MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) Motherboard
By Gabriel Torres on December 5, 2011
MSI has released four motherboard models for the new socket LGA2011 platform, the X79A-GD45, the X79MA-GD45, the X79A-GD65, and the X79A-GD65 (8D), targeted to the most high-end processor Intel offers for desktops today, the Core i7 “Sandy Bridge-E” models. Let’s take a look at the X79A-GD65 (8D), which comes with five PCI Express x16 slots.
To better understand the MSI socket LGA2011 motherboard line-up, we compiled the table below.
PCI Express x16
PCI Express x1
In Figure 1, you see the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) motherboard.
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) comes with five PCI Express x16 slots and one PCI Express x1 slot. All socket LGA2011 motherboards from MSI don’t come with standard PCI slots. Socket LGA2011 processors have a total of 40 PCI Express 3.0 lanes for video cards. This allows a very high-end configuration for the PCI Express x16 slots, but the exact configuration used will depend on the motherboard model.
MSI, however, didn’t do a good job on the PCI Express x16 configuration. Appearances can be deceiving. Even though this motherboard has five x16 slots, two of them work only at x1 speed. To make matters worse, you can only install up to three dual-slot video cards. In order to do so, you will need a computer case with at least eight expansion slots to install the third video card, and it will block the buttons located right next to it.
The first and third PCI Express x16 slots (PCI_E1 and PCI_E4) always run at x16 speed. The fifth PCI Express slot (PCI_E6) always works at x8 speed, and the other slots work at x1.
When installing dual-slot video cards, you “kill” the slot immediately to the left (looking at the motherboard with its rear connectors facing up) of the slot being used.
All PCI Express x16 slots support both SLI and CrossFireX technologies.
The PCI Express x1 slot is controlled by the chipset.
Intel socket LGA2011 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor, not the chipset, which defines what memory technologies you can have and the maximum amount of memory that is possible. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.
The integrated memory controller from socket LGA2011 processors supports DDR3 memories up to 1,600 MHz officially, but they actually support memories up to 2,133 MHz. According to MSI, the X79A-GD65 (8D) supports memories up to 2,400 MHz.
One of the most important features of the socket LGA2011 processors is the support for the new quad-channel memory architecture, which allows the memory to be accessed in 256-bit mode for higher performance. Since each memory module is a 64-bit entity, four memory modules are needed to enable this architecture. If only two or three memory modules are installed, the memory will be accessed under dual- or triple-channel architecture, respectively. If you want to have more than four memory modules installed, you will have to install eight memory modules.
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) has eight memory sockets (four at each side of the CPU socket) and, since DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 8 GB, you can have up to 64 GB with this motherboard if you use eight 8 GB modules. The manufacturer says this motherboard can have up to 128 GB of memory, but they are counting on 16 GB modules, which are not available on the market yet.
In order to enable the quad-channel mode, install four identical memory modules in the sockets with the same color. If you want to install more modules, install another group of four memory modules in the sockets that use the other color.
The Intel X79 chipset is a single-chip solution which is also known as a PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 10, and 5). In addition to these ports, the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) has two SATA-600 ports controlled by an ASMedia ASM1061 chip (RAID 0 and 1).
The SATA ports are located at the motherboard edge, rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them. See Figure 4. Unfortunately, MSI didn’t use different colors to differentiate which SATA-600 ports are controlled by the chipset and which are controlled by the additional chip.
Even though this motherboard doesn’t come with on-board eSATA ports, it comes with an adapter for you to convert two regular SATA ports into eSATA ports.
The Intel X79 chipset supports 14 USB 2.0 ports. Unfortunately, support for USB 3.0 ports isn’t integrated in the chipset yet. The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) offers 12 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the rear panel and four available through two headers located on the motherboard. It also supports four USB 3.0 ports, controlled by two NEC (Renesas) µPD720200 chips. Two of them are located on the motherboard rear panel and the other two are available on a motherboard header, to be used by USB 3.0 ports located on your computer case. The motherboard comes with an I/O bracket with two USB 3.0 ports, allowing you to use this header even if your case doesn’t have USB 3.0 ports.
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) has two FireWire ports, one soldered on the rear panel and one available on a motherboard header. They are controlled by a VIA VT6315N chip.
This motherboard supports 7.1+2 audio format, i.e., eight channels plus two independent channels for audio streaming. On this motherboard, the audio is generated by the chipset using the Realtek ALC892 codec. The specifications of this chip include a 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog outputs, a 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both inputs and outputs, and 24-bit resolution. We don’t understand why MSI decided to use a mainstream audio codec on a high-end motherboard. They should have picked a codec with an SNR of at least 100 dB for the analog outputs and 97 dB for the analog inputs. If you are looking into working professionally with audio editing, you should look for a motherboard that provides an SNR of at least 97 dB for the analog input.
