Our final contestant comes from MSI. The K8T Neo-FIS2R was one of the first commercially available Athlon 64 platforms. Being first is not always a good thing, but the K8T Neo is by no means under specified or lacking any of the components youâ€™d expect.
The FIS2R suffix breaks up in to different hardware features. F stands for Fast Ethernet, which in MSI speak is Gigabit Ethernet. The I stands for IEEE-1394 or FireWire in more common language. S2R stands for Serial-ATA RAID x2 as there is both S-ATA support from the VIA southbridge and a Promise controller. The Promise controller also supports two channel IDE RAID.
The features donâ€™t stop here as MSI has also integrated 5.1-channel sound based on the Realtek ALC655 chipset. The motherboard features discrete outputs for all 5.1-channels as well as optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs. Two FireWire connectors can also be found around the back at the I/O panel. There are also four USB 2.0 ports around the back as well as the standard two PS/2 ports and a single parallel port and a serial port.
General board layout is in the style weâ€™ve come to expect from MSI and most connectors are where they should be. Itâ€™s a shame that the 12v ATX connector has ended up behind the chipset on the rear of the board, as this means that the cable has to stretch over the memory and CPU cooler. One other blatant omission is the heatsink mounting bracket. This means that unless you buy a retail CPU there will be no way to mount the CPU heatsink. Why this was done is beyond us and we hope that MSI will fit this to the board as soon as humanly possible.
Letâ€™s move on to what you get in the box. Besides an attempt at rounded IDE and floppy cables, where both are normal cables folded and tied up with a nylon mesh, youâ€™ll find two S-ATA cables and one Molex to S-ATA power adapter. Thereâ€™s also an MSI D-bracket which adds two more USB 2.0 ports as well as four diagnostic LEDs.
The manual is of the usual high quality, but there is no quick setup sheet, which we feel is a serious omission from a company as large as MSI.
On a side note, this and the AOpen board are the only two on test that are passively cooled, so if you are looking to build a low noise system either of these boards is a good choice.
But how does it perform? Well, not as well as expected, as it was beaten by the nForce3 boards in most of the benchmarks. We have seen better scores from this board in PCs that weâ€™ve reviewed in the past and it seems that something was slightly astray with our review sample. We did however disable the CoreCell overclocking feature and this could possibly have something to do with the poor performance score.
So where does this land the K8T Neo in the great scheme of things? It is a feature rich board, but not to the extent of the Gigabyte or the Chaintech and it is quite affordable at Â£103.87 inc VAT. That is a little more than Â£10 more expensive than the AOpen, but we think that the MSI is worth a little extra.
The K8T Neo would suit most needs, but the lack of the CPU cooler retention bracket is a poor decision by MSI.