MSI X79A-GD45 Plus Review: Building Upby Ian Cutress on February 14, 2014 10:00 AM EST
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Breaking into the X79 game at this late stage is a rough business. The major action was at the Sandy Bridge-E launch, and the Ivy Bridge-E release was a minor bump in comparison. Due to the lack of a new chipset, only a few motherboard vendors put a new product onto the market for the IVB-E launch. One of them was MSI, with the slightly non-conventional X79A-GD45 Plus, which we are reviewing today.
MSI X79A-GD45 Plus Overview
When pulling the MSI Z79A-GD45 Plus out of its box, I was a little surprised, if I am honest. Typically with X79 motherboards we see a layout conducive to a 4-way GPU allocation, and there really is only one way of doing that unless you extend out the motherboard. With the GD45 Plus, MSI has modified it at least for 3-way PCIe allocation, similar to most mainstream (Z77/Z87) PCIe layouts. The argument for this might be on the side of ‘the first GPU always gets one slot of airflow’ when using a dual slot GPU, but even in dual GPU layouts on other X79 motherboards, the GPU still has space there. The other element is that MSI are going more for additional PCIe cards rather than GPUs, and so the odd PCIe lane layout might benefit this. The reason why the first PCIe slot is shifted down one to accommodate this layout is due to the large number of resistors on the top of the motherboard, which seems slightly abnormal.
On the hardware side of things, MSI has gone somewhat minimal, especially when there are no extra SATA 6 Gbps ports, no WiFi and only one network port. The focus is almost more on the look of the motherboard, which in black and grey can be rather soothing. Audio comes in at the base Realtek ALC892, which is pretty much the low end standard for the Ivy Bridge-E platform, and this is paired with an Intel NIC, rather than anything Atheros Killer based as seen on other products in MSI’s spectrum.
For our benchmarking suite, the X79A-GD65 Plus does rather well, given that it uses MultiCore Acceleration when XMP is applied (adjusts all multipliers up to the top turbo limit no matter the loading). The DPC Latency is lower than any Haswell motherboard we have tested, although the audio selection (ALC892 + Sound Blaster) gave a lower SNR than most of the other motherboards we have tested. Boot time is quite long (18.3 seconds with two GPUs), and our rather bad CPU struggled past 4.4 GHz in terms of overclocking, which is almost along the lines of the other X79 motherboards we have tested.
For the extra features, such as software and BIOS usability, MSI gets big thumbs up for their continuing use and execution of Live Update 5, which configures the latest BIOS and drivers from the internet into the system. The new Control Center software we saw for Z87 is used in this new X79 model, although the option to stick the voltage straight to 1.8 volts in the OS is still a bad option to have available to users. The big feature of the BIOS we liked for Z87, the fan control settings, is not present in the BIOS here, and while MSI now give help hints on the BIOS options, users have to navigate and click to find them – not particularly useful if, like me, the main method of BIOS navigation is via the keyboard. The overclocking options in the BIOS are still a bit of a mess as well, with no clear order or segregation.
It might sound like I am being a bit harsh on the MSI X79A-GD65 Plus, and although it has problems which are more derived from issues and the design stage, it never required adjusting during actual testing. The question then comes around to whether $250 is the right price for a product of this nature. Back when X79 was brought into the market, we tested MSI’s Big Bang XPower II, a high end product that despite the novelty heatsinks created enough of an impact in my testing at the time to get an award. The X79A-GD45 Plus has fewer features and options as the BBXP2 (as seen in the price difference, $250 vs. $450+), and serves the cheaper end of the LGA2011 market.
As mentioned, pulling the motherboard out of the box is a rather pleasurable experience in terms of aesthetics. MSI has made it simple and tidy, with a lack of obvious tracing around the motherboard. This comes back into their styling shift that occurred around Z77 to make the more expensive product lines presentable, which in terms of sales (so I am told, but cannot verify) has worked in the gaming market.
The position of the socket is slightly lower than most X79 motherboards we have reviewed, and as such so are the memory slots. This removes the first PCIe slot on the motherboard, but could arguably result in more airflow for the heatsink at the top. The heatsink covers an 8-phase solution, and requires a single 8-pin 12V CPU power connector. Using a contactless IR thermometer gave a full load temperature delta of 15ºC in this area over idle temperatures interestingly enough.
Around the socket are four of the motherboards fan headers, all four-pin, essentially one at each corner of the socket. The first is near the 8-pin 12V CPU power connector, with a second on the top right at the other side of the power delivery heatsink. Below the socket to the right yields a third, while to the left of the DRAM sockets behind the audio jacks is a fourth. The final fan header on board is a 4-pin found near the audio codec on the left hand side of the motherboard, which puts it in prime location to be unused should a large GPU be put in the first slot. I used MSI’s GTX 770 Lightning in the first PCIe slot and was unable to then place a fan into that header.
