like fumbling in the dark, trying to find the right header once the motherboard is installed.
Perhaps the most comprehensive section of the included accessories is the four, yes that's right, FOUR included manuals. There's the standard motherboard 'bible' which is well presented with easy to read diagrams. Then we have a poster sized motherboard guide, then a quick installation guide and last of all a HDD backup guide. Rest assured with this motherboard, even a monkey could get it up and running in no time, should he be able to read English and operate a screwdriver of course!
Anyone who built PC's in the late eighties and early nineties will feel a little nostalgic when they see the motherboard for the first time as the PCB is adorned in a very 'fetching' brown colour. If however, you are a dedicated follower of fashion you will be repulsed by it. I was certainly disgusted by it at first glance but after using it for a few hours it kind of grew on me. I still cannot abide the dreadful colour scheme MSI use though. If Stevie Wonder was a motherboard designer he would use colours such as these. There simply is no flow to them, no theme and although MSI have at least replaced pink and green memory slots with a much more subtle blue and black, the board still has connectors that appear to be scavenged from earlier motherboards parts bin. Thankfully, the layout is very easy to follow with all the bits in the right place around the leading edges of the board.
Flipping the board over we see nothing too untoward with all but the largest CPU backplates appearing to fit well and not coming into contact with the solder points.
The CPU socket area is very sparse thanks to the MSI 5 phase power design on the CPU. While this may seem too little compared to motherboards that have 16 power phase designs we can only hope that DrMOS works his magic. Looking at the specifications of the Pro compared to it's bigger brother, the Eclipse, it would certainly seem that corners have indeed been cut with the QPI and Northbridge power phase no longer controlled by DrMOS and the memory phase has also been cut to one instead of 2 found on the Eclipse. The memory slots are closely packed, away from the CPU heatsink which is no bad thing considering the size of some CPU heatsinks out today. This should ensure that the memory should not obstruct the fitting of an oversized CPU heatsink.
Rather than go over the top and provide the capability to support 10 SATA drives like some of the competition, MSI have elected to go with 6 standard SATA ports which are controlled by the ICH10R (R signifying RAID) and one on a JMicron JMB363 controller.Because the Intel ports are angled at 90 degrees they should not interfere with the fitment of long graphics cards.
The PCI area of the board is particularly well thought out with plenty of space between all of the PCIe 2.0 slots. Sadly the Cyan coloured slot will only allow 4 lanes, again a cost cutting exercise but the two blue slots allow for the full bandwidth of PCI-Express. There are also 2 further PCIe x1 slots and two standard PCI slots so there are plenty of possibilities for expansion cards. Even with all three GPU slots filled, there is still a single PCIe x1 slot left over should you wish to use it.
So far I have brought to your attention the fact that this board is trimmed of this feature and that but MSI have still seen their way to include onboard power/reset and CMOS clear switches which is a fantastic addition for what is in effect, a budget board. The onboard dip-switches are still there for those who prefer to use them instead of the BIOS and MSI have also included useful the M-Connect features. So maybe this board is not as cut-down as I first thought?
The I/O area of the board is well populated. 6xUSB, Firewire, E-SATA, Gigabit LAN, PS/2 mouse and keyboard support and 7.1 surround sound support via 3.5mm jacks, courtesy of Realteks ALC888S audio processor.
The heatsinks on the X58 Pro are small in comparison to some X58 motherboards I have reviewed. Basic in design, they do however appear to be copper (or an alloy derivative) so should be up to the job of cooling the Northbridge and Southbridge. The MOSFET cooler too is tiny in comparison to some of the oversized coolers we have seen recently. Emblazoned with DrMOS Touch, I did just that and was surprised to feel that very little heat was given off in this area, even when put under load.
Removing the heatsink from the board was not to troublesome however removing the past from the chips certainly was. MSI have used what can only be described as cement to transfer heat from the chip to the heatsink, while thermal tape was used on the MOSFET cooler. I would have liked to have seen MSI use more a more semi permanent paste under the heatsinks but in fairness it is unlikely someone would go to the trouble of replacing the stock heatsinks on a budget board.
