First Look: MSI 870-GD60 Hydra motherboardManufacturer: MSI
We took our first look at what Lucid's Hydra chip can offer earlier this year in MSI's Big Bang Fuzion
motherboard, and more recently we've had a sneak peek at Asus' first Hydra equipped board, the CrossHair IV Extreme
Both of those boards are unashamedly expensive, and MSI is attempting to bring the cost of a Hydra multi-GPU board down by pairing the Hydra with AMD's mid-range 870 Northbridge. Lucid's Hydra chip will take the single PCI-E 2.0 16x path from the AMD 870, add its own PCI-E lanes and the result is a board with two true 16x PCI-E 2.0 lanes for a pair of graphics cards. By limiting the board to a two card configuration, there's less board engineering and the driver support (already a big issue for the Hydra) becomes simpler too. MSI tells us that the last six months of driver development for Hydra have resulted in substantial performance gains - this is something we hope to revisit in the coming weeks.
The biggest gain for users is not necessarily that they can mix-and-match GPUs (although Hydra does allow this), but that AMD system builders once again get access to SLI - something Nvidia enthusiasts have been missing since last year.
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The other benefit of using the AMD 870 Northbridge over a more expensive chip such as the 890FX is the reduction in the board's overall cost. This is a key factor in shifting Hydra boards off shop shelves and making all that extra development cost worth it. We're not sure how many Big Bang Fuzion boards have been sold to date, but at £300 for a P55 motherboard it was always a very difficult sell, and the fact MSI took to bundling a £130 Radeon HD 5770 graphics card with it for a while speaks volumes.
Don't expect the 870-GD60 Hydra to be a bargain basement special, mind - there are still ten phases of DrMOS hardware and High-C capacitors used on the CPU and these should offer plenty of overclocking headroom. Underneath all that it's still using the usual 4+1 (8+2) design because of the controller limitations for AMD hardware.
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On this early sample we saw, there are a few missing features you may be able to spot - the onboard buttons are missing, but they will eventually be there, with the usual GreenPower, OC, Power and Reset touch sensitive ones around the OC Dial in the bottom corner. On the rear I/O there's also a clear CMOS button squirrelled in, too.
Naturally there's CPU core unlocking included and USB 3 support, and the SB850 southbridge provides six SATA 6Gbps ports too. Don't take the layout as final just yet, they might
all get the 90 degree treatment in the final revision. MSI has dropped the IDE port though, finally, leaving plenty of space for more SATA if it decides to. Additionally there's also Realtek audio and a single Gigabit Ethernet port and VIA Firewire to round things off.
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Some of you will have noticed the 6-pin PCI-E power socket above the peripheral slots as well. This is optional, used to reduce the stress on the 8-pin EPS 12V power connector when two powerful graphics cards are installed and the board is heavily overclocked. We still maintain it's in a difficult position to actually use - like the previous Molex plugs that have gone before - pulling a PCI-E cable across the board will only get it caught in CPU fans or maybe even melted on the back of hot graphics cards. Arranging cables neatly is going to be next to impossible.
The little red dip switches are the same 'OC Switch' MSI has tried before and has ultimately served us little purpose when there's the OC Dial and possibly OC Genie in the BIOS too. They aren't exactly easy to get to either.
We've no idea yet of the cooling that MSI will use, but there appears to be separate heatsinks for CPU MOSFETs, Northbridge-Southbridge and Hydra chip. Expect it to be in the same style as the usual Blue and gunmetal grey MSI has been using recently, but the size on the cooling will depend on the price MSI is trying to hit.
MSI will be showing the board off at Computex in a few weeks, but we're unsure yet if it'll be in a working state. The 870-GD60 will will be available to buy sometime in July.