Aside from the larger than normal gap at the top of the motherboard, the rest comes in standard for a base X79 product with MSI styling. Moving clockwise around the board and we get the 24-pin ATX power connector, a Multi-BIOS switch, two SATA 6 Gbps ports, four SATA 3 Gbps ports and then a 4-pin molex connector. This connector is designed to provide extra power to the PCIe slots (of which a user could populate five with single slot GPUs), and while normally I would be frustrated by the use of a 4-pin molex, it is at right angles to the motherboard here meaning it does not get in the way or require being placed over components depending on PSU layout in a case. What users may notice here is the lack of any additional SATA 6 Gbps controllers, which are a common sight on X79 motherboards in order to bulk up the credentials.
As the chipset heatsink only has to deal with the chipset, it remains unattached to any other heatsink on board. Along the bottom of the motherboard are the normal array of headers and buttons – a front panel audio header, a COM header, a TPM header, a JDLED3 header for MSI’s Voice Genie hardware (that never made proper retail in 2011), a power button, an OC Genie button, a front panel header, two USB 2.0 headers and a USB 3.0 header.
The motherboard’s PCIe layout is designed to accommodate a number of different and esoteric X79 setups. As socket 2011 CPUs have 40 lanes, these are usually offered in an x16/x16/x8 combination. This is what MSI does with the grey PCIe slots, with the full length black ones underneath splitting the x16 into x8/x8 when occupied. To the left of the PCIe slots is our audio codec, where the Realtek ALC892 is in use. There is no serious attempt to bolster the audio output quality here, unlike Z87 motherboards in this price range.
The rear IO is as basic as X79 gets, with two PS/2 connectors, a Clear_CMOS button, SPDIF outputs, six USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an Intel 82579V network connection and the audio jacks.
|MSI X79A-GD45 Plus|
Eight DDR3 DIMM slots supporting up to 64 GB
Up to Quad Channel, 1333-2400 MHz
|Onboard LAN||Intel 82579V|
|Onboard Audio||Realtek ALC892|
3 x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x16/x16/x8)
2 x PCIe 3.0 x8
1 x PCIe 2.0 x1
2 x SATA 6 Gbps (PCH), RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
4 x SATA 3 Gbps (PCH), RAID 0, 1, 5, 10
|USB 3.0||4 x USB 3.0 (NEC D720202) [2 rear, 1 header]|
2 x SATA 6 Gbps
4 x SATA 3 Gbps
1 x USB 3.0 Header
2 x USB 2.0 Headers
5 x Fan Headers
1 x COM Header
1 x TPM Header
1 x Clear_CMOS Jumper
1 x Power Button
1 x OC Genie button
1 x MultiBIOS Switch
1 x Voice Genie Header (JDLED3)
1 x MultiConnect Panel Connector
1 x 24-pin ATX Power Connector
1 x 8-pin CPU Power Connector
1 x 4-pin Molex VGA Power Connector
1 x CPU
4 x SYS
1 x PS/2 Keyboard Port
1 x PS/2 Mouse Port
1 x Clear_CMOS Button
1 x Coaxial SPDIF output
1 x Optical SPDIF output
1 x Ethernet Port (Intel 82579V)
6 x USB 2.0 Ports
2 x USB 3.0 Ports (NEC)
Audio Jacks (Realtek ALC892)
|Warranty Period||3 Years|
The downside of investing in an X79 setup is that the motherboard costs more, and the equivalent priced Z87 motherboard can have a lot more features. Part of this comes back to the age of the X79 chipset, but for example, a $200 Z87 motherboard can have six SATA 6 Gbps ports, 6 USB 3.0 ports, 802.11ac WiFi, power/reset buttons, two-digit debug LED, bolstered audio, overclocking features and so on. For users that want to jump onto one of the cheaper X79 motherboards that are new (I fully admit it would be cheaper to buy second hand), MSI aim to get you covered by using Realtek ALC892 controller rather than more expensive alternatives. Perhaps another $5 could be saved by forgoing that Sound Blaster Cinema license too.
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hulu - Friday, February 14, 2014 - linkIn Board Features > Memory Slots, says "Up to Dual Channel". Shouldn't it be quad channel?
dgingeri - Friday, February 14, 2014 - linkWell, it could be useful for a high level home server with that many slots. Put a low end video card in the top, raid controller in the second, quad port 1Gb NICs in the 4th and 5th, and have the last slot available for a 10Gb card if needed. Wouldn't even need a switch to go with it. All in one, storage, network, routing, high end network. It has possibilities.
