Motherboard: MSI K7N420 Pro Review :: Features

12-12-2001 · Category: Motherboards

By Doc Overclock

  • Chipset NB: Nforce 420D
  • Chipset SB: MCP-D
  • FSB: 200/266MHz
  • Memory: Three DIMM slots, up to 1.5GB of PC1600/PC2100 DDR SDRAM
  • PCI Slots: Five 2.2 32-bit Master PCI bus slots.
  • AGP: 4X (1.5V)
  • CNR: Yes
  • AMR: No
  • On-board Video: Integrated GeForce 2 MX class advanced GPU
  • On-board Sound: MCP 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound (SPDIF)
  • On-board Network: Chip integrated 10/100 Base T Ethernet/Fast Ethernet
  • IDE Channels: Two ATA100 Compliant IDE controllers
  • RAID: No
  • Power Requirements: 300W AMD Approved
  • BIOS: 2MB flash programmable Award BIOS
  • Hardware Monitoring: Yes
  • WOL (Wake On LAN): Yes
  • WOK (Wake On Keyboard): Yes
  • WOM (Wake On Mouse): No

CPU Support

  • Socket A for AMD® Athlon™/ Athlon™ XP / Duron™ Processor.
  • AMD Athlon XP (Palomino, Socket A) 1800+
  • AMD Athlon (Thunderbird, Socket A) 1.4GHz
  • AMD Duron (Socket A) 950MHz

On-board I/O Controllers

  • 1 Floppy port supports 2 FDD with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes.
  • 2 Serial ports (COM A + COM B)
  • 6 USB ports (2 rear connectors and 2 USB front pin header to support four ports)
  • 1 Parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode.
  • 1 VGA connector.
  • 1 IrDA connector.
  • 1 Audio/Game port.
  • 1 RJ-45 port.

This is the first ever-released motherboard based on the new nForce chipset and it offers the user a variety of choices in their setup configuration. Sporting an assortment of on-board gadgets such as video, audio and LAN this board is well equipped for the budget gamer, multimedia or office environment.

The nVidia nForce chipset consists of two parts the 420D NB IGP (Northbridge) and the MCP-D (Media Communications processor) and takes advantage of the latest Hyper Transport interface that works with the MCP at up to 800MB a second at maximum efficiency. The MCP is the control center for the on-board 5.1 Dolby surround sound that is one of the better features of this motherboard. One thing to note the on-board sound uses almost zero CPU utilization, which comes across in the form of smoother game, and sound response.

Analog devices a company that has recently been working with both Intel and Microsoft in the implementation of their sound solution the Sound Max 3.0 with SPX, has the looks as if their hand is in this also. The on-board sound is identical to the Sound Max audio solutions I have tested earlier this year. I asked around over at Analog Devices for a confirmation on this but I could not get them to comment at this time. I take that as a yes as why clam up the information unless you do not want it published. This is usually the rule not the exception in most cases.

Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound via the digital SPDIF connector is a joy to be heard and works very well when watching DVD 5.1 encoded movies. For games the sound card supports Direct sound, EAX and A3D encoded games and sounds good enough for any gamer to be impressed enough not to want to use a different sound solution. You have a choice of using either an analog or digital connector when using the on-board sound. The analog connection sounds best with MP3s and music and can be configured in either a two (stereo) or five, (Dolby Surround) speaker environment.

Having only five PCI slots is usually not a great thing but since the K7N420 Pro has its own 10/100 on-board LAN as well, the amount of open PCI slots becomes almost a moot point. Because honestly what do you need to use with your system that would even require the use of the five PCI slots available. A person only needs so many peripherals and this has enough expansion available for any task. If you are a gamer you will probably not use even one of the PCI slots on the board as all you would need for top performance is an AGP card that was better than the on-board solution.

The board has on-board video and I can hear the die-hard enthusiasts booing in the aisles but this makes for a very flexible and easy to afford low-end gamers board. After all, the Ge-Force 2 MX is a viable chipset that provides enough gusto to power even power hungry games like Quake III, although not at mouth watering frame rates it still performs good enough for the light gamer. The visual quality is still on par with its AGP counterparts it's just not as fast. The human eye cannot even detect anything above thirty frame rates.

One thing to take into mind if using the on-board video solution is the on-board video shares memory with the first DIMM slot. The thing to do if using it is to use two identical pieces of memory for the optimal performance of your system. The reason for this is the first bank can be used for your on-board videos shared memory. The other bank will then be dedicated to your system memory allowing for better overall system performance than can be obtained when using a single chip being shared with the on-board video solution. If you are using an inline video solution such as the Ti200/500 series cards a single SDRAM chip will perform adequately.

Another thing that might perk your interest is the fact that the motherboard is made so that you can take advantage of today's extra large cooling solutions. There is ample room around the ZIF Socket to use any of the known products available on the market currently. The layout of the motherboard is done adequately enough (including a nice heat-sink on the Northbridge) but like usual using a large video card in the AGP port blocks two of the memory banks. I looked at least twenty different motherboards yesterday and they all are this way. But what really is the problem here my friends? Is the board made to small or are video cards being made too long?

Overclocking although an option on the K7N420 is very limited and the system becomes unstable very fast when using an inline AGP card for you video needs. I had much more successful results when overclocking the system with the on-board video. This maybe due to limitations in the bandwidth stability being available to the AGP port. When I used the on-board solution I was able to get mediocre results in the overclocking area that were stable enough but not perfect. But with the Ti200 I could not get stable results even in a slightly enhanced environment. This is definitely not an overclockers board as the overall performance cannot be pushed far beyond its out of the box levels. The motherboard on its own merit however is a very fast performer even without being pushed beyond spec. Take a look at the performance section of the review and you will see what I am talking about.