So then, not exactly the budget board I was expecting. While there have obviously been some corners cut to drop the price to a much more palatable level such as the phase control, heatsink design and PCB colour, the MSI X58 Pro is certainly not the budget board I assumed it would be. Most of the features of it's bigger brothers are still present and if colour co-ordination does not concern you then maybe, just maybe this could be an ideal entry motherboard for Intels i7 and X58 chipset.
Let's take a look at the BIOS feature set of the MSI X58 Pro...
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 3
The American Megatrends BIOS is presented in typical MSI fashion with the most intriguing section being the CELL Menu. This is the section we will be concentrating on today.
The first section in the CELL menu deals with the specifications of the CPU, along with the CPU features such as Intel EIST, C-State technology and Turbo Boost technology. The Base Clock adjuster is also in this section allowing you to fine tune the frequency of your CPU.
Moving down the list we come to the memory configuration where at first glance things seem to be very basic until we open the advanced settings which allows full control over the DRAM. Every setting is there but unfortunately, one cannot tune each channel individually. While this will not be an issue for most, someone who buys two separate kits with different SPD ratings might encounter problems. QPI frequency is controlled via menu and can be positioned at either Full or Slow speed.
The Memory dividers are not in frequency as I prefer but via multipliers (numbered 3 - 8). While this method works fine I would prefer the motherboard to do the calculations for me rather than set the frequency by trial and error. Again a scroll method via arrow keys or menu can be used to access the desired setting. Much the same is to be said for the Uncore ratio, again using numbers rather than the desired frequency.
The ClockGen tuner, now a staple section in the Cell menu allows the fine tuning of the CPU voltage and timings by amplitude controls and clock skews. This section is only really necessary to eek that last few MHz out of a processor and is perhaps best avoided by the novices. It is however a nice addition and as with all BIOS releases, the more options the better!
Both PCI and PCIe frequencies can be set which may aid stability in CPU overclocking and will also help GPU overclocking. Perhaps the biggest factor in overclocking however is the voltage section and here is somewhere the MSI does not fail to deliver. While the list is concise, there are plenty of options available with each option allowing a massive change in voltage, certainly enough to kill your hardware should you set the wrong value which is the mark of a very flexible, if somewhat dangerous BIOS in the wrong hands. I am however a little disappointed in the way the CPU voltage is adjusted. I would prefer to adjust the actual voltage and have that displayed rather than calculate how much voltage change I am making. Never the less, the values are such that voltages are high enough to keep even those dabbling with LN2 happy.
Once you have all your settings tweaked, MSI allow you to save those setting and reload them at a different time thanks to the User settings menu. The BIOS update utility is once again very fiddly to use and certainly needs a re-think as flashing the BIOS is precarious and heart stopping enough without having to jump through hoops to do it.
Finally we arrive at the hardware monitoring section which offers basic fan controls and temperature monitoring for the most part. A separate little section adds the 'Green power' utility allowing you to control the motherboards CPU phase power delivery. You can also enable/disable the motherboards onboard LED's from here.
The BIOS is generally concise but it delivers everything you need to configure your PC as well as overclock it should you feel the need arises. Of Course, being Overclock3D it would be rude of us not to put this to the test which is exactly what I intend to do next...
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 4
To ensure that all reviews on Overclock3D are fair, consistent and unbiased, a standard set of hardware and software is used whenever possible during the comparative testing of two or more products. The configuration used in this review can be seen below:
Processor: Intel Core i7 920 (2.66Ghz)
Motherboard: MSI X58 Pro
Memory: 6GB Corsair DDR3 @ 8-8-8-24 1600Mhz
Graphics Card: NVidia GTX280
Power Supply: Gigabyte Odin 1200W
CPU Cooling: Stock Intel Cooling
Hard Disk: Hitachi Deskstar 7K160 7200rpm 80GB
Graphics Drivers: Geforce 180.60 CUDA
Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate x64 SP1
During the testing of the setup above, special care was taken to ensure that the BIOS settings used matched whenever possible. A fresh install of Windows Vista was also used before the benchmarking began, with a full defrag of the hard drive once all the drivers and software were installed, preventing any possible performance issues due to leftover drivers from the previous motherboard installations. For the 3DMark and gaming tests a single card configuration was used.
