Not everyone has the budget or even wants to spend hundreds of pounds on a motherboard, especially when you consider the rate of depreciation and technological evolution these days. Take AMD's Phenom processors as an example: they are dropping in price faster than most realise, even though they were only released in November. If you’re an AMD type of guy and are looking for a new motherboard, there are a few options available to you at the moment – one of those is the AMD 790X chipset, which is a notch away from the flagship 790FX.
Not being the full fat AMD 790FX isn’t a bad thing—losing the F doesn’t do much to the chipset—it’s actually the cheapest full 32 lane PCI-Express 2.0 solution you can buy, offering an unmatched price-to-performance ratio. That said, Gen-2 doesn’t offer a whole load over Gen-1, but a 790X and one Radeon HD 3850 or 3870 now, with the possibly for another and a quad-core Phenom later might certainly be a tempting proposition to some.
The 790X appears to be in a bit of a no-man’s land between the premium AMD 790FX and inexpensive but hacked back AMD 770X. I'm actually surprised that more companies other than MSI and Gigabyte haven't jumped on the performance mainstream bandwagon, where profit margins aren't as tight as the 770X, but more people buy it over the expensive 790FX.
The MSI K9A2 CF is light on features but it is just £60. Does the low price equal poor performance and cheap components? Or has MSI made an underrated gem? Let’s find out...
AMD Phenom/Athlon/Sempron processors on AM2 or AM2+ socket 940 package
AMD 790X North bridge
AMD SB600 South bridge
Four DDR2 800/667/533MHz memory slots with up to 8GB supported
Realtek TRL80111B Gigabit Ethernet
Realtek ALC888 High-Definition 7.1 audio codec
Four SATA 3Gbps ports supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1
Two PCI-Express x16 Gen-2.0 slots supporting AMD CrossFire technology
One PCI-Express x1 slot
Two PCI slots
Four SATA cables
Metal rear I/O shield
Two Molex to SATA power adapters
One IDE Cable
One internal CrossFire connector
PCI Bracket with two USB 2.0 ports and D-LED array
MSI manual and driver CDs for Vista and XP
Surprisingly there is quite a lot in the box, as there is a full complement of SATA cables and even a couple of power adapters for those will older PSUs – something more likely to be needed with inexpensive products. There isn’t a floppy cable included, but everyone should have one knocking about by now, or at least one they can borrow.
Only two USB ports for the four provided are included on the PCI bracket, and MSI have still insisted on including the D-LED array that hogs two whole USB ports. While being almost useless, it is still better than nothing.