If you’re looking for the ultimate in gaming power you should have an Intel LGA1366 Core i7 CPU and motherboard at the top of your shopping list, but it won’t come cheap. An entry level Core i7 930 will set you back some £200 and it is surprisingly easy to spend more than £250 on an LGA1366 Core i7 motherboard. There’s no denying that’s a lot of money, but it means that the MSI X58A-GD65 with its price of less than £150 can be fairly described as a budget Core i7 motherboard.
To be frank we struggled to see anything downmarket about the X58A-GD65 as it has an impressive list of features and it also looks very smart. MSI puffs out its chest about its use of military grade hardware on this motherboard and the area around the CPU socket uses a series of tiny chokes and capacitors that deliver a real sense of space around the processor. You can install a CPU with a maximum TDP of 130W which covers the entire range of LGA 1366 models.
The three heatsinks on the chipset and power regulation hardware have a dark grey anodised finish that looks purposeful and it is our impression that the coating will resist knocks and scratches. Perhaps there is an indication of cost cutting here as the heatsinks are separate items and do not use heatpipes to transfer heat from one area to another. On the plus side the heatsinks are a decent size and they are solidly secured to the motherboard with screws.
You may be concerned that the MSI only supports CrossFire without a nod to SLI but this strikes us as something of a theoretical problem as the vast majority of gamers use a single graphics card. For that matter the provision of three PCI Express x16 graphics slots looks like a touch of luxury, however things aren’t quite as they appear. The first two slots have the full 16 lanes of PCI Express each but the third x16 slot only gets four lanes. On the face of it the customer is missing out here, but this isn’t really the case as the Intel X58 chipset supplies PCI Express 2.0 with stacks more graphics bandwidth than any other desktop chipset on the market.
When we took a good close look we found plenty to admire about this motherboard such as support for a maximum of 24GB of DDR3-2133MHz RAM in six DIMMs. The Intel ICH10R Southbridge offers native support for USB 2.0 and SATA 2.0, however MSI has used add-in controllers that provide USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0.
Taken together these chips provide two SATA 3.0 and six SATA 2.0 connectors laid down on the edge of the board as well as two eSATA ports on the I/O panel. There are two USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports on the I/O panel as well as headers for six USB 2.0 ports mid-board. As if that wasn’t enough MSI has used a VIA controller to support one Firewire port on the I/O panel with another connector mid-board.
Although MSI doesn’t include legacy IDE and floppy connectors there are two PS/2 ports on the I/O panel along with a full complement of six audio mini jacks plus optical and coaxial S/PDIF connectors and Gigabit Ethernet.
When we started the X58A-GD65 we saw that MSI has revised its BIOS numbering system, so where we would once have seen v1.2 or v1.3 on the screen we instead found that our motherboard had come with BIOS v22.0 which we updated to V22.1 from a USB flash drive in a process that was quick and simple.
We were disappointed to see that the X58A-GD65 doesn’t come with OC Genie, presumably to keep costs to a minimum, as OC Genie is a superb way to overclock your MSI motherboard by simply pressing a button on the board.
As an alternative you can overclock your Core i7 CPU with the Overclocking Centre software that is included on the driver disc along with the tried and true MSI Live Update utility. Unfortunately the software doesn’t offer all of the tools that you need to overclock your Core i7 within Windows, as you need to go into the BIOS to adjust the QPI voltage.
You also need to use the BIOS to check the hardware monitor in order to get a true reading of the voltage settings and clock speeds. Generally speaking this is a matter of insurance and double checking but with the MSI we found that we had to increase the stock CPU core voltage of 1.136V by +0.42V to get a true figure of 1.41V rather than the 1.55V figure reported by the BIOS, which is a big difference.
When we’d finished setting the voltage we were able to raise the clock speed of our Core i7 930 to 21 x 190MHz = 3.99GHz, which is in line with motherboards that are rather more expensive.