The layout of the MSI is a workmanlike affair but we would expect nothing less from a major motherboard manufacturer when there are relatively few components to accommodate. There’s a single PCIe x1 slot above the graphics slot and two PCI slots below so if you install a graphics card you’ll still have some expansion capability. The main power, IDE, floppy and SATA connectors are located at the edge of the board, while the four-pin ATX 12v connector sits behind the I/O panel. The passive cooler on the chipset is on the small end of the scale yet it kept the chipset cool without any trouble.
The GeForce 7100 graphics core supports DirectX 9.0c and Shader Model 3.0, but the same was true of the previous GeForce 6100 and 6150 chips, which supported AMD Athlon 64 processors. The 7100 core has more grunt than the 6100 but it only has two Pixel Shaders and one Vertex Shader so the main interest lies in its monitor support and on that score the MSI doesn’t compare well to a typical AMD 690G motherboard, such as the Gigabyte GA-MA69G-S3H that we’re using for comparison.
It’s a fair fight as the Gigabyte sells for £48, which is only slightly more expensive than the MSI, but of course the AMD690 ties you to an Athlon 64 X2 processor so the upgrade path is non-existent. If you build a new PC on the MSI P6NGM-FD with a Core 2 Duo are you likely to upgrade the hardware at any point especially when you’re hobbled by a single channel memory controller? We suspect you would treat the PC as a sealed unit so let’s see how the two systems compare.
We ran 3DMark06 just for fun and found that the lack of Shader Model 3.0 support in the 690G means that you cannot directly compare the graphics capability of the two chipsets. Both are competent enough to play games such as Sims or Lego Star Wars but that’s about your lot.
System performance was very similar when we ran both motherboards on the IGP but the MSI pulled ahead slightly when we plugged in an Asus GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card.