MSI.. Not a brand of Mobo I can say I've had much interest in the last, I don't know.. 3-4 years. They used to be OK back in the early P4 era, but seemed to go a bit sour somewhere along the line.. Buggy, unfinished BIOS with very little tuning options Sparce PCB's with weak VRM's Paper thin cardboard boxes with nothing in them. Lately though, things have changed. Or at least are changing very rapidly. On the AMD side of things the 790FX-GD70 has been very popular, and for Intel the new P55 offerings look quite attractive also. Today though I'm looking at the cheaper side of things.. the 770-C45. Retailing at around $70-$80 it's one of the cheapest DDR3 AM3 boards around. But what attracted me to have a look at it, is it's not shy on features.. Overview: *AM3 Socket Full ATX DDR3 Mainboard - AMD 770/SB710 Chipset. *IGP: NO *SATA: 6x Sata2 Raid 0,1 1x IDE *Expansion Slots: 1x PCie 16x, 2x Pcie 1x, 3x PCI *Crossfire: NO *Voltage Regulation: 4+1 Phase Intersil with Active Phase Switching. *Audio: 6 Channel Realtes ACL886 *Network: Marvell Gigabit 1x Cool Features: *Active Phase Switching.. A fairly new tech to come to mainboards and it's GREAT to see on such a cheap board.. Will go into detail later. * Easy OC Switch. - Two jumpers to set an Overclocked Bus speed - Bit gimicky but it DOES work, and for a quick 5% or even 10% overclock that doesn't require nervous users to even enter the BIOS, and won't get "reset" on a bad boot or something down the track, it's pretty cool. * Hybrid ACC BIOS for Core unlocking - near mandatory! PRICE: $66-$75 on Staticice (first 10 results) In the Box: . Pretty basic in here.. *Quick Users Guide *Full Manual *PATA and SATA Cable x1 *Rear IO Sheild *CD My only complaint here.. and all MFG'ers are guilty of it with entry-level boards - is a lack of colour label on the I/O port.. I hate Pressed lettering, it's near impossible to read behind a desk in low light. Everything else is fine. The Manual isn't the best, but isn't lacking in Info. Quick user guide is a bonus. Layout and Build: General Appearance.. With a black mask, and no loud colours I'd have to say it certainly looks pretty decent. All Soild caps add to the impression of a more expensive board. Most cheap mobos you don't want to see through a Windowed case, but not the case here. CPU Vregulation. An Intersil driven 4 +1 Phase Power supply is quite good for the money.. All Solid Polymer Caps. MSI don't claim 140w CPU Support. A bit of a damper on anotherwise reasonable supply.. Technically it should be able to handle it, but As testing will show it DOES overvolt under heavy load, which increases power consumption. Rear Panel Speaks for itself.. No Digital Audio out might deter some. Serial port might attract your Grandad OVerall Layout Here I've compared an overhead shot of a perosnal favorate, and popular board, the Gigabyte GA-MA770-UD3P.. APPOLOGIES for the poor quality picture. The Dark board was really giving me issues to get a good contrast on I'll let readers decide what layout issues are here, but compared with the GB board component placement is pretty similar. The BIOS: The Most surprising thing on this board.. I was expecting the BIOS to let this board down.. so much so that it would even negate the attractive pricetag, But I was wrong. I'm going to admit right here, that this BIOs is at LEAST as good as more expensive Gigabyte, and Better than any ASUS bios i've used on a board in even the $~100 bracket. It's not perfect.. For one the Voltage adjustments are a tad confusing.. having two different Voltage setitngs make getting a clear indication of what voltage you've actually set a bit diffuclt, but once you've worked it out, the freedom of adjustment is very impressive. I've taken a collage' of the majority of options available to have a browse through. As you can see it's packed, with plenty to tweak. Hybrid Firmware for Core unlocking is present. Perhaps my favourate feature, that I wish Gigabyte would implement.. BIOS profile saving.. This allows you quite simply to save current settings to a location. Brillant for tweaking, and restoring your settings after a CMOS clear.. and Yes, when I tested it, the settings remained saved after a 10sec CMOS clear. General Operation: Running up Windows 7 presented no issues in the couple of weeks of testing. Sleep mode worked without issue, including Overclocked, though it take longer than normal to enter sleep. Being based on a typical and proven 700 series chipset, there's nothing else really to report. One thing of some concern is a reasonably common problem among at least he cheaper mobo's is over-volting under very heavy load. The stock Voltage should be 1.40v, but as you can see, under a very heavy prime load, a Phenom II 965 ends up running at 1.44.. Now measuring this with a multimeter gives around 1.43 v depending which phase you measure on, so this reading reported to CPU-Z seems slightly out, and the discrepency between phases might be down to a high amount of ripple upsetitng the reading. Don't be too concerned, and for non-enthusiast use but when it comes to serious overclocking, it's something to be aware of if you're leaving voltages on AUTO. Utillities / Software.. The first major disapointment.. no usefull software on the CD, just a very basic and ungly system monitoring utility. I won't bother posting screenshots. if you want proper monitoring, I'd suggest 3rd party software here. Fan Speed Control: Automated speed control is available and able to be set in BIOS.. Target temperatures and speeds are settable which is quite Nice, and makes up for the lack of software to control. Active Power Switching: As mentioned earlier, a common feature on newer boards, but not often included on something so cheap. This feature is part ofthe Intercil Switchmoe controller and allows phases to be completely switched off under very low load conditons. The