MSI: Finally hitting the nail on the head

Posted on 4th Aug 2009 at 12:07 by Richard Swinburne with 11 comments

Richard Swinburne
Where other motherboard manufacturers have fallen by the wayside (DFI, as proved by both the mediocre DK 790FXB-M3H5, and the reader reaction to it), or given up altogether (Abit, Epox), MSI is moving onwards and upwards.

MSI used to consistently languish in a distant third place (compared to Asus and Gigabyte) but this year not only has it really challenged the dominant two, in my opinion, it's successfully achieved a top tier place with many recommendation-worthy products.

For those who know me, writing something so unanimously positive is a difficult objective, being the critical barsteward I am. This reputation seems to have carried more than I've realised, as the conversation below proves after I tweeted that I was writing "a blog about MSI". Thank you for your honesty, my anonymous friend.

Not Doug says (21:50):
Rude blog?
Richard :: bit-tech says (21:51):
Not Doug says (21:51):
Richard :: bit-tech says (21:51):
I know
Not Doug says (21:51):
I thought you were meant to be rude to everyone

However the more I write this the more obvious it seems, so, I can be nice when the situation calls for it!

I think MSI started to turn the corner with its P45 boards: the DrMOS and GreenPower design was (and still) is excellent, however BIOS updates took longer than many enthusiasts wanted to wait, and the high-end features MSI offered still seemed six months behind the competition. It was a nice try, but lacked ingenuity.

Next came the X58 era - the Eclipse SLI was a better name than Platinum and Diamond for the masculine enthusiast audience, and the aesthetic design was much improved, too. It also sported useful features that now matched the competition: an in-BIOS flash utility made an appearance, even if it did take a few tries to get right. Persistent BIOS niggles and (in my opinion) a heatsink to small to keep the X58 chipset cool when overclocked slightly soured the picture. The bundled GreenPower software was a nice idea didn't really work and the GreenPower Genie was as useful as a chocolate teapot. It still performed well, looked great and if wasn't yet a challenger to Asus' P6T, it set the tone for some excellent subsequent X58s.

Since Q2 this year though, the company has barely put a foot wrong! Its AM3 boards have set a record yet to be matched: between CustomPC and bit-tech we gave top-to-bottom recommendations for its range, from the GD70, through GD65 and C45 boards - they all make the grade in terms of performance, overclockability and features in their respective price brackets.

The latest 785G-E65 board also looks to be the business in terms of style, features and overclocking. Certainly on the layout front, it's more impressive than the Gigabyte GA-MA785GMT-UD2H I've just finished reviewing. But while Gigabyte has gone for the usual "dozen SKUs to flood the market approach", on the surface MSI appears to have nailed it with just the E65. That is, depending on the price...

Recently the Eclipse SLI Plus impressed CustomPC too, almost as much as the Asus WS boards that have gone into James' recent Folding features, and for those with the latest subscriber edition of CustomPC, it makes for a damn tasty cover photograph too (see below!)

MSI: Finally hitting the nail on the head *MSI: Finally hitting the nail on the head

We've just had the latest P55 boards in our labs, and while we've gone through Asus and Gigabyte's latest set of features for their respective Lynnfield motherboards in separate articles, the MSI's are just as impressive in their own right (on paper) and arguably even more innovative in terms of everyday features that people will use.

An example where MSI is pursuing a more successful strategy to its competition is that it continues to push the use its "DrMOS" MOSFETs. It's not chasing the Asus/Gigabyte model of the race to a million phases, instead just several phases are "enough" for everyone bar extreme overclockers, of which, there's no real market to profit from anyway. PR e-peen is the only thing that benefits from overclocking competitions. A further endorsement is that overclocking supremo's EVGA has taken to using the same ICs in its P55 designs as well.

MSI had a lot of catching up to match Asus and Gigabyte, but honestly, I'd say it's not only caught up, it's successfully carving out its own nice niche as well. Really the very last step is to achieve overall awesomeness in the BIOS and it'll be a touch decision and great competition in the future.