Rick83 - Friday, February 14, 2014 - linkBut most of that you can do with 1155, and for that price you can get a board with ECC support to boot, won't need any GPU at all (unless you get a Xeon that has the GPU disabled), and still have plenty room to grow. 1155 has plenty of PCIe bandwidth, as long as most of your load is from two expansion slots. Hooking up RAID and networking directly to the CPU means that you will have two or three expansion cards that may eventually be bandwidth restrained, but even then opting for a board with a PCIe MUX would be in the same league, price-wise as this, and have plenty of bandwidth for up to four cards - and most non-GPU cards aren't really PCIe restricted. Quad GbE is one lane PCIe3, 10GbE is 2-4 lanes, 8x 6Gb SAS with software RAID over SSDs is going to need 8x PCIeV3, but realistically 4x is going to be enough, if you use hardware RAID or spinning platters.
No, the only reason for this board, is if you want a cheap rendering machine. 6-8 cores and 64GB of RAM on a 250 dollar board is pretty nice. If you want gaming, you'll probably be looking at boards higher up the foodchain, as the GPUs alone will come in at around 2-3k dollars, and another 100 on the board won't really matter, if you get better sound and other nifty features.
GPU computer might be another use case, but then that's even rarer than rendering boxes, from what I've seen so far. Might be a nice little GPU compute dev workstation.
Flunk - Friday, February 14, 2014 - linkThere really isn't any need for this as a home server. It's total overkill. Even a Core 2 Quad can transcode multiple 1080p streams while serving files, routing and doing all the other common home server tasks. Home servers don't really need much power, most homes don't have more than 4-6 users.
dgingeri - Friday, February 14, 2014 - linkFor total I/O and a poor man's 10Gbe switch, socket 2011 or 1366 can't be beat. That's what I mostly use my home servers for. Socket 775, 1155, or 1150 systems simply can't provide the I/O to run a software switch that includes 10Gbe.
Yeah, sure, 10Gbe is hardly worth the expense in a home server. However, with a raid controller and quad drive set capable of pushing 400MB/s, it can be useful for video editing over a network drive, or a few other things.
I do it as an experiment on future uses and self training. Right now, I have three servers interconnected with 10Gb over such a poor man's 10Gbe switch running a total of 14 VMs over 3 domains with 6 domain controllers, 3 WDS servers, and some 'workstations', just to prove I could do it before I propose doing the same thing with the DNS servers in my lab. (We currently have 4 domains across 17 departments, with 3 of those 4 running Linux DNS servers that don't talk to each other. It's really annoying working on machines that cross those domains. So, I had to come up with a plan to fix it with Windows DNS and AD, and eventually migrate down to one domain. In addition, I was to come up with a way to manage user accounts through Windows AD for a single centralized vCenter server to manage our test VM hosts. I wasn't sure I could do it until I spent a weekend building all these VMs.) All of those VMs are running on iSCSI storage over 10Gbe from the storage server. I did all this with two Dell T110 II servers, one for storage and one for routing/switch, and a piecemeal FX-6100 VM host and 4 Intel CX4 10Gbe NICs.
In essence, I was just dreaming about a more capable central server for my experiments when I posted that previous comment. I could switch the storage and switch duties to a system with this board and use the Dells as further VM hosts. Maybe I'm just spoiled with all this hardware at work.
Ian Cutress - Friday, February 14, 2014 - linkCopy/Paste error from my spec tables which I hand code to make it easier :) Should be fixed.
Bal - Friday, February 14, 2014 - linkOk I am not one to criticize articles, but this reads REALLY poorly. I mean I am the guy who misspells every other word and uses slang, misses apostrophes etc. So I forgive everything as long as its readable. But I could not get past the first page of this review.
The writer misuses "are" and "is" so often I have to reread every other sentence. He completely misses using the word "the" and it also makes you reread each sentence. Read the first two paragraphs and someone tell me I am wrong? Am I just grumpy, hungover or what?
The PC Apologist - Friday, February 14, 2014 - linkHahaha, you must be new to Ian. He's rather infamous for his "style."
It would seem that eloquence is not as valued as passion when it comes to the tech journalism industry, even for Anandtech. Refer to the 14 AIO coolers article and its comments section to see an excellent example of what I mean. There I had a little exchange with the author and boy, it’s not pretty.
Although one could say that one doesn’t read a motherboard review, or any other tech article, to brush up on one’s English grammar or writing skills, but rather just to look at some pretty pictures, learn the price/specs, and read the conclusion, it’s somewhat of a weak cop-out as one would also expect AnandTech to strive for higher standards. Reading is reading and a poorly written article is a poorly written article, regardless of topic. Other sites aren’t much better though. And to their defense, there are some decent writers, in terms of pure writing, here at AnandTech, not least of which is Anand himself. And who knows? I might even answer AnandTech’s Call for Writers one of these days. So fret not, all hope is not lost.
- The PC Apologist
thesavvymage - Saturday, February 15, 2014 - linkI would absolutely loathe you writing for this site. I'm sure the other writers would hate you writing with them as well, pretty much every time I see you in the comments it is because you are complaining of the competence of the english and grammar of the article.
BlakKW - Saturday, February 15, 2014 - link+1