The BIOS, at v1.2 out of the box (with 1.3 available via MSI's Live Update software), is AMI based and has all sorts of features including the standards found in every BIOS (time settings, boot order, etc.) and then a different HTT screen than I was used to seeing. HyperTransport speeds are not done via the standard 1x - 5x multipliers, but instead by 200MHz increments going from 200MHz up to 1000MHz (400MHz-2000MHz effectively). Leaving the setting on auto keeps the HTT at 1000MHz/2000MHz speeds.
Memory control leaves quite a bit to be desired. While there is an impressive array of options for tweaking the timings of the memory, shown below...
BIOS - Memory Configuration
The rest of the memory options are painfully limited. Unless you have DDR2/400, DDR2/533 or DDR2/667 memory, you cannot overclock. 800MHz is the maximum available memory speed. While AMD does not officially support DDR2/1066 yet, the lack of a manual memory speed adjustment is somewhat puzzling, especially because MSI is so widely-known for their vast support of all things overclocking.
BIOS - Memory Configuration
Also on this screen is access to the MSI CoreCell's dynamic overclocking which works, according to MSI, by dynamically adjusting the core clock speeds up to 15% higher, depending on what level of overclocking is chosen. The CPU is only overclocked when there is a demand for it, be it for gaming or some other intense desktop application. There are a number of settings, listed and described below.
Disabled [no overclock]
Private [1% overclock]
Sergeant [3% overclock]
Captain [5% overclock]
Colonel [7% overclock]
General [10% overclock]
Commander [15% overclock]
The options seem pretty reasonable and well-rounded, especially for those that are unfamiliar with overclocking and are scared to do too much at once. This system allows for part-time overclocking in small increments until instability is found.
I was pretty excited to see how this board would do with overclocking. Reading some other reviews on the 'net, people were able to get their boards to pretty high levels. The BIOS allows for a CPU frequency from 200-425MHz in 0.5MHz increments from 200-210MHz, and 1MHz increments from 211-425MHz. Coming off my previous Athlon 64 3000+ Venice core which overclocked almost 600MHz on the stock cooling with an increase on on the vcore from 1.4v to 1.5v, I was more than ready to see how far I'd be able to push the Windsor cores powering my X2 4600+.
Rather than use the Dynamic Overclocking that MSI advertises on the box, I instead chose to do it manually because I feel more comfortable controlling the speeds and voltages myself. I decided to start modest, and put the CPU frequency up to 220MHz with an increase in the vcore from 1.35v to 1.425v. The HTT was dropped to 600Mhz/1200MHz to make sure there was no possible way the HTT would be overclocked too far.
But the machine would not post. I powered on/off four times and the overclocked settings were reset (another nice feature of the K9N SLI Platinum). I put the CPU frequency back to 220 and upped the vcore to 1.5v. Pretty high, yes, and definitely more than enough for such a small overclock.
But still, the board would not post.
I dropped the CPU frequency to 215MHz and left the vcore at 1.5v and dropped the CPU multiplier to 6x to make it wasn't the CPU causing the board not to post. I received the same results as the 220MHz attempt: no post. Dropping to 210MHz offered nothing. Finally, at 204MHz, I was able to get the machine to post and get into Windows, but a 48MHz increase is hardly something to be excited about.
Update (9/17/06) Using a custom v1.43 BIOS sent directly from MSI (Thanks Robert!) I was able to resolve the issue with USB being dead upon a clearing of the CMOS. MSI's support on tracking down and fixing this issue is greatly appreciated and hopefully this BIOS will be available soon to fix this problem, rare as it seems to be. Now all USB ports are fully functional, even after multiple CMOS resets.
Sadly, though, the BIOS was not able to fix my bad luck with overclocking. While I was able to get the machine to post at CPU frequencies of 240MHz all the way down to 205MHz, I would get a message right before Windows would actually load prompting me to insert the Windows disc to repair the installation. Apparently, files in the Windows/System32 folder had been corrupted and Windows was completely unable to start.
No increase in vcore had any effect on this, nor did lowering the HTT all the way to 1x. Sadly, I just cannot get a stable overclock with this board.
This marks a continued streak of bad luck I have had with overclockability of my PC parts. The two XFX 7600GT XXX edition cards I had prior to the NX7900GT were unable to be overclocked, the MSI NX7900GT was unable to be overclocked and now both my RAM (because the motherboard doesn't support it) and CPU are unable to be overclocked.
This streak is nothing to be upset or angry about since everything works at the advertised speeds, but it's a bummer after coming from a CPU that got an almost-600MHz overclock; the Inno3D 7600GST that overclocked to 7600GT-levels; and Corsair RAM that loved to be clocked higher than the DDR400 it was rated for. Be that as it may, the 4600+ is basically two of my 3000+ CPUs overclocked even higher than what I had. So it's not like the inability to overclock my CPU is resulting in lower performance than what I came from: this machine still blazes.
Note: while I had no luck overclocking, CPU-Z reports the HTT to be running at 201MHz and my CPU at 2.412GHz. I have not adjusted any settings and that is how the CPU has been since first being installed and after every CMOS reset.