MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) LGA2011 Motherboard Review
MSI is known for high quality motherboards, many of which are targeted toward the enthusiast and gamer. It is one of these products we are looking at today in the form of the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D). A mid-range offering in the LGA2011 motherboard market. Sandy Bridge E processor and 8 DIMM slots for your exploitation!
MSI has been a fixture in the motherboard enthusiast community for many years. Its products cover a wide range of price points and feature sets. While also known for a few other products along the lines of graphics cards, MSI is typically known for high quality motherboards. Many of which are targeted toward the enthusiast and gamer. It is one of these products we are looking at today in the form of the MSI X79A-GD65 (8D), a mid-range offering in the LGA2011 motherboard market.
It’s been some time since we covered an MSI board. We’ve generally had favorable results with its products, although there are some things we haven’t been fond of, overall MSI makes a good motherboard. One thing I have personally disliked is its UEFI which we slammed initially. MSI’s second iteration of its Click BIOS was better, but still not as solid as the UEFI found on ASUS’ or even ASRock boards.
The X79A-GD65 (8D) is an LGA2011 socket motherboard based off Intel’s X79 Express chipset. I won’t rehash the features of the chipset too much, but X79 is Intel’s top most offering at present. The chipset supports quad-channel memory, up to 64GB of RAM, 40 PCIe lanes, PCIe 3.0, etc. Aside from that it’s virtually identical to previous Intel chipsets.
The X79A-GD65 is a fairly basic X79 board as if there is such a thing. We have only one RAID controller, SATA 6G support, USB 3.0, IEEE1394, a single Gigabit Ethernet port, and of course support for SLI, 3-Way SLI, Quad-SLI, and CrossFireX. The board touts MSI’s Military Class III design. There is actually a military standard which the board adheres to, but don’t kid yourself, this is mostly marketing speak as the standard is fairly broad and not that hard to meet. That being said, the board is a high quality solution using Dr. MOS II, Hi-C capacitors, super ferrite chokes, and a 12 phase power design.
Main Specifications Overview:
Detailed Specifications Overview:
The board ships in the de facto style motherboard box we’ve been seeing for the last 15+ years. There isn’t much to say about the box itself. Our sample arrived with all accessories perfectly intact and ready for use. Included in the box are SATA cables, an eSATA bracket, USB bracket, SLI bridge, M-connectors, I/O shield, SATA cables, driver disc, manuals, and a certificate of stability.
The MSI X79A-GD65 is a good looking board with a black and blue color theme. The layout of the board is good leaving me with very few complaints. At the end of the day, I’ve really only got two issues with the board which are all related to the expansion slot area. I’ll cover my issues in more depth as we go along.
The CPU socket area is as good as you are likely ever to see with LGA2011. With the memory modules flanking the CPU socket on both sides, it’s necessary to go with water cooling or potentially lose out on DIMM slots as larger air coolers may end up blocking some of the slots.
As usual the board’s 8 DIMM slots surround the CPU socket. The DIMM slots only have locking tabs on one side. This is the first time I’ve seen MSI use these. These are now the standard on all ASUS boards, and I’ve seen ASRock use them as well. If you look at the proximity of the DIMM slots to the first PCIe slot, you’ll quickly see that this choice was absolutely necessary for MSI to keep memory upgrades simple after the system was fully assembled.
The X79 chipset is a unified chipset. As a result we have no north bridge, at least not in the traditional sense. What we have is a single chip located where the south bridge used to be on older boards. Much of the north bridge’s duties are actually integrated into the CPU now so as a result, a south bridge is really all you need. Directly in front of the motherboard are some right angled SATA connectors. These are color coded and indicated very clearly which are SATA 3G and 6G based on this color coding. The chipset cooler is a simple passive and flat design adorned with a shield shaped design. The blue and silver accents are very appealing and work well with the board’s color theme.