result is a lower power consumption as you remove the "wasted" power consumped by extra phases.. This board shows how many of the 4 CPU phases are operaiton via LEDs. The seperate NB /"uncore" phase is always on obviously so APS doesn't apply to it. Performance and Overclocking: MSI Auto overclock & Max HTT It's pretty easy to quickly find the max HTT aka Reference clock for those non BE CPU's using the Auto Overclock option in the BIOS.. Set it to AUTO, Reboot, sit back with a Beer and the board will automattically: 1. Set Hypertransport, NB, and RAM Multi's accordingly to keep them at Stock (very good) 2. Aim for the sky with HTT reference clock 3. Fall over 4. Reboot 5. Try a lower clock 6. Fall over 6. Rince and repeat, until it succesfully boots. and some 30s or so later, you have a max bootable reference clock.. I upped the Voltages a little before doing this, and Also (importantly) dropped the CPU multo to 11. The process took a good 30sec or so of reboots, but in the end booted into windows with a 333mhz clock, which also proved pretty stable Note how the HT clock has been kept at 2000Mhz.. very tidy, and good to see its not just a 5sec lame implementation by the BIOS team.. Whilst the resulting clock was NOT stable under any load, it's a starting point to work down from and find stability.. 300 HTT for example is solid and practical Multi-OC Booster Another Awesome feature. Turning this on delays applying HTT /reference overclock settings until AFTER booting the OS. This is by far most usefull when OCing CPU-NB.. They're Notorious for cuasing failed boots, and on this board was no exception. Enabling this feature however allowed me to go past 2.6ghz booting "wall" , right up to 2.86Ghz.. without pumping stupid voltage into the CPU-NB. (1.375v) In Mode 1, it provides a percentage of the OC at boot, meaning there's a smaller frequency "jump" when it applies full Overclock.. this proves handy at the limit. Stock Voltage OCing - Phenom II 965 C3. Here I actually manualyl undervolted a little to conteract the overvoltage, and reduce load temps. Maximum completely stable frequency with the stock HS was 3.73Mhz Slightly lower than what I was able to achieve on the Gigabyte board. I feel the superior, possibly more stable Voltage regulation on the GB is responsible. MSI: 3.73Ghz Gigabyte: 3.79Ghz Difference: 50Mhz Over-volted Overclocking This trend continued at my maximum Air with an Aftermarket Noctua U12 HSF Given the official lack of 140w CPU support, In my opinon only a small overvoltage is really practical. Settling 1.46v, with load voltage closer to 1.49 as a practical, reliable maximum for such a board, I found 3.95Ghz to be the max I coax out fo it and remain stable.. The Gigabyte on the other hand I'm happy to push to 1.50v, and as I reported in another thread made a touch over 4Ghz stable. Bench stable (@ ~ 1.48v load avg) MSI: 3.95Ghz Gigabyte: 4.05Ghz Difference: 55Mhz Performance Overclocked though, without doing precise comparisons is at least on par with Gigabyte.. (DDR3-1333 @ 1418 7-7-7-15, NB @ 2400) and with the HD4890 in there.. NB/RAm Clocking As mentioned earlier, A booting wall at 2.6Ghz initially put a damper on NB Clocking, however if using the Multi-OC Booster, higher clocks could be achieved.. maxing out at 2.86ghz on Air @ 1.375v Over-voltage Durability Test. The following is a 3day, 72hour long torture test at high Vcore, to see how it went. The CPU is deliberatly not overclocked to its limited for this Vcore to ensure it doesn't "fall over" during the 72hours of Prime. Ambients were quite high, some airflow over the mainboard was present. No explosions to report. Whilst this isn't a guarantee of being able to maintain this sort of load for ever 24/7, it's an indication lower voltages should be perfectly safe VRM FET temps reached approx 95c Overclocking Summary: - Overclocking abilty slightly lower than more expensive Gigabyte board(s) at a given Vcore, and overall (on Air) -NB Clocking a bit weak.. 2.6ghz max -RAM clocking Good, 1600+Mhz not a problem. - VRM copes well with moderate overvoltage. Core Unlocking: By majjjord2 at 2009-12-18 To test Core unlocking I only had a Sempron 140 on hand. Using the hybrid ACC, there was no problems encounted running it as a Dual core.. Conculsion: It's easy to say (and I see people say it all the time).. spend a bit extra and get a better board/CPU/ whatever, but the people who suggest this usually have never been in a situation were an extra $30-40 means a lot. If you're on a shoe-string budget though, and used to having to comprimise so much with crappy motherboards. you'll appreciate a board this cheap with so little comprimise. And that's really all I have to say about this one.. It's nearly 2/3 the price equivilent GB or ASUS models, but is nearly as good.. Now, it's not perfect. The over-volting under load, and slightly lower OCing ability lets it down a bit, but it's something you can tweak around, and something that really only affects really high power consumption Quads. Still, if you're just penny pinching, I have to say the GB GA-MA770T-UD3P is still a fav of mine in the $100+ price range, it's a solid Overclocker, with a top notich VRM, that shows up the minor shortcomings this board has.. Saying that, the BIOS of this board is so good, i'd probably choose it over the gigabyte if that was the only difference! With Low end CPU's being such good value at the moment, a board like this really allows you to put together/ upgrade a quick little gaming system (for example) for next to nothing, with the potential to unlock, and overclock with ease.. Leaving money for the all important GFX.. The fact it's DDR3 means it's also very future proof for RAM upgrades. Overall, a big 9/10 from me, And importantly, Welcome back MSI to mine, and possibly others "Field Of Vison" when looking for budget, or even higher end mobo's..