Overclockers will have spotted mention of the Clear CMOS button on the I/O panel but I had no need to press it at any time during testing (further adding to our annoyance at the I/O panel arrangement). Make no mistake I locked the thing solid a few times but if you cycle the Power button four times without successfully booting into Windows the BIOS will judge that overclocking was a failure and reset the speeds to default levels. It saves loads of time and means that you don’t have to mess about resetting the date and time and disabling any features that you don’t want to use. This is definitely something we would love to see on all motherboards from now on.
The BIOS is generally quite good although you adjust the front side bus in steps on the ‘adjusted’ speed such as 1,333MHz or 1,400MHz when the multiplier actually works on a ‘true’ speed of 333MHz or 350MHz. There’s a certain amount of confusion as the BIOS indicates the current CPU frequency, front side bus and memory speeds but it is at the top of the screen and not alongside the figures you are changing. The other oddity is that our 1,150MHz DDR2 memory defaulted to a low clock speed of 666MHz. That’s a simple 2.0x multiplier on the 333MHz front side bus of the E6750 but it seems very cautious as Kingston KHX9600 will easily run at 800MHz on standard voltage and zips up to 1,066MHz with a sniff of some extra volts.
There’s a full set of voltage adjustments but it’s not as easy as it might be. The CPU voltage adjustment is based on the standard voltage in steps of +0.0125V so you don’t enter a value such as 1.35V. The problem is that you need to know where you are starting from before you pump an extra 0.1V or 0.2V into your new Penryn. Memory, VTT FSB, Northbridge and Southbridge voltages are entered as absolute numbers such as 2.10V which is preferable to my way of thinking.
Overclocking wasn’t much fun as the front side bus would barely budge on standard voltages and the E6750 wouldn’t quite reach a 400MHz front side bus so the maximum stable speed was 3.16GHz. The QX9650 processor is an Extreme Edition which opens up the option of changing the clock multiplier however the MSI didn’t want to play ball and I couldn’t raise the speed at all. It’s worth noting that the 780i SLI Asus P5N-T refused to run with the QX9650 at all when it was on the test bench one month ago. This suggests that the combination of the chipset and BIOS are to blame and further development will yield benefits.
MSI is selling the P7N in a bundle with a Zalman NP9500 cooler under the Zilent name. This is something we’ve not seen before and it certainly seems a bit strange but knowing the NP9500 is a very good cooler we certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from investing in the package. In fact, currently the bundle is retailing at a couple of shops for around £30 less than the board alone so it’s a very good deal indeed.
If you plan on running SLI the MSI P7N is a decent motherboard, even though the IDE connectors are in a hopeless location. Those of you who feel that one graphics card is plenty should stick with the P35 chipset.