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In the package we found an MSI SkyTel VoIP riser card which connects to a header on the board and sits in the only PCI slot to keep it mechanically secure. This seemed like a questionable idea as the PCI slot is in the thick of the action but when we tried to install the VoIP card it caused Vista to hang so we put it back in the box and gave it a miss.
The four PCIe slots use MSI's preferred retention method where the end of the slot grips the card without any need for a lock or latch which avoids all of that unnecessary cursing and swearing when you're delving in the depths of your PC.
Considering how much hardware there is on the board, MSI has done a good job with the layout. The power connectors are at the edges of the board, the memory latches can be released with a graphics card in place and the IDE connector and the four SATA connectors are laid down to feed the cables away from the graphics cards. You only get four SATA connectors on the board as MSI has put two eSATA ports on the I/O panel that are also controlled by the ICH9R Southbridge. The I/O panel is stuffed with connectors including six analogue mini jacks and an optical output for the on-board Realtek audio, which is perhaps unnecessary as you'll be using the X-Fi riser or your own sound card. There are eight USB 2.0 ports, of which four are wide-spaced, one Firewire, the two eSATA ports, two PS/2 ports, dual Gigabit LAN and a Clear CMOS button.
There are a couple of minor gripes. I counted six blue, red and green LEDs scattered across the X38 Diamond, which just appear to be there for cosmetic reasons. All I really want is one LED to show that the power is on thanks. I also wasn't best pleased that the Power and Reset micro buttons are located too close together with and with only the tiniest lettering to tell them apart.
One final feature that stands out is the diagnostic LED. We used to get Morse beep codes, which were hopeless, then MSI used its D-bracket with a series of LEDs that generated a diagnostic code that you could cross-reference with the manual to nail down a problem, but now MSI has gone one step further. The X38 Diamond has an LCD display that actually spells out the problem, albeit in four letters. During the POST stage the display cycles through CPU, DDR3, ICH, CLK, ATA and so on until it displays the MSI logo. It's much better than previous systems but like all insurance you'd be happier if you never have to use it for real.
MSI has loaded its X38 Diamond with ports and connectors as well as a prodigious amount of PCI Express. Now we just need a BIOS that supports a 1,600MHz FSB and we'll be happy bunnies.
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