MSI RD480 Neo2
The RD480 Neo2's blood red PCB is a distinct representation of an ATI chipset onboard, but like many manufacturers, MSI has opted to pair the Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire (RD480) Northbridge with an ULi Southbridge instead of ATI's own SB450 solution. This is in-liew of the criticism that the ATI part has been receiving for its low performance and general lack of features. However, we're quite surprised that the RD480 Neo2 uses the ULI M1573 Southbridge instead of the newer M1575. The good news is that the M1573 doesn't suffer from performance degradation problems like the SB450 and it does bring Azalia-class HD Audio to the AMD platform, but it still lacks advanced storage functions available on the M1575 like SATA II support and RAID 5.
The RD480 Neo2 features four standard SATA-150 connectors with RAID (0, 1 and 0+1) support and NCQ, plus two Ultra-ATA connectors courtesy of the ULi M1573 Southbridge. As mentioned, the board will come with Azalia audio, supported with an 8-channel Realtek HD CODEC, the ubiquitous ALC880. Thankfully, MSI eschews the chipset's onboard Fast Ethernet MAC to go with a single chip Gigabite Ethernet LOM. The Realtek RTL8110SB is not a PCI Express part, but still way better than to settle for 10/100Mbps speeds.
For FireWire, we have VIA's VT6306 chipset making available three IEEE 1394a ports. You'll get to use one port out of the box, with the remaining two as expansion headers. As a standard on all motherboards, MSI's CoreCell technology is also onboard, aiding in monitoring and diagnostics. MSI even threw in their D-Bracket 2 diagnostics bracket as well as two extra USB 2.0 ports.
The RD480 Neo2 is a relatively safe motherboard. MSI didn't try any radical layout designs and stuck within the accepted and ideal norms. With a full ATX PCB, the RD480 Neo2 has a pretty decent layout design that gives plenty of breathing room for large Radeon graphics cards and still have reserve slots for future expansion. As with other RD480 CrossFire motherboards, the primary PCIe x16 slot is the middle slot, with a terminator card inserted into the top slot to disable it. The terminator card works like the SLI switch card on older nForce4 SLI motherboards. It basically selects either single PCIe x16 or dual PCIe x8 operation. All you have to do to enable dual-GPU operation is to remove this terminator card and plug in your second graphics card. From our tests, the board works fine and CrossFire setup is quick and painless.
The following overclocking options were available for the MSI RD480 Neo2:-
- FSB Settings: 200MHz to 350MHz
- PCIe Frequency: 100MHz to 200MHz
- RAM Frequency: DDR200, DDR266, DDR333, DDR400
- CPU Voltage Settings: +50mV to + 750mV (in 50mV steps)
- Memory Voltage Settings: 2.50V to 2.85V (in 0.05V steps)
- PCIe Voltage Settings: 1.80V to 2.22V (in 0.06V steps)
- Northbridge Voltage: 1.20 to 1.50V (in 0.05V steps)
- Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)
The RD480 Neo2 isn't exactly what you'd call an overclockable motherboard. It does come with a nice range of voltage and frequency options, but what's really perplexing is the lack of a HyperTransport link adjustment. We all know that a full 1GHz (5x) HTT link isn't all that conductive to overclocking, but the board only allows users to select Auto (which is 5x) or immediately downclock it to 200MHz (1x). Even after we've reduced the CPU clock multiplier and memory frequency, our final overclock was at a measly 235MHz FSB. Not exactly a horrible overclock, but it wouldn't hold up against the mainstream nForce4 Ultra counterparts.