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MSI 845PE Max2 FISR - getting acquainted
A couple of weeks ago we looked at the limited edition P4PE Black Pearl from Asus. Unsurprisingly it is a hard board to get hold of and today we look at something a little more mainstream. Micro Star International, or MSI is another big hitter in the motherboard arena. Their fiery red motherboards have become popular with overclockers and hardware junkies for stability, functionality and flare. Recently they have hit the headlines again with rumours that future MSI video cards to use ATI GPUs.

We have seen that Intel's 845PE chipset is a good performer and when coupled to PC2700 RAM it can finally mount a challenge to the now departed/defunct RAMBUS PC1066 solution. The P4PE Black Pearl was, however, lacking in on board functionality department, something which we have come to expect from motherboards in the past 12 months. MSI is well known for producing boards that have high feature counts and this their 845PE Max2 FISR is no exception.


The 845PE Max2 FISR is the second rendition of the 845PE Max2 from MSI. The second edition sports Serial ATA along with a few cosmetic changes. Serial ATA support in motherboards is becoming increasingly important as we are getting through the first quarter of 2003 and getting a clearer picture as to when Serial ATA hard drives will come onto the market in large quantities. Signs point to an explosion of information and products at next weeks Cebit exhibition coupled to mass market availability within the third quarter of this year. This means that if you are purchasing a motherboard today you should be looking out for Serial ATA connectivity built as standard, unless you want to spend extra bucks on a discrete solution in the next few months.

MSI have packed a great deal into this package and the box was almost bursting open when we received it. It would have been nice to see a bigger box to hold the contents of the Max2 FISR rather than squashing it all into the standard size box. MSI aren't the only company that supplies more than their boxes can hold, we've come to expect this from Asus, where we have problems getting all the stuff back in. Of course it's better to have more than less stuff, so we better not moan too much.

  

The goods are presented in a lean blue box which has a clean design. The front is a little sparse on information; however the rear does a good job of filling any information void that may exist. Like a number of motherboard manufacturers, the motherboard model is printed on a white sticker which is present on the opening tab. It is important you read this since it has the exact details of what this motherboard has. With more and more manufacturers producing the same board but with varying amounts of on board connectivity, it is important that you pick up what you want or need.


The box is packed to the brim with cables, manuals and the motherboard itself. As we mentioned earlier, it would be nice to see slightly larger boxes and a bit more padding for the motherboard itself. Certainly packing everything back in wasn't an easy task. When everything came out of the box, there clearly was a large number of accessories to go with the motherboard itself.


Documentation is well written and the three manuals that are supplied provide ample instructions and help should you run into minor problems. The quick installation guide is a great idea, and many manufacturers have implemented it. A yellow warning card is supplied and this outlines the need to use 1.5V AGP cards, rather than the older 3.3V versions. An extra red sticker is placed on the AGP slot itself to further warn you of the dangers.

The quintessential driver/utility CD is supplied along with the Promise Serial ATA driver on a floppy disk. Three PCI slot headers are presented, with one having three FireWire ports, the second having 2 USB 2.0 ports with LEDS to indicate data transfer and the third being an audio attaching including the SP/DIF port. All the usual cables are there and MSI supply two Serial ATA cables to boot. Overall, the motherboard is accompanied with a plethora of quality accessories.


The fire orange heatsink on top of the 845PE MCH immediately grabs your attention. The actively cooled memory controller hub has a mid-sized heatsink on top of it, coupled to a small fan. The fan itself doesn't produce a great deal of noise, however it would have been nicer to see no fan at all. The board itself is bigger than the other 845PE/GE boards we've come to see, and one should take caution if they intend to fit it in a small case.

  

The heatsink mount is surrounded on the port side by two banks of smoothing capacitors which are separated by two lean heatsinks. These days heatsinks on electrical components are relatively rare so it's pretty obvious that these ones were really needed. The 12V power connector is nestled in between one of the heatsinks and the CPU heatsink mount. Sadly this is one of the worst placements we've seen and the cord for the 12V power cable will almost certainly get in the way of a tall heatsink.

     

On the east-side (depending on the orientation) you find the standard ATX power connector next to the CPU heatsink mount. Again not the best placement for this connector, but we can't complain too much as layout does suffer when the board is loaded full of functionality. Thankfully should reaching the 12V power connector be a problem, MSI include a standard 4 pin connector which can be used in place of the 12V power plug. The first two DIMM slots are placed very close to each other which could pose problems with cooling modules.

     

Down south we see the array of on board goodies take up a fair amount of space. The oversized board is filled fairly sparsely on the right, with the ICH 4 controller hub, battery and IDE RAID sockets taking up the lion share of space. Along the bottom we see the Promise Serial ATA controller along with the USB and FireWire headers. The plastic surround on each array of connector pins really enhances the quality of the board - so many manufacturers just ignore minor details like this, but us users really appreciate it.

On the left side we have the standard 6 PCI slots, plus a CNR (Communications Network Riser) slot. Right at the end we have the Intel Gigabit Ethernet chip and the CMedia sound controller. We will take a closer look at each of these later.

So, the overall layout may be a little suspect on the top of the board, with the power connectors all positioned in less than ideal locations, however as you head on down, MSI have made good use of the oversized PCB and managed to pack their heavyweight features closely together but not no top of each other.


On the rear of the motherboard you have the 4 USB 2.0 ports, the Gigabit Ethernet port and 3 jacks for audio in a vertical stack. The inclusion of 1 serial port may be a slight annoyance to some people who own older devices but most people rarely use one, let alone two.