When we reviewed MSI's latest flagship nForce4 SLI X16 motherboard, the K8N Diamond Plus, we were very impressed by its extensive overclocking features and capabilities. However, the board left an overall feeling of being quite plain. No doubt it had the performance and features that befits a motherboard of this caliber, but even top-end enthusiast models seem to have fallen into a cookie cutter slump. Maybe we've been too critical, but with almost every manufacturer boasting similar features, the board lacked a certain panache.
By now, everyone should be familiar with MSI's exclusive Diamond branding for motherboards as the crème of the crop. So how do you make the best better? When we received our next package from MSI, we got our answer. Introducing the MSI K8N Diamond Plus Limited Edition - the world's first Hi-Fi motherboard.
Focusing on one of the only remaining weaknesses in today's motherboards, MSI already upgraded the audio system on the K8N Diamond Plus to a Sound Blaster Audigy SE 7.1, arguably the only motherboard currently to feature this. With enthusiast level performance, tweaking and stability covered, MSI plans to lure in the audiophile community next with an additional upgrade to the board's audio component using vacuum tube technology on the Limited Edition.
The mere mention of a vacuum tube might turn some heads. In fact, MSI isn't the first manufacturer to try "upgrading" motherboard audio with tube technology. AOpen first tried this with their AX4B-533 motherboard, but it quickly passed off as a mere gimmick. MSI's version is slightly different however. Instead of just slapping a vacuum tube on the PCB itself, the K8N Diamond Plus Limited Edition will come bundled with a functional vacuum tube panel, complete with lighted analog VU meter and volume control.
If you're getting a sense of deja vu with the MSI Tube Panel, that's because what you're really looking at is the OEM version of the Cooler Master Musketeer 3 with its faceplate changed to that of MSI. The MSI Tube Panel isn't really and amplifier nor is it a pre-amp. What it is, is basically a gadget that attempts to harmonize and mellow out music that is passed through the tube. Do note that the MSI Tube Panel only accepts stereo inputs. It is designed for soft, melodic music listening with headphones and not noisy multi-channel movies and games. Thus, its real applications are limited. But hey, if you're a self-proclaimed audiophile and ardent gamer all rolled into one and have just decided to make the PC as the center of your music ensemble, the K8N Diamond Plus Limited Edition is really suited for you. Even if you're not, it certainly looks like a cool addition to your case mod.
As a standalone product, the Cooler Master Musketeer 3 retails for around US$50. Since our original review of the board, the average retail price of the K8N Diamond Plus has dipped to around the US$230-240 range, thus we expect the Limited Edition to come in cheaper than getting the vanilla version of the board itself and the Musketeer 3 on the side. If MSI is going to successfully market this motherboard, that is the only way to make it worth its value.
|Sound Pressure||-20 to +3dB (up to the input level of the sound card)|
|Line-in Level||Dependent on line-out output level|
|Total Harmonic Distortion||0.3% (typical)|
|Dimensions||149 × 43 × 75.5 mm (L x W x H)|