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MSI 865PE Neo2 FIS2R - Getting acquainted
With the introduction of the 875P and 865PE chipsets from Intel we have seen Pentium 4 performance levels take a large step up from any previous releases. All of the major motherboard manufacturers have produced boards based upon these chipsets with varying levels of success. Not being a company to disappoint, MSI have also jumped into the market with products sporting such chipsets; two utilising the 875P chipset and no fewer than six with the 865PE chip: the 865PEM2-ILS, 865PE Neo Series (2 boards) and finally the 865PE Neo2 Series (3 boards). The three boards in the NEO2 series are almost identical varying only through onboard extras :
  • 865PE Neo2-S [Standard Version, Serial ATA(SB)]
  • 865PE Neo2-LS [10/100 LAN, Serial ATA(SB)]
  • 865PE Neo2-FIS2R [GbE LAN, IEEE 1394,Serial ATA(SB), Ultra/Serial ATA RAID(Promise)]
  • The top-of-the-range unit is the Neo2-FIS2R, and the board we will be looking at in this article.

    The 865PE chipset is essentially a cut-down version of the 875P from Intel. The only real difference being that the 865 doesn't have PAT technology. A number of motherboard manufacturers have released BIOS revisions that unlock this feature in the 865PE based boards. This is great news for the consumer as they end up effectively having high-end performance for mainstream prices.

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    The packaging is extravagant. The front of the box flips open like a book revealing more information about the motherboard inside and exactly what comes in the package. The box also has a handle on the top, which is a nice touch, making it easy to carry home from the store. MSI have definitely put some thought into the packaging, which is refreshing to see.

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    The contents of the box were packaged well and the motherboard sits on the now compulsory layer of foam at the very bottom. This is then covered in cardboard, on top of which you'll find all the accessories, manuals, driver discs and cables securely packaged.

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    The board has a glaring blood red PCB, which has become MSI's trademark colour. At first glance there appears to be no noticeable layout quirks, but we'll split the layout into four and inspect each of the corners individually to pick up on any problems.

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    Taking a closer look in the top right corner of the motherboard we find four DIMM slots. Indirectly this proved to be the first worry, not for layout reasons but for its colour coding. To utilize dual channel DDR you need to know where to put the two sticks of memory; one DIMM in slot 0 and slot 2 or one in slot 1 and slot 3. For a newcomer, possibly building his first computer, the colour coding of the slots could lead them to believe that you have to place the DIMM in the same colour slot, thus causing them to use a single channel configuration and losing a fair degree of memory bandwidth in the process. We feel making slots 0 and 2 the same colour and 1 and 3 also the same, but a different colour would be a much better idea for those that don't have experience in these matters.

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    The slots are a fair distance from the CPU socket which is good as there is little cause for obstruction when using large heatsinks. You can clearly see exactly how close the Northbridge fan/heatsink are to the CPU heatsink bracket. This could undoubtedly cause a few problems for large heatsinks and should have been straight, not diagonal to rectify this annoyance, even though the 865PE chipset itself is positioned diagonally.

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    The ATX power socket is fairly well placed with little to no obstruction around it while IDE1, IDE2 and the floppy drive connectors are placed in "stack" alignment which isn't ideal, since they are too close to each other and rounded cables seemed a pain to get into place because their rubber coating is fairly thick. The CMOS battery isn't the easiest of things to remove as it's surrounded by capacitors and the Core Cell chip, but then you shouldn't have to remove this anyway, at least not very often.

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    The usual bank of capacitors is present with the two at the bottom of the CPU socket being rather too close to the heatsink bracket for our liking, again causing concerns about the use of large heatsinks. The 4-pin ATX power socket is positioned in the defacto standard position where it requires all four cables to stretch over the CPU heatsink/fan and could cause problems when disconnecting from a fully connected computer. A better place would be closer to the standard 12v ATX connector.

    The Northbridge is cooled with a rather nice looking active setup, using a small heatsink and fan emblazoned with MSI branding. In operation it proved to be fairly quiet and not in anyway annoying. The smartest thing is the fan itself, it contains numerous LED's giving a "disco light" effect when it's running and although it may sound tacky, the effect is very nice and certainly case modders with built-in windows will appreciate it.

    Moving onto the bottom left we have the usual helping of PCI slots. The 865PE Neo2 comes with five slots. Considering the amount of onboard functionality that is present, it's unlikely that most users will require the full compliment. We can also see the on board sound chip but strangely only one plug (CD1) for CD/DVD audio connectivity. Those with multiple CD drives wanting audio playback may find this a little disappointing.

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    Here we find most of the on board gubbins. The first thing that catches the eye are four large sockets along the very bottom of the board, present for backplane connectors. USB, S/PDIF, IEEE 1394 (Firewire), all of which come supplied with the motherboard should you wish to use them. The orange sockets are for Serial ATA (SATA) drives. Two are controlled by the ICH5R Southbridge and the other pair through the Promise external unit. A third IDE channel is also present and is controlled by the Promise unit. It supports RAID functionality. The Southbridge here and overall there is no layout problems down this end.

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    Viewing the backplane from left to right we have the keyboard and mouse PS/2 ports in their usual green and purple colour coding, four USB 2 ports, one serial port, one parallel port, two more USB 2 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port and lastly the audio ports. A fairly standard affair on the whole.
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