Above we see the DrMOS in action. the 5 LED's represent the level at which DrMOS is operating (current state full power). The picture above right shows the level of clearance available to the ram slots using the OCZ Gladiator as a guide CPU HSF.
Remember how earlier I hinted at the multi GPU capabilities of the X58 Pro? Well the motherboard is capable of Crossfire as stock but NOT SLI. That is unless you fancy being a little naughty (as I did) and flash the BIOS to the X58's sister board, the X58 Pro SLI version. All that was required was for the BIOS file to be renamed, allowing the motherboard to detect the BIOS as compatible. Using MSI's onboard M-Flash utility the BIOS flash went off without a hitch. I shutdown, installed a 2nd GTX280 and voila!, the board recognised the 2nd GPU, installed the drivers automatically leaving me to enable SLI via the Nvidia control panel. A quick run of 3DMark 06 verified that SLI was indeed working with a good increase in performance and score.
Obviously, it should go without saying that you undertake this procedure at your own risk and neither MSI or Overclock3D will be held responsible for any bad flash as a result.
To guarantee a broad range of results, the following benchmark utilities were used:
Synthetic CPU Test
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• PassMark CPU test
• SuperPI 1m, 8m, 32m
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• Everest 4.60
File Compression & Encoding
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
• 7-Zip File Compression
• River Past ViMark
Disk I/O Performance
• HDTach 126.96.36.199
• Sisoft Sandra 2009
3D / Rendering Benchmarks
• Cinebench 10
• 3DMark 05
• 3DMark 06
• 3DMark Vantage
• Far Cry 2
• Call of Duty 4
Overall System Performance
• PCMark Vantage
Power consumption is an aspect often forgotten when it comes to enthusiast motherboards but in todays climate, with rising utility bills special consideration needs to be taken when choosing you components as over a period of time, one components can prove to be much more expensive than another over its lifetime.
Power consumption was measured at the socket using a plug-in mains power and energy monitor. Idle readings were taken after 5 minutes in Windows. Load readings were taken during a run of 3DMark Vantage.
The MSI X58 Pro was the best performer at idle , consuming less than all the motherboards on test until it was placed under load where it landed in the middle of the pack. Not too shabby a result considering that no additional software was used to control the power phase of the motherboard.
Here's a couple of the obligatory CPU-Z screenshots at stock:
Note the speed of the CPU. For whatever reason the MSI was incapable of running the CPU at it's rated level overclocking the processor slightly. Consideration therefore should be given to this fact when viewing the benchmark results as this will have had a very slight effect on the scores.
Using a respectable Vcore of 1.40v set in the BIOS, the remainder of BIOS voltage settings were left in their stock state to ensure equality throughout the testing. Here's what I managed out of the motherboard:
Yes you are reading that right, I had to double check too as this board clocks beyond any other we have tested so far at OC3D. 4.315 GHz is an amazing feat for a board that does not tout itself as a premium product. It outclassed every X58 board we have in the overclocking department and while I will concede my CPU appears to be exceptional, it's only as good as the motherboard powering it. Talking of power, the X58 Pro does not droop when under load, it overvolts! Setting the Vcore to 1.4v (1.15 stock +0.25) the board seemed to jump all over the place when put under load, jumping from 1.35v to 1.51 and back again which was a little alarming. I then set the BIOS to 1.35v (total) in attempt to curb this fluctuation which resulted in the voltage still rising to 1.44v, a massive 0.09v leap. This obviously had an effect on the overclock possible and should be taken into consideration as the other boards we have tested used only 1.4v.
