System BIOS Options
MSI is a company that is well known for their extensive system BIOS options, and depending on the model, these can often rival ABIT, ASUS or EPoX for overclocking and tweaking. The BIOS tested in this review is the initial (and at this time, only) version 1.0, and while it does follow the MSI model of offering a wide array of settings, there were a few areas where improvement is definitely warranted. The basic BIOS features are present and accounted for, so we are concentrating on the more performance-oriented areas, such as CPU and memory timings, overclocking options and on-board peripherals.
With DDR333 fast becoming a standard, and the Pentium 4 requiring a great deal of bandwidth, memory timings are one of the most important aspects of any system BIOS. Here, the 645E Max2-LRU let us select CAS latency (Auto, 2.5 or 2), the Timing Setting Mode (ranging from Safe to Ultra) and the Host to Memory Latency (Normal or Fast).
Memory speeds are set using a set of memory ratio options, such as SPD, 1:1, 3:4 or 3:5. These relate to a DDR FSB-to-DRAM Clock ratios and using a standard Pentium 4-2.2 GHz processor and a 3:5 ratio, the end result is a 333 MHz DDR memory speed. A 1:1 yields a 200 MHz DDR and 3:4 gets you 266 MHz. These options change as the FSB is increased, and when using a 533 MHz Pentium 4-2.53 GHz processor, the fastest option is 4:5, which again results in a 333 MHz DDR speed.
An unfortunate by-product is when moving above a 160 MHz FSB, only the Auto selection is available, causing memory speeds to decline greatly. On a positive note, if you are blessed and can use the 160 MHz bus speed for overclocking, a nice, even DDR400 MHz speed is then available. This should not be a problem for all but the hardiest of overclockers, as even a 100-to-133 MHz overclock is usually attainable only with the 1.6A and 1.8A processors.
To help reach the highest memory speeds possible MSI also includes a DRAM Vcore setting, which provides a range of settings from 2.5V to 2.8V. This may not be as high as some other boards, but moving towards the 3.0V level is really getting into the DDR danger zone. The performance levels attained will depend greatly on the quality of your DDR, but using high-end Crucial PC2700 and a slight bump to 2.6V, we were able to increase all memory settings to maximum levels.
The CPU side of the overclocking equation starts out quite promising with 1 MHz FSB increments from 100 to 200 MHz. Also keep in mind that the SiS 645DX offers a true 133/533 MHz system bus, and the 645E Max2-LRU automatically adjusts the AGP and PCI dividers once the FSB speed in the BIOS reaches 133 MHz. No dip switches or on-board jumpers to adjust, and it's incredibly easy to jack your Pentium 4 to a 133 MHz FSB and back again if needed. If you are the lucky recipient of an unlocked Pentium 4, the 645E Max2-LRU will display the various multiplier selections, but otherwise a Locked notation will be all you see.
The only real negative resides in the CPU core voltage settings. These look quite nice at first glance, as MSI has allowed full user access to the detailed options. The problem is that the maximum voltage allowed is 1.6V for a Pentium 4 Northwood. MSI has been lowering the maximum core voltage in their newer motherboards, but 1.6V is only 0.10 above the default setting, and not at all conducive to the needs of the enthusiast buyer.
We have spoken to MSI regarding the BIOS issues and even broached the subject of them issuing a special "Overclocker's BIOS" as the company has in the past. One thing is for sure, if MSI increases the core voltage allowances in a future BIOS update, the 645E Max2-LRU will be an absolutely killer overclocking motherboard. Even with the above limitations, we were able to take a Pentium 4-2.0A GHz to 2.53 GHz without any problem. If MSI can give us access to 1.8V or higher core voltage options, then the sky is truly the limit.
Whenever a motherboard like the 645E Max2-LRU comes along, one of the first questions asked, is if you can disable the on-board features. Everyone has different requirements, be it dedicated audio, a PCI LAN card, or wanting to boot quicker by disabling the RAID BIOS. Thankfully, MSI allows full control through the Integrated Peripherals section of the system BIOS, and let us disable or enable USB 2.0, IDE RAID, and on-board LAN, Audio and Modem functionality.
The PC Health Status section monitors CPU and System temperatures, as well as CPU and System fan speeds and seven voltage readings. Power management functions are all present, as is the option of assigning IRQs based on PCI slots (only PCI slots 1/5 are shared). The 645E Max2-LRU system BIOS is incredibly easy to use, is well organized and powerful, but still has a few rough spots that MSI should address in a new BIOS revision. Here are a few BIOS screenshots that cover the most important areas of the 645E Max2-LRU system BIOS:
In addition to the BIOS overclocking features, MSI has also included a Fuzzy Logic III software utility. Fuzzy Logic allows full control over CPU overclocking through the Windows operating system. This utility allows control of the CPU clock speed, and displays useful information such as CPU fan speed, CPU temperature, CPU core voltage, memory clock speed, CPU clock speed, AGP clock speed, and PCI clock speed.
The utility includes Auto and Manual overclock settings, with the Auto determining your optimum CPU speed based on several minutes of system testing. The Manual route is done by simply inputting the desired FSB number into the application and then rebooting. Since Fuzzy Logic III does not offer access to the core voltage settings, it will be of limited use to the hardcore overclocker, but neophyte users will like it ease of use and the added safety of the Auto Overclock feature.