Wait-a-minute... it's not red? Budget boards from MSI are usually red or pooh-brown, aren't they? Here we've got something that resembles the popular performance boards that cost twice the price. The attractive dark styling will no doubt have its praises sung by many readers.
You'll note that the chipset is a single chip solution, something Nvidia is famous for doing on its AMD boards way back since the nForce 3 era. The tiny cooler is all it needs, and remember it includes a complete DirectX 10 graphics core in addition to all the usual SATA, USB and PCI-Express lanes: that's pretty damn impressive to only require a tiny passive cooler then!
The onboard video won't win any performance prizes - it's basically a GeForce 9400/Ion with 16 shaders, and it will work in conjunction with an equally slow Nvidia graphics card for Hybrid SLI, if you really care. We don't. If anything we're treating it as a fail-safe so you still have a PC if your graphics card should fail. It's a nice to have in that respect.
The only difference between 750a and 980a is the amount of PCI-Express lanes available: in addition to the usual PCI-Express x1 peripheral connections, the 750a here can only afford a single PCI-Express x16 lane, that will split into x8s for SLI in the big blue slots. All the PCI-Express links are Gen 2 as well, for a full fat bandwidth connection.
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Powering the party is a 4+1 phase setup that should handle 140W CPUs, however don't expect a particularly large overhead: MSI has been known to cut it very fine. No DrMOS MOSFETs are included here, just the bog-standard old style are installed, but paired with the usual quality Nippon Chemicon capacitors and sealed chokes.
The layout really works for us actually, despite appearing a little bare on a first look. The five SATA ports are a mix between four pointing 90 degrees to the board and another poking outwards - however, that doesn't detract from using it since the graphics card fits underneath it.
The sixth and final SATA port is assigned to permanent eSATA duty giving more peripheral connections, but losing us an internal connection. With no other SATA ports available, it does limit us a little, but given the price we don't expect someone to drop £80 on a motherboard and £500 on hard drives. Having said that, with RAID 5 support available on AMD for a change (no cheap AMD boards with SB710 offer it) it does open the opportunity for a potentially cheap, AMD-based file server using RAID 5.
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A power-on button is all you're getting! Pff, don't expect luxurious additions such as a clear CMOS or reset button. A jumper is MSI's limit, but it still manages to include an "Easy OC Switch" that we find completely irrelevant given a quality BIOS, despite its retro appeal. Reset CMOS buttons are genuinely useful, whereas fiddly little jumper switches are not. We hope MSI puts a fork in it, because jumper-based CMOS switches should be a thing of the past.
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There's oodles of room to get your memory out, although naturally it's dead close to the CPU socket which makes taller DIMMs often hit heatsinks, so as always with AMD systems: be mindful of what you buy.
Despite the highest PCI-Express x1 slot looking like any card plugged in will hit the 750a heatsink, it's not actually the case - long cards can be squeezed in. With a single PCI slot, this may limit a few people looking to use old cards in an upgrade, however there are plenty of alternative PCI-Express x1s out there these days.
On the back of the board we have DVI, D-Sub and HDMI connections - the D-Sub can be used with either digital connection, but no two digital connectors can be used at once. With six USB, RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet, PS2 keyboard and mouse and six 3.5mm analogue audio jacks there's certainly more to go around than the MSI 770X-C45 board, but if you don't care for video outputs it seems a bit of a waste of space.