Layout and Power
The first thing you notice is that the K9A2 CF looks pretty bare, which is understandable, but it also means there’s more space available in order to get everything right. In that respect, MSI has done very well: all the pin-outs and power sockets are dotted around the edges, and the ones you’ll actually use are colour-coordinated as well.
The SATA ports are well positioned not to interfere with the PCI-Express x16 slots and the IDE slot is angled 90 degrees outwards to keep cable mess to a minimum.
Just four phases of power are used, and there are no additional phases for the memory or north bridge either – even the 12V CPU power socket is just 4-pin as opposed to the more recent 8-pin.
We’re really down to just the basics here which could stress the power sub-system if you drop in a quad-core Phenom and we assumed it would certainly limit the overclocking potential, however we later found out that this was not the case at all.
PCI and PCI-Express
Don’t be confused that the two included PCI-Express x16 ports are coloured differently because they are identical and routed directly from the north bridge. There is a PCI-Express x1 slot and two PCI slots thrown in for some extra expansion goodness too. Both graphics slots are out the way of everything else too—SATA, memory slots and any pin-outs—you lose only the single PCI slot when a dual height card is used in the bottom PCI-Express x16 slot.
The board uses some very simple heatsinks, but thanks to the 790X north bridge and SB600 south bridge being so cool, that is all that’s necessary. Even after hours of load, the north bridge barely gets warm to the touch. The CPU power regulation components don’t get any extra cooling though, which means all that heat is left to circulate around the chassis and back into the PCB. Interestingly, there are a couple of pin holes to mount an aftermarket (or self made) heatsink solution if you feel the need, but even after hours of load they didn't really get hot enough to cause concern.
Sound and Ethernet
Instead of the usual Realtek ALC883 value High-Definition codec, MSI has opted for the slightly more upmarket ALC888 instead, that gives a bit better performance but still lacks Dolby or DTS extras.
As the board is aimed more at the budget conscious, there is just a single PCI-Express Gigabit Ethernet included and it’s not surprising that there is no flashy WiFi module or second LAN connector. The good thing is that MSI made sure to include a PCI-Express based Ethernet controller – this should be enough for most people.