The audio in question is a Realtek ALC888 offering 8-channel sound via six mini-jack sensing connectors. To the left of this you’ll find four USB 2.0 ports. There are pins for three more ports on the board, which could be used for extra rear or with cases with front mounted USB. The back panel also gives you one full size Firewire connector, which is still useful and there’s pin out on the board for another.
The extra brackets for USB or Firewire aren’t included in the package so if you do need to get hold of any of these you will need to get in touch with MSI directly – they won’t be available from any resellers.
The chip that provides Firewire on the board is a VT6308 by a certain company called Via – yes this board has Via technology on it. Perhaps that was why there was a sticker covering over this particular chip. Finally, there’s a Gigabit Ethernet connector too, which is good news if you want to integrate this system in a fast home network.
There is a single x16 PCI Express slot, accompanied by a x1 PCI Express and two PCI slots. There are four SATA ports down on the board with a 300MB/s interface.
Aside from the HDMI with HDCP compliancy, the star of the show is the ATI Radeon X1250 integrated graphics, which AMD claims is the fastest integrated solution on the market. AMD makes much of the fact that Intel’s current top-of-the-line integrated solution, the G965, has no support for many titles, and isn’t fast enough to play many others.
The X1250 meanwhile should enable undemanding users to play current games, albeit at the most basic settings. In addition it should deal better with the demands of Windows Vista’s 3D Aero interface. Perhaps the biggest asset of the X1250 to most purchasers of the board will be the AVIVO capabilities – with hardware acceleration of MPEG-2 and WMV, (but not H.264). This should deliver smoother, better quality frame rates without taxing the CPU, keeping the system cooler and more stable – just what you need for a living room system, which is likely to be in a small case and not necessarily that well ventilated.
A quick look in the BIOS showed a fairly straightforward choice of options, with Cool ‘n Quiet there to keep the system voltages and clock speeds down under low loads. You can specify how much memory is used by the X1250 graphics between 32B and 1,024MB but most will leave it on auto.
Layout wise there’s little to comment on – it all seems reasonably laid out. You could find that the floppy disk connector, should you use it, and the EIDE connector, probably for an optical drive, are a bit hard to get to inside a case next to the 24-pin power connector, while the 4-pin auxillary power connector is a bit too far into the middle of the board. It would have been preferable to have it closer to the edges so you don’t have to trail a cable over the CPU fan.