The expansion area, as I alluded to earlier is my major point of contention with this board. The position of the CMOS battery sucks. With a video card installed, getting to this would be challenging enough. With two, forget it. You’d need to start yanking components to reach it. I never like to see that, but recognize this is somewhat unavoidable on today’s boards. What is not avoidable is the RETARDED placement of the auxiliary power connector for the PCIe slots. It is located directly below the last PCIe slot. What’s worse is this is not a right angled port, but rather a straight, vertical plug in type. As a long-time SLI, 3-Way SLI, and CrossFireX user, this actually infuriates me to no end. The usage of this style connector and its placement makes this bottom PCIe slot worthless. The only way you could use it is if you had a single slot graphics card. When it comes to using a 3-card setup, this means water cooling. Air cooled cards capable of being used in 2+ configurations are typically, if not exclusively of the dual slot variety. So this connector’s placement and design is simply retarded. I wouldn’t by this board based on this issue alone. Now, if you have no intention of using this slot for graphics cards ever, then it wouldn’t be a deal breaker.
But as far as I am concerned, this is far too limiting. I said I had two issues, and functionally I do. The CMOS battery location and the lacking auxiliary power plug. There is one other issue, but it’s merely cosmetic. I hate the fact that MSI chose two different styles of locking tabs for the PCIe slots. That’s just ugly in my opinion. The use of these is also short sighted as the 2nd and 5th slot retention tabs are harder to reach with cards installed, and in fact may run into the other tabs above them. Again short sighted on MSI’s part.
I’d also like to mention that the 2nd and 5th slots are PCIe x1 slots with an x16 form factor. So there is no alternative configuration you can use other than 1, 4, and 6 for 3-Way SLI or 3 card CrossFireX configurations. For regular SLI or Crossfire you’d be fine, but this board sucks for triple card setups.
The rear I/O panel is standard fare, nothing wrong there. We’ve got 8 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 PS/2 keyboard or mouse port, 1 SPDIF out, 1 optical out, a clear CMOS button, 1 RJ-45, 1 IEEE1394 port and finally 6 mini-stereo jacks for audio output. MSI made good use of this space.
MSI Control Center
MSI includes its Control Center application with the X79A-GD65. It’s a simple utility which allows you to overclock within the Windows environment (theoretically anyway) and monitor voltages, temperatures and fan speeds.
Once the application is launched, this is essentially what you see. We’ve got our information broken largely into 2 types; information and actual settings. For the most part, the settings are either in sub-menus or located at the bottom of the window. At the top of the window, we’ve got two navigation tabs. These are for overclocking and green power. The overclocking tab is the default. Under that we’ve got the "Mainboard" sub-heading. This has information about our board. Chipset, model number, BIOS version and BIOS build date. There is also a "more" button which has provides more detail and more information. Audio, graphics and LAN information are added into the mix in this tab. Our CPU section has information about our installed CPU. This has two sub-menus, "advanced" and "more." The latter is purely information. The "advanced" button brings up a menu for adjusting our CPU ratios. This can be done for each core individually.
The memory section displays information concerning our installed RAM modules. With that we also have the DRAM timing menu which is the next sub-menu of note. This of course allows us to alter our memory timings. Below that are all our overclock settings. We have quite a few here from CPU ratio, to base clock, to voltages. Once we click on our green power menu, we are presented with some rudimentary voltage and temperature monitoring. At the bottom we can control our CPU power phases and adjust system fan speeds. From the green power menu, we can also adjust our onboard LED settings. Basically you can turn off all of them or turn all of them on. And lastly there is the OC Genie menu which directs you to the button on the motherboard’s PCB.
I don’t want to get into it too much, but when it comes to overclocking the Control Center is absolutely useless. Not only does it not apply settings when you click "apply," restarting the computer has no effect either. The setting remains whatever it was in the UEFI. I’ve even ensured that adjustment of the CPU ratio via OS was enabled in the UEFI. This had no effect. The Control Center simply didn’t work at all for anything beyond monitoring. And frankly the interface needs work on that account. You’ve got to go into the green power menu to see what’s going on there. I don’t find that very intuitive.