Make no mistake, VIA is a heavy hitter. When AMD unveiled the Slot 1 Athlon, VIA was busy working on the KX133 chipset, the chipset that was designed to replace AMD’s own 750. After that we were treated to KT133, with Socket A support. The platform has since evolved to its current form, KT400. Despite a tightly woven relationship with AMD, VIA isn’t alone manufacturing K7 core logic, though. Both ALi and SiS became involved manufacturing Athlon-compatible chipsets as well, but neither with as much success as VIA. Then, like a jaguar ambushing a herd of cattle, NVIDIA burst onto the scene with talk of dual-channel DDR and real-time Dolby Digital encoding. The eventual release of the chipset, dubbed nForce, was actually more anticlimactic than anything. Initial reviews showed the platform putting down impressive numbers, but delays and unjustifiably high prices kept nForce from taking off as had initially been forecasted.
Then, in July of last year, NVIDIA announced nForce’s successor, aptly named nForce2. Supposedly, it had learned a lesson about announcing a product too early and would be shipping sometime in September. As the story goes, further delays kept nForce2 motherboards off of retail shelves for an additional three months. Once NVIDIA felt comfortable with the chipset, we started seeing pre-production boards floating around, some of which were used to review the Athlon XP 2800+ when it was unveiled by AMD. Months have passed since that announcement and we are finally witnessing widespread availability of nForce2 motherboards from many different manufacturers. Some of the boards, like ASUS’ A7N8X Deluxe, are designed to expose each and every feature of the nForce2 chipset while others, like the MSI K7N2 we are looking at today, are designed to offer a high degree of performance at a more affordable price.
Making Sense of the MSI K7N2
Much of MSI’s current success comes from a consistently accurate assessment of where the industry is headed. For instance, Intel’s i845PE is one of the most flexible, high-performance chipsets currently available to the Pentium 4. MSI anticipated enthusiast demand for the chipset and designed the 845PE Max2-FIR with features that appeal to power users. In approaching nForce2, MSI appears to have exercised a different form of reasoning. Its flagship “gaming” board actually sports the nForce2 IGP with onboard GeForce4 MX graphics. As a gamer looking for a fully featured board, I certainly wouldn’t want to pay extra for an integrated solution that would inevitably be disabled in favor of a more capable graphics core.
MSI K7N2 Motherboard
The only nForce2 board offered by MSI without
integrated graphics is also missing several other features found on competing products. As a result, the K7N2 is less expensive than any other board we’ve tested thus far. But it’s also less feature-complete, so ultimately, the K7N2 is a compromise between the performance of the nForce2 chipset and value in the form of a quasi-stripped down motherboard.