I fully intended to give the MSI X38 Diamond its debut last week when I reviewed the Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 but I ran into a snag.
Although the X38 chipset is perfectly capable of supporting Intel's new 1,600MHz front side bus it seems that MSI had only just received a sample of the processor so the board I had sitting on the bench worked fine with the QX9650 but wouldn't recognize the QX9770. That was annoying but it would be harsh on MSI to blame it for not adding unofficial support for a processor that had been launched in something of a rush.
It meant that when it came to this review I'd already spent some time in the depths of the BIOS and had come to the conclusion that it was still a work in progress. I could change the clock multiplier on the Extreme Edition processor but the front side bus was locked and so too were the voltage settings. That's unprecedented on an MSI motherboard as the Core Cell section of the BIOS can usually be relied upon to provide hours of overclocking fun.
As such, in the case of the X38 Diamond I knew I would rapidly hit a wall, which meant that my test figures wouldn't be directly comparable with any of the other motherboards that I've tested in recent times. Therefore, as the results wouldn't be comparable anyway, I took the opportunity to plug together a test system that was slightly different to my usual set-up.
The CPU was the 3.00GHz QX9650 Penryn, along with 2GB of OCZ PC3-1333 plus my usual Hitachi 7K1000 hard drive and a new Asus GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card. The big change was using Windows Vista Ultimate Edition instead of Windows XP SP2. I use XP on my personal PC and see no reason to change at present and while Vista works well enough, it just doesn't seem to deliver anything that I need, and I include Crysis in that sweeping statement, as it is fine in DirectX 9 on XP.
So while the test figures for the MSI X38 don't stand direct comparison with other motherboards that I've reviewed but the performance was exactly what I would expect from an X38 board, so on that score the MSI is a success.
The small matters of the layout, features and price are more crucial then in deciding on a purchase. There's a hefty passive cooling system that links the power regulation hardware, northbridge and southbridge. The heatpipe also extends to another chip, an IDT PES16T7 PCI Express controller, which looks after the two yellow PCI Express (PCIe) slots. Mechanically, these are PCIe x16 slots that have four lanes of PCIe each, in addition to the pair of blue PCIe 2.0 graphics slots that are controlled by the northbridge of the X38 chipset.
Populate the two graphics slots with a pair of double slot Radeon X1900 or HD 3870 graphics cards and you'll find that one of the two PCIe x1 slots and the only PCI slot vanish from sight. MSI supplies a Creative X-Fi PCIe x1 audio card in the Diamond package but we're none too sure what you're supposed to do with the rest of those PCIe slots. Surely they can't all be intended for CrossFire X when the drivers arrive in January.