This motherboard comes with independent analog audio outputs, meaning that you won’t need to use the line in or mic in jacks when connecting an eight-channel analog speaker set. It also features optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs. An SPDIF header is not available.
The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the chipset using an Intel WG82579V chip to make the interface with the physical layer.
In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with PS/2 keyboard and mouse shared connector, eight USB 2.0 ports, clear CMOS button, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, one FireWire port, Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, and independent 7.1 analog audio jacks.
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) has two BIOS chips, which allows you to recover your motherboard in case your BIOS is erased or corrupted, which can happen in the case of an unsuccessful BIOS upgrade or the attack of viruses that corrupt the BIOS chip.
This motherboard has a POST diagnostics display, which shows, through a two-digit code, which component is preventing the computer from turning on.
This motherboard also has voltage monitoring points, where you can attach a voltmeter to read the CPU, memory, and chipset voltages.
Figure 9 shows all the accessories that come with this motherboard.
The CPU voltage regulator circuit of the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) has ten phases for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), two for the CPU VSA voltage (memory controller), and two for the CPU VTT voltage (PCI Express and DMI interfaces). Therefore, it uses a “10+2+2” configuration.
This motherboard uses military-class components. Electronic components are available in two series, civilian and military. Military components are more expensive but have tighter tolerance and can withstand a wider range of temperatures. All electrolytic capacitors used in the main voltage regulator circuit are SMD (surface mount device), also known as highly-conductive polymerized or simply Hi-c, but the other voltage regulators (memory, chipset, etc.) use solid capacitors. All coils on this motherboard are solid ferrite-core models, also known as SFC, Super Ferrite Choke, which, according to MSI, can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency.
Each main phase is controlled by a Renesas R2J20655 integrated circuit, which combines the three required transistors (“high side,” “low side,” and “driver”) in a single chip. It also allows the switching clock to be at 1 MHz, which allows efficiency to be over 90 percent. (Usually, voltage regulator circuits switch at 250 kHz.)
The memory voltage regulator has four phases and uses ferrite coils, solid capacitors, and Renesas R2J20655 chips. This is important, because some motherboard manufacturers build high-end voltage regulators for the CPU but use lower-quality parts on the other voltage regulators.
If you want to learn more about the voltage regulator circuit, please read our tutorial on the subject.
The motherboard has a series of 12 LEDs on its edge near the voltage regulator circuit for you to monitor the phases of the Vcc and VSA (memory controller) voltages, and four LEDs for you to monitor the phases of the memory voltage regulator.
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) has some overclocking options. Below, we list the most important ones (1.3 BIOS):
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) comes with a button called “OC Genie.” By pressing it, the motherboard will test and find the recommended overclocking settings for your system, allowing you to overclock your PC without having to go through the hassle of changing somewhat complicated settings manually.
The main specifications for the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) include:
* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review.
The MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) comes with a few advantages and several disadvantages compared to its main competitor, the Gigabyte X79-UD3.
On the positive side, it has eight memory sockets, two FireWire ports, a POST diagnostics display, better components in the voltage regulator circuit, and the handy “OC Genie” button.
However, the list of drawbacks is quite extensive. This motherboard has five PCI Express x16 slots, but you can only install three dual-slot video cards (the competing model from Gigabyte accepts four). These slots are configured as x16/x16/x8/x1/x1, while on the Gigabyte motherboard the four available slots are configured as x16/x16/x8 when using up to three video cards or as x16/x8/x8/x8 when four video cards are present. What is the point of having five PCI Express x16 slots if you can only use three of them?
For some reason we can’t understand, MSI used a mainstream audio codec (Realtek ALC892) on a motherboard targeted to high-end users. If you are going to work converting analog audio sources (e.g., LP records, VHS tapes, cassette tapes, etc.) to the digital format, you will need to pick a different motherboard, as the input signal-to-noise ratio of this codec is 90 dB, which is too low for this application. (Translation: You will inject a lot of noise into your work.)
This motherboard has only two additional SATA-600 ports, and the manufacturer should have used a different color on them. The Gigabyte X79-UD3 has four additional SATA-600 ports and two independent eSATA-600 ports, which are not available on the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D). The MSI model comes with an adapter to convert two SATA ports into eSATA, though.
On the overclocking side, even though the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) has voltage monitoring points and the “OC Genie” button, the Gigabyte X79-UD3’s setup has far more overclocking options.And, finally, we have pricing: the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) has fewer features yet is more expensive than the Gigabyte X79-UD3. Because of all the reasons described here, we prefer the Gigabyte X79-UD3 over the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D).