Sources close to MSI have revealed that the company is readying the world's first motherboard to use Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic audio chip as an on-board solution.

The P6N Diamond is based on NVIDIA's nForce 680i SLI chipset, and comes with more than a few surprises. The first surprise is, not surprisingly, the inclusion of Creative's X-Fi XtremeMusic audio chip, arguably giving this board the best on-board sound solution out there.

Secondly, MSI has opted to include two SATA 3Gbps ports with hardware RAID 0 and 1 support. These are in addition to the five native SATA 3Gbps ports with software RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and JBOD support that MSI has chosen to include.

This is interesting on two fronts; firstly, the nForce 680i SLI MCP supports six SATA 3Gbps ports and MSI has only included five internal ports, and secondly, native hardware RAID support is a pretty rare feature on modern motherboards. We don't have details on the controller chip used to power the two hardware RAID ports at this time though - that detail should be cleared up by the time the board launches later this month.

The sixth native SATA 3Gbps port may well be the eSATA port on the board's rear I/O panel, but the document we have doesn't mention the controller chip used for that particular port either.

The final feature that stood out as relatively unique were the four PCI-Express x16 slots - this has been done already by Gigabyte, so it's not truly unique, but it's an interesting feature nonetheless. The PCI-Express lanes are configurable between x8-x8-x16-x8 and x16-x8-x16 using a digital switch similar to the one used on the P4N Diamond motherboard.

In theory, you could install a pair of GeForce 8800 GTX cards in SLI along with a pair of dedicated hardware RAID controller cards should the on-board hardware RAID be insufficient. In addition, there is a single PCI-Express x1 slot and two PCI slots to round up the selection of expansion slots on the board.

In terms of pricing, this board isn't going to be cheap. The high-quality components on the board (like the X-Fi audio chip) are going to drive the price up pretty high, but don't expect it to be as expensive as the Asus Striker Extreme. I'm excited at the prospect of this motherboard, providing it can arrive in good time at a reasonable price point with good performance, overclocking and stability. Our sources have asked us not to publish pictures of the board for the time being.
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