While I don't profess a 1M SuperPI run to be evidence of stability (it plainly is not), at this speed it would be suicide to attempt a Prime run, as the CPU jumped straight to 90c after 10 seconds. Still, this is a fantastic result for MSI if somewhat very surprising. My only concern is the voltage fluctuation, if they can get that under control with future BIOS releases then they could well be on to a winner here.
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 5
As expected the MSI X58 Pro did show some exceptional results, due in part no doubt to the slightly overclocked CPU. This was more evident in SuperPI than any of the other CPU benchmarks.
Let's see if there is anything to separate the board with our run of memory benchmarks...
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 6
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 7
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 8
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 9
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 10
Again, no surprises either way with the set of results. The MSI has performed well in all the gaming tests we threw at it but again did not surpass any of the boards by any great margin nor did it fall by the wayside.
Let's take a look at it's overall performance...
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 11
PCMark Vantage is the latest benchmarking suite from Futuremark. Differing significantly from their 3DMark suites, PCMark performs a series of benchmarks designed to recreate and benchmark scenarios of a PC being used for everyday tasks. Vantage has a Vista only requirement as it actually relies on several different components from the OS in order to run correctly.
A Mixed bag of results were to be had in the Vantage results section. While it performed well in some tests it let itself down in some of the others, particularly the Music, Memories and productivity sections, mirroring what results we obtained individually. Overall though it has not been a bad showing for the MSI X58, infact I would go so far as saying it could hold its head up high, especially when you consider this board costs half as much as some of the other boards on test today.
Let's head over to the conclusion where I attempt to put today's testing into perspective..
MSI X58 Pro Motherboard Page: 12
The MSI X58 Pro has given us a roller coaster ride today. Starting on a low point, the aesthetics of the board are simply put, dire. The MSI board would never be accused of being a trend setter, that is unless you find the contents a doggie-bag the pinnacle of style! The nostalgic brown PCB nods to motherboards of yesteryear however, a closer look at the board ensures that any preconceptions are wiped away when you see how many features are incorporated. The frills of more expensive motherboards are not present, but what you do have is a motherboard that has all the necessities to set you down the i7 upgrade path in earnest.
Overclocking the motherboard perhaps threw up the biggest surprise of the day, exceeded my expectations by a fair margin. Previous MSI boards have been very hit and miss in this area but, voltage fluctuation issues aside, the X58 pro is a top performer in this department. A 4Ghz overclock is a damn fine achievement by anyones standards but the MSI did not stop there. Infact the MSI kept going until it reached a eye popping 4.315GHz, beating all of our previously reviewed motherboards, some of which cost nearly twice as much, by a considerable margin. I cannot comment on how long this overclock could be maintained by it is performance and possibilities are certainly underlined by it's ability in this area.
Crossfire support is there in all it's glory and should you be desperate for SLI support then this can be achieved relatively easy by means of a BIOS flash so if budget multi GPU gaming is your bag then this board should definitely be on your list.
The packaging is basic and the accessories are adequate, nothing more, nothing less. It is clear that this is one area in which costs have been cut and a cost cutting area I do not mind so much, especially when you consider the MSI X58 Pro can be bought for as little as £178. This is a price point that will appeal to those who want to upgrade but are put off by the massive price hike X58 motherboards demand. Herein lies the appeal of the X58 Pro. They have managed to trim excess fat from a product to enable them to price it cheap without cutting any major flexibility or dominant (read useful) features from the motherboard. If you can see past the brown PCB and mismatched plastic slots then MSI have a capable board here at a very aggressive price point.
Well done MSI.
- Exceptional overclocking
- Multi GPU support (SLI optional!)
- The price in comparison to other motherboards
- Voltage regulation
- Basic packaging
- Aesthetics (what on earth were MSI thinking of?)
Thanks to MSI for providing the X58 Pro for todays review. Please discuss in our forums.