Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

MSI Eclipse SLI

Intel X58 Roundup: Six $300+ Platforms Compared
By

Features and Layout

MSI might have dropped the Diamond moniker from its highest-end motherboard, but a superb list of features leaves no doubt that the Eclipse has taken its place.

That list of unique features begins with extra SATA connections, both internally and externally, where competitors would force buyers to choose. And like its Diamond predecessors, the Eclipse comes with an inexpensive sound card rather than a simple codec riser that several competing motherboards offer.

The Eclipse makes unique use of board space and PCIe lanes compared to its competitors. For example, it’s one of only two that support seven expansion cards, but it’s the only model with enough room to install a card of realistic length in the top x1 slot. MSI also spreads its first and second PCIe 2.0 slots apart by three spaces to allow additional airflow when two cards are installed, rather than rearrange the slot order to accomplish a similar cooling advantage. But even more unique are the lack of any lane switches between slots--the X58 Express Northbridge provides up to 36 PCIe 2.0 lanes and MSI uses the four “left-over” lanes to feed a third graphics card.

By using four PCIe 2.0 lanes, MSI provides its third x16-length slot with the same bandwidth as an earlier v1.1 x8 slot. We examined the effectiveness of this bandwidth level a few months ago and found that while it’s usually adequate for a single-GPU Radeon HD 4870, it’s probably not suitable for today’s highest-performance models.

Thus, the Eclipse doesn’t focus on 3-way SLI like so many other products do, but it could still be the optimal solution for four-GPU configurations of two dual-GPU GTX 295s or Radeon HD 4870 X2s. And while the third slot might not be sufficient for the latest graphics processors, it’s perfect for 3-way CrossFireX configurations using upper-mainstream cards, so long as the chosen case has room for any double-slot card that hangs one space beneath the motherboard’s bottom edge.

The unique slot configuration certainly has several pros and cons, but one thing that buyers should also consider is its overall effect on how much hardware they can install. For example, a super-high-end “do everything” system could be assembled using two GTX 295s in quad-SLI mode, a hardware RAID card in the bottom  PCIe 2.0 x4 slot, a high-end audio card in the center PCI slot, and a high-end A/V card in the top x1 slot. This kind of flexibility is unmatched by any of today’s competitors.

Other unique features are the board’s lack of any floppy connector and the use of a “True Six-Phase” rather than 12-phase or greater voltage regulator. While the missing floppy will only be a concern for Windows XP users who want to add AHCI or RAID drivers to their initial installation, the “missing” voltage regulator components could raise questions for a broader market. MSI’s intention was to provide high stability and improved efficiency by using fewer high-capacity regulator components rather than a slew of lesser parts, but the lower-stated number may cause high-end buyers to hesitate. Our overclocking and power-consumption comparison will prove the worth of this design.

Power, reset, and D-LED 2 control buttons are found along the Eclipse’s bottom edge.

The removable D-LED 2 module displays system status plus CPU base clock, CPU temperature, and CPU/northbridge voltage levels.

MSI Eclipse SLI (Revision 1.1)
Northbridge

Intel X58 Express

Southbridge

Intel ICH10R

Voltage Regulation

Six Phases

BIOS

V1.3B6 (12/26/2008)

133.3 MHz Base Clock

133.7 (+0.28%)

Clock Generator

ICS 9LPRS133BKLF

Connectors and Interfaces

Onboard

3 x PCIe 2.0 x16 (x16/x16/x4 Transfers)

2 x PCIe x1

2 x PCI

2 x USB 2.0 (2 Ports Per Connector)

1 x IEEE-1394 FireWire

1 x Serial Communications Port

1 x Ultra ATA (2 drives)

10 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s

1 x Fan 4-pin (CPU, System)

5 x Fan 3-pins (Chassis, Power)

1 x DrLED2 Diagnostics Header

1 x Power Switch

1 x Reset Switch

1 x DrLED2 Display Switch

I/O Panel

2 x PS2 (keyboard, mouse)

8 x USB 2.0

1 x IEEE-1394 FireWire

2 x External SATA (eSATA) 3.0 Gb/s

1 x CLR_CMOS button

2 x RJ45 Ethernet

Mass Storage Controllers

Intel ICH10R

6 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s (RAID 0, 1, 5, 10)

JMicron JMB363 PCIe

1 x Ultra ATA-133 (2-drives)

2 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s Interface

2 x JMicron JMB322 PCIe

2 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s to 4x SATA 3.0 Gb/s

JMicron JMB362 PCIe

2 x External SATA (eSATA) 3.0 Gb/s

Network

2 x Realtek RTL8111C PCIe

Dual Gigabit LAN with Teaming

Audio

Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio PCIe

Eight-Channel (7.1 Surround) Output
EAX Advanced HD 4.0, CMSS-3D, Crystalizer

EAX 5.0, CMSS-3D, Crystalizer

IEEE-1394 FireWire

VIA VT6308P PCI

2 x FireWire 400 (1x Internal, 1x I/O Panel)


As with the competing product from Gigabyte, MSI's Eclipse uses two JMicron JMB322 controllers as hubs to double the number of SATA ports from its JMB363 SATA/Ultra ATA controller. A fairly severe PCIe x1 bandwidth restriction of 250 MB/s for combined six SATA and Ultra ATA drives is alleviated somewhat by installing a second double-thickness graphics card, simply because such cards block-off the bottom two ports.

