K9NU Neo Examined
The MSI K9NU Neo sports a very Spartan feature set compared to the majority of motherboards today, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. With just the core functionality of the ULi M1697 chipset, there are more than enough features to deliver a decently powerful computing solution for any home user. To begin with, the K9NU Neo supports four SATA 3.0Gbps ports in addition to two Ultra-ATA 133 ports. The SATA controller also supports NCQ with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and RAID 5 capabilities.
Its audio capabilities are up there with Realtek's ALC883 HD Audio CODEC and we believe MSI made the right choice to go with a full 8-channel CODEC instead of the lower class 6-channel ones we've seen some manufacturers resort to, especially on a budget board. Network support on the K9NU Neo is limited to a Fast Ethernet connection though, so you'll need to get yourself a Gigabit NIC if you require high bandwidth networking and MSI did not make space for FireWire onboard.
Since the K9NU Neo is targeted towards to the low-end market, its expansion capacity is slightly more traditional. Minus the PCIe x16 graphics slot, its three PCI slots should suffice for any add-on cards you may want to install and the board does come with a PCIe x1 slot to keep future choices open as well.
The MSI K9NU Neo is designed on a compact ATX PCB, which is similar to the ASRock AM2V890-VSTA except that MSI makes use of a horizontal layout for the DIMM slots and CPU socket. There isn't really anything to complain about in terms of functionality and the flipped DIMM slots allow for better spacing in general. The board also has a low profile, so it should be a relatively obstacle free during installation. However, with a smaller PCB, MSI had to make some compromises with some components such as the main 24-pin ATX and floppy connectors. Fan headers are also lacking, with only one other free connection on the whole board other than the CPU fan header.
- FSB Settings: 200MHz to 350MHz
- PCIe Frequency: 100MHz to 200MHz
- RAM Frequency: DDR2-400, DDR2-533, DDR2-667, DDR2-800
- CPU Voltage Settings: 0.800V to 1.400V (in 0.025V steps)
- Memory Voltage Settings: 1.80V to 2.20V (in 0.05V steps)
- Chipset Voltage Settings: 2.10V to 2.32V (in 0.07V steps)
- Multiplier Selection: Yes (unlocked CPUs only)
Overclocking the K9NU Neo is a very straightforward affair with very few settings to play with and limited voltage ranges, but at least the main options are available. As usual for our motherboard overclocking tests, we reduce the multipliers and frequencies of both the CPU and memory to within safe settings to ensure the maximum overclock of the motherboard.
Using stock voltages, the K9NU Neo struggled at the low 220MHz-230MHz range, but once we pushed chipset voltage up to 2.24V, we were able to take the board to a stable 265MHz on a full 5x HTT multiplier. This is actually a very decent overclock for a budget board, but at this level, the tiny Northbridge heatsink became too hot to touch, which can't be too good for the motherboard's health in the long run. If you even have an inkling of overclocking with the K9NU Neo, we strongly recommend to switch the stock heatsink.