MOTHERBOARD – MSI BIG BANG-FUZION
Chipset: Intel P55;
Memory: DDR3-1333 (16 GB Max);
SATA: 6 ports by Intel P55,
4 ports by two JMicron JMB322 controllers and 2xeSATA,
USB: 14 (4 via on-board headers);
Expansion slots: 3x PCIe x16, 2x PCIe x1 and 2x PCI;
LAN: Dual gigabit.
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MSI has come out with some good high-end boards in the past, like the Intel X58-based Eclipse Plus, which was SLI-ready and came with a discrete X-Fi sound card, and the quad-CrossFireX-ready 790FX-GD70. MSI’s current focus is on their Big Bang series of super-high end motherboards targeted at enthusiasts and gamers. The latest addition to the series is the Big Bang-Fuzion, which has loads of interesting features to offer, the most interesting of them being cross-vendor multi-GPU support courtesy Lucid Hydra 200 chip.
The motherboard is built around the Intel P55 chipset and supports Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs that come in the socket LGA 1156 package. The chipset supports up to 16 GB DDR3 memory and offers six SATA 3 Gb/s ports and 12 USB 2.0 ports. In addition to this, there are two pairs of SATA 3 Gb/s ports, each supported by a JMicron JMP322 controller. Instead, MSI should have added support for SATA 6 Gb/s. We were surprised to find even USB 3.0 ports missing from the feature set, which are nowadays common to nearly all high-end and many mainstream motherboards.
The rear panel is quite elaborate; there are 10 USB ports (two USB/eSATA combo ports), dual gigabit Ethernet ports, PS/2 ports, a FireWire port, and a connector for the bundled overclocking device called OC Dashboard. It serves two purposes. Firstly, it displays the initialization status of the subsystems during POST, which helps in diagnosing faulty hardware or inappropriate BIOS settings. The debug codes and detailed instructions for using the OC Dashboard are given in a separate user guide. Secondly, you can overclock the CPU and memory and tweak the voltages (CPU, memory and chipset) from Windows. The values are displayed on the device’s OLED screen. You can also use CPU-Z to check the effective CPU and memory speeds. A small array of connectors and four dip switches are present near the RAM slots. The connectors are designed to check the voltages using a multimeter, and the dip switches boost the voltages (CPU, CPU_VTT, memory and chipset) and increase the voltage adjustment range in the BIOS.
MSI has also bundled a utility called MSI Control Center that displays system information and lets you overclock by simply dragging sliders for various parameters. Additionally, there are three overclocking presets – cooling, cinema and gaming. To make overclocking easy, the board features an automatic overclocking mechanism called OC Genie, which comprises a switch and an OC processor. On activating the switch, the OC processor calculates the optimum overclocked speeds and voltages and applies the values in the BIOS. OC Genie overclocked the Intel Core i7-870 from 2.93 GHz to 4.0 GHz without any issues. The package includes separate user guides for MSI Control Center, OC Genie and Overclocking.
Lucid Hydra 200
The MSI Big Bang-Fuzion is the first motherboard to support cross-vendor multi-GPU configurations using the Lucid Hydra 200 chip. It works in conjunction with the CPU and functions as a load-balancer between two or three GPUs. It fetches DirectX API calls, divides and assigns workload between the GPUs, and combines the final output to be displayed on the monitor.
Lucid Hydra works in three modes:
N-mode: Up to three Nvidia G90/G200 cards
A-mode: Up to three Radeon HD 4000/5000 series cards
X-mode: One/two supported Nvidia cards and one/two supported ATI cards.
To configure cards in Hydra, you first have to install graphics drivers for your cards, then install the Lucid Hydra driver, and activate Hydra from the control panel that resides in the system tray.
It sounds simple, but you’ll need to keep these points in mind:
The graphics cards configured in Hydra need to be more or less equally powerful. For example, Radeon HD 5850 + GeForce GTX 285 or GeForce 9600 GT + Radeon HD 5670. You won’t see any scaling with one powerful and one weak GPU. We tried using a GT 240 with a Radeon HD 5850, and the overall performance dropped slightly.
You’ll need Windows Vista or 7 to use Hydra. The X-mode works only under Windows 7, and not under Windows Vista.
For games to works smoothly, the driver needs to have game profiles. Profiles for newer games are included in newer driver releases. The latest driver (version 1.5.107) currently lists 102 games.
Hydra doesn’t work with the latest Nvidia Fermi series or dual-GPU cards, such as the GTX 295, Radeon HD 5970 and HD 4870 X2.
Graphics cards in two-way setup run in x16 mode each, and cards in three-way setup run in x8 mode.
Not all games run in all modes. In fact relatively few scale well in X-mode, so check the Lucid website before spending money on a Hydra setup.
Thumbs up to MSI for being the first to implement Lucid Hydra. It gives you the freedom to configure multi-GPU setups using graphics cards of your choice and it also provides an excellent upgrade path. If you have an older graphics card that’s discontinued and you want to upgrade at a low cost, you can buy one modern midrange graphics card, configure the two in Hydra, and you’re all set. We really liked the incredible feature set of this motherboard and the bundled contents, which includes a discrete PCIe x1 soundcard (QuantumWave), overclocking device and an eSATA bracket, but the lack of USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gb/s support was disappointing.
On the whole however, the package and performance completely justify the price tag. In fact, this board offers a lot more than some of the other high-end ones that are more expensive.