The one downside where MSI doesn't yet compete is in terms of gaming hardware brands: EVGA (as a whole), Asus's Republic of Gamers and to a much lesser extent, Foxconn's Quantum Force have a lot of popular appeal.

Does MSI need to jump on the "gaming brand" bandwagon? Should it squeeze out more development for a new discrete brand and division? We're aware of Asus' RoG chips "designed for overclocking" but I don't think the end user is educated, or listens in the same way, to expect MSI's latest CoreCell revision that claims to do the same thing.

So while Gigabyte and Asus might continue their private and sometimes public phallic swinging matches up and down the Danshui/Xiandian line, MSI has crept up to push them both off the pedestal. Personally I'm glad to see a company doing well, rather than seeing yet another market that ends up in a two horse race. Keep going MSI (and same to the smaller guys such as EVGA or Biostar) - make 'em sweat.


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Singularity 4th August 2009, 12:53 Quote
Great article, finally MSI's getting some deserved good press :)
Always been fond of them, they made great notebooks for years, it would be nice to see them do well in today's motherboard market.
Hugo 4th August 2009, 12:59 Quote
Less is more - a million SKUs is just stupid - too much choice from one manufacturer makes me more inclined not to make one at all and chose another brand.

Originally Posted by Rich
Does MSI need to jump on the "gaming brand" bandwagon?
Brandwagon? (I'll get my jacket...)
Krikkit 4th August 2009, 13:04 Quote
I agree with Hugo - I've never liked Gigabyte for just that reason. Same reason why I don't like a lot of Asus' non-RoG boards too.
Rocket_Knight64 4th August 2009, 20:42 Quote
I fully agree that MSI's recent offering have been more then good enough to give the other two serious worries. It's just the little things like putting non-angled SATA connectors out of the way of dual slot GFX cards.

That said Asus's P55 boards are looking quite good.

I just hope that MSI sick to thier guns and continue down this road and not get caught up in the phase wars and the like.
Elton 4th August 2009, 22:01 Quote
MSI's twin Frozor GPUs are pretty nice.
NethLyn 4th August 2009, 22:28 Quote
I've generally stuck with MSI when I wanted a solid board that wouldn't set the world (or itself) alight, but would be reliable and straightforward. Great to see that they're competing in the performance arena now with an AMD board that literally, has its maximum price at £150 where the cheapest LGA1366 boards tend to start - but also has a value board at an impulse upgrade price.
LAGMonkey 5th August 2009, 04:14 Quote
of course part of me is asking.... is MSI's improvement due to the failure of others (Epox, Abit) and hence giving it a nice glow that it wouldnt have if those were still about?

aside from that, i totally agree that its good to have a market with more than 2 choices!
phuzz 5th August 2009, 09:15 Quote
MSI have always been a close second to Asus for me, I've had a few of their boards over the years and they've been solid and reliable. More competition between manufacturers can only be good for us.
Elton 5th August 2009, 09:59 Quote
Originally Posted by LAGMonkey
of course part of me is asking.... is MSI's improvement due to the failure of others (Epox, Abit) and hence giving it a nice glow that it wouldnt have if those were still about?

aside from that, i totally agree that its good to have a market with more than 2 choices!

Maybe, but I do recall DRMos being developed before Abit busted. That said, Abit was one hell of a company. Still MSI has impressed me much as of late too, and so far aside from their dodgy cheap GPUs, it's been smooth sailing.
kenco_uk 5th August 2009, 12:12 Quote
Have MSI ever been that bad?
Paradigm Shifter 5th August 2009, 12:27 Quote
My first (and only) MSI board was a terrible thing. Then again, it did use one of AMD's first attempts at an AGP chipset, which was horrible. The 750? Something like that. It got picky and wouldn't boot if you put RAM in in certain configurations, it didn't like some AGP graphics cards, even after the 'super bypass' patch... generally a horrible board. However, I do think it was more the fault of the chipset than the manufacturer. Still, it made me stick to Asus for years...
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