Honestly, in a world were £200 motherboards are becoming "the norm" we don't expect much from one that is just 25 per cent of the price. In fact, if you saw one in the shops experience would probably cause us to second guess it, as rarely do boards this cheap offer something worth buying.
We have to admit something we were wrong about though: cheap AMD boards with DDR3. Earlier this year they simply weren't feasible, and even until a couple of months ago the price gap between DDR2 and DDR3 was still significant, but with the significantly better boards AM3 has turned out to provide (especially from MSI after three awards between Custom PC and bit-tech), it seems that it's now actually worth the investment.
We recently included the MSI 770-C45 in a Custom PC motherboard roundup for issue 72 where it received an Approved award. With the launch of equally cheap and very capable 785G boards, we've revisited the MSI as we've come to put the review online to see if it's still worth buying or whether AMD's new chipset is now the better choice.
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Support for socket 938 AM3 CPUs including Phenom II and Athlon II series.
AMD 770X northbridge
AMD SB710 southbridge
Four 240-pin DDR3 memory slots supporting 1,066 and 1,333MHz DIMMs, with DDR3 1600(O.C.) overclocking support for up to 16GB in total
Six SATA 3Gbps from the SB710 supporting RAID 0, 1, 0+1 and JBOD
One IDE port
Twelve USB 2.0 ports (six rear I/O, six pin-outs)
The design of the MSI is more attractive than we usually give boards of this cost credit for. The red PCB reminds us of the old school cool MSI we'd almost forgotten, and the black bits with splashes of blue are at least more interesting than the usual white. By design standards it's a thin PCB with very little cooling, but not much is necessary because the 770X and SB710 chipsets are made on the low power 55nm TSMC process. Psychologically though, we can see why some may feel the MSI is potentially "slower" without 2kg of copper spread across it, but at the same time we like the return to scantily clad cooling.
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Without compromising on quality in the low end, MSI has decked the whole thing in long life Nippon Chemicon solid aluminium capacitors and environmentally sealed ferrite chokes, but it's understandably somewhat limited by a single phase for the DDR3 memory and northbridge, as well as a minimal 4+1 phases for the CPU and CPU-NB area. The MOSFETs used are the old school type too - there's no DrMOS here simply because cost prohibits it.
At the time of writing MSI has not yet certified the board for the 140W Phenom II X4 965, limiting it to 125W CPUs, and it makes no assessment on its website as to what power limit the board can handle. Our advice is to play it safe and only use 95W CPUs in it if you're overclocking, as that will provide some thermal overhead. We've been stressing the board considerably with a Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition at 3.7GHz at 1.4-1.5V with no issue.