MSI MS-6167 Motherboard Evaluation

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Visual Inspection

We really liked the layout of this product. It has 5 PCI, 2 ISA (1 shared) and 1 AGP slot, and all PCI slots are free from obstructions. The 3 DIMM slots limits the maximum memory to 768MB. There are headers for Lan Wake-up and IrDA cables, and even a front USB header. The floppy and IDE connectors are located in front of the DIMM slots, putting them right next to the drive bays, and the ATX power plug is on the other side of the DIMMs. Even the BIOS chip is located in a spot that will minimize obstructions in the event it needs to be replaced – directly in front of PCI slots 4 and 5, and far enough away that all but the longest cards will not get in the way even while installed.

As with all current Athlon boards, there is really no option to change processor settings – these are automatically detected and ‘hard wired’ into the processor package. While there are several SDRAM timing options to play with, most users probably should not play with these. The ‘Optimized defaults’ automatically sets all memory and I/O fields to their highest performing values so there should be very little reason to use any other settings, unless your specific components are not quite up to speed – so to speak. In that case, it would be best to use the ‘Fail Safe’ defaults unless you know what you are doing. Though you may not see any obvious signs of problems, using incorrect memory or I/O timing values could cause your system to be more unstable than it should be.

Diagnostics

The first tests we ran were the QuickTech Pro and RST diagnostics, from Ultra-X. QuickTech Pro is a system level diagnostic and burn-in tool which allows us to verify that the board has no obvious defects that would prevent a reliable evaluation (see our review of this software for more information). If we were to find problems at this level, we would likely need to have the board replaced to make sure we didn’t simply get a ‘lemon’. RAM Stress Test is a very intensive memory diagnostic that allows us to verify that any stability issues are not due to data integrity problems because of defective memory or bus timings that are too fast. The MS-6167 exhibited absolutely no problems during these tests.

The next set of tests involved our standard circuit-level diagnostics using the PHD PCI and PHD Plus diagnostic cards, also from Ultra-X. The diagnostic cards measure the signals for all circuits (IRQ and DMA controllers and data transfers, PCI and memory busses, system timer, etc.) against reference timings, and if there is even a small deviation, a ‘failure’ is reported. These tests were run 100 times in succession to make sure there were no intermittent errors. The timing on these signals is so critical for todays high-performance systems, and even a small signal skew can be the difference between a system that runs ‘rock stable’ and one that crashes every few days for no apparent reason.

Overall, the results of these tests were very good. All tests, except one, passed 100 out of 100 times. The only test that failed, were the 16-bit DMA data transfer tests. These tests perform 6 RAM to I/O and I/O to RAM transfers on DMA channels 5, 6 and 7. With the MS-6167, at least one of these transfers ‘failed’ on almost every run (99 times out of 100) – though not always the same channel and not always the same transfer. What this indicates is that there is a small possibility of problems with ISA cards that use these DMA channels to transfer data. In reality, this is not all that unusual. Very few motherboards we have tested have passed every single test, because the cards expect very tight timings.

Operating System Support

Windows 98 (first edition), Windows NT4 (SP4), and Linux (Red Hat 5.2) were all installed and tested without any problems found. Under Windows 98 we ran Winstone 99 Business Tests for several hours without any signs of errors. With Windows NT we ran both Business and High-End Winstone 99 numerous times (at least 100), without any problems found. Linux was installed without any problems, and a kernel compile was completed without any issues.

Overall, our tests indicate that the MS-6167 motherboard is extremely stable using standard business applications. We did not do any testing of 3D games. Neither the Matrox Millenium PCI card nor the Voodoo3 AGP card showed anysigns of problems during our two weeks of testing.

Perfomance Optimizations

As mentioned at the beginning of this section, there are few BIOS optimizations or processor ‘tweaks’ that are available to the user. For SDRAM timings, our recommendations are to use either the ‘Optimized’ or ‘Fail Safe’ defaults, unless you know exactly what your memory is capable of. Many people know the CAS Latency values for their RAM, but don’t know the Trcd, Trp or other timings. If you set these to the wrong values, you could adversely affect either your performance or your system stability.


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