The JMB362 eSATA controller starves two 3.0 Gb/s drives with 2.5 Gb/s of PCIe x1 bandwidth, while the dual RTL8111C Gigabit Ethernet controllers get a healthy 5.0 Gb/s bandwidth from two PCIe lanes. This type of bandwidth imbalance applies to all of today’s high-end boards, as it’s a limitation of available sub-components.

The VT6308P requires no more than 800 Mb/s to feed its two 400 Mb ports, so its legacy PCI connection is more than adequate.

Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the UK Article comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 11 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 1 Hide
    avatar_raq , 24 February 2009 16:42
    Nice review..For so long we waited for such comparison.
  • 1 Hide
    FelixM , 24 February 2009 17:52
    Please: add FSX to the test!
  • 1 Hide
    avatar_raq , 24 February 2009 19:44
    1. Why adding crossfire bridges when each and every ATI graphics card is shipped with one? When did mobos come with them anyway?
    2. Are the slots of DFI mobo made of UV reactive material? They look so to me
    3. One might think wider bios OC options take into consideration future CPUs but new CPUs usually require bios update, and then the manufacturer may improve the new bios. That said each mobo reviewed here has enough OC potential in its BIOS, question is: which one will endure extreme OC 24/7 for a long period? This is the one thing that can only tested retrospectively. Personally I had 2 cheap ASUS mobos (P35)and they both overclocked well and worked flawlessly.
    4. I see ASUS and Gigabyte mobos take the lead in most of the tests. ASUS has the lead in most games and better customer service in my country and GB having a water block for the NB.

  • 0 Hide
    avatar_raq , 24 February 2009 23:45
    It would have been nice to mention the net prices of these motherboards to compare their value.
    Quick search on newegg gave the following (not counting the MIRs):
    ASUS ~400 USD (ooph!!)
    GB ~330
    DFI not found !
    EVGA ~270
    Foxconn not found !
    MSI ~350
    After putting everything into consideration I would go for the Gigabyte model if I have net shopping. Nevertheless from a value point of veiw the EVGA one wins since it's the cheapest of the "4" models whose price is found at newegg and the performance defecit is so small. This card do not even fit into the title of the article, it's not $300+ at the time being (perhaps it was so when they started preparing for this article).
  • 0 Hide
    avatar_raq , 25 February 2009 00:32
    Update:
    DFI ~300 USD
    XFX ~290 USD (not included in the article)
    Foxconn: Still I can't find the blood rage on newegg.
  • 0 Hide
    mi1ez , 25 February 2009 02:28
    Why are these companies giving the option of taking the PCIe freq to 200MHz?!
  • 0 Hide
    LePhuronn , 25 February 2009 03:04
    Asus Rampage II Extreme: £321.99
    DFI Lan Party UT X58-T3EH8: £293.24
    EVGA X58 3X SLI: £241.49 (I think)
    Foxconn Bloodrage: £280.59
    Gigabyte EX58 Extreme: £264.49

    Prices from overclockers.co.uk

    Incidentally, isn't the Gigabyte EX58 Extreme the only board here that can handle 24GB of RAM? All other boards are capped at 12GB aren't they?

    Also, I'd suggest to Tom's to review this subject again - they've already mentioned mainstream board reviews, but personally I'd like to see the Asus P6T6 WS Revolution reviewed - always had good experiences with the Asus workstation boards so I'm very interested in this new one.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 1 March 2009 23:36
    I think a determening factor could be less in the boards overclockability, and perhaps more in it's functions and price.

    Like, if I'm going to install WinXP or a 32 bit version of vista, having 3 ramslots is more then sufficient (3GB).
    If I want a server, install a 64 bit os, 6 slots (12-24GB) is rather a must.
    I probably won't use a server to play games, though some people might.

    Also pricepoint is a good factor to determine which board could be a snatch.

    Quality of capacitors and boardmaterial, as well as longetivity of hardware play a role in making one board win over another.

    There's no winner when a certain board manufacturer has increased performance for lower power, but when their boards die within their first year of use due to the use of bad components!
  • 0 Hide
    zebzz , 10 March 2009 22:01
    I think unless your a gaming freak with lots of money or as ProDigit80 has stated that you want to use them for servers, then the current socket 775 and AM2 processors / and DDR2 memory are cheaper and provide the performance about 99.5% people need. Again its all down to specialised needs.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 13 March 2009 18:47
    Nice
  • 0 Hide
    swharth , 23 April 2009 05:12
    It's a pretty cool board. The only complaint I had was that the slots for the Dual GTX280 cards were to close together. Not a lot of room for air circulation. I had to replace mine, and now using a DX58SO. Also a nice board, but missing the "WOW" factor.