Four of the six SATA 6Gbps ports of the SB850 Southbridge (a standard inclusion for AMD 890GX motherboards) have been mounted at 90 degrees to the board, with one more port pointing straight out from the PCB. The sixth and final SATA 6Gbps port has been assigned to permanent eSATA duties for super-fast external storage. This is joined by a pair of USB 3.0 ports on the rear I/O.
Nestled in next to the Northrbridge, MSI includes the 128MB of Sideport memory that's now a standard feature of AMD’s integrated GPUs. There are four DDR3 DIMM sockets, but they are placed very close to the upper-most 16x PCI-E slot, making memory removal more difficult than it should be.
Generally the layout of the board is very clean and user-friendly, although the positioning of the ATX and IDE ports to be on top of each other could cause frustration if you still have an IDE hard disk or optical drive (see the lower edge of the board from this shot
if you’re concerned). MSI has also used a 4-pin CPU power connector, rather than an 8-pin plug – the latter really should be standard now, as it gives you more power stability.
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Considering that there's 14 USB 2 ports available from the board in total, MSI has been a bit frugal with only including six USB ports in the rear I/O block. The two blue ports are the USB 3 ones, and are therefore backward-compatible with USB 2 and 1.1. After seeing a Zotac mini-ITX board with ten USB ports on the back, plus
video outputs, this board still seems a bit short.
On the plus side though, there are DVI, D-Sub and HDMI outputs in the rear I/O block - of which only one digital output can be used at once. There's also an eSATA port, a PS/2 port that can accpt either mouse or keyboard, plenty of sound outputs (including optical S/PDIF out) and Gigabit Ethernet too. Overall this is a decent mix of ports, and has enough future upgradability for most people looking for a micro-ATX board.
In the BIOS there’s no change for those familiar with MSI. The Cell Menu still contains all the interesting options, but thankfully MSI also includes its profile saving option. The in-BIOS update utility M-Flash is also present, although we wouldn't recommend using this due to multiple past failures and bricked boards.
The CPU power phase control is a simple on or off option, and the only fan control is for the single CPU fan. This is fine, as there are only two fan headers on the board anyway.
The overclocking options in the Cell Menu are abundant, and include all the necessary options for CPU frequency, CPU-NB, HyperTransport and Memory buses. The corresponding voltages are also comprehensive enough for everyone but the most demanding overclockers: CPU, CPU-NB, Northbridge, Southbridge and memory voltages are included with sufficient finesse.
Finally, don't be confused by the Core Control menu - it's not there to unlock the extra cores of a Phenom II X3 CPU, as MSI does not and will not feature this option. Instead, this menu lets you disable
CPU cores. This is only of use if you’re trying to break CPU frequency records by only running one core (and thus lowering the thermal output and power draw of your CPU), so it’s very strange to see the option in a modest micro-ATX motherboard’s BIOS.