Introduction, Specifications and Packaging
The AMD 970 chipset is the mainstream offering of the AMD chipsets. It offers affordability with great features, with the ability to support a huge array of CPU’s thanks to the hugely popular AM3+ socket. The socket was first introduced back in October 2011 and offered the support of the newly released Bulldozer CPU’s. Despite the new CPU socket, many users decided to hang onto their AM3 motherboards as vendors were offering BIOS updates to support the new range of CPU’s.
The 900 chipset in particular features many of the same features as the 800 series and was primarily introduced to easily differentiate between the older AM3 socket (800 series) and the AM3+ socket (900 series). With the 900 series brought HyperTransport 3.1, NVIDIA SLI and AMD Overdrive for simplified overclocking. Since launch, it has undergone many updates such as PCIe 3.0 support, USB 3.0 support and most recently, USB 3.1 support.
So today we have the MSi 970A Krait Edition. Named directly after the Krait venomous snake, MSI based not only the logo, but the colour theme to it. The 970 chipset is the lowest of the 900 series, bringing affordable performance to everyone. MSI has taken this stable chipset and added the brand new USB 3.1 features, which enabled this motherboard to support USB speed of up to 10Gb/s; this is the world’s first AMD motherboard with USB 3.1 as standard.
There’s not very much new you can say about AMD, AM3+ or the 970 chipset, so let’s just jump straight into testing.
Manufacturers nowadays need to find innovative ways to stand out from the crowd, MSi is no exception and has crammed a huge array of features into this motherboard.
- Military Class 4
- Military Class Essentials
- OC Genie 4
- Click Bios 4
- NVIDIA Sli
- USB 3.0
- USB 3.1
- SATA 6 Gb/s
- Command Center
- Fast Boot
- Live Update 6
For more information on these functions, please visit the MSi 970A Krait Edition product page.
Packaging and Accessories
The Krait Edition is a relatively new addition to the MSi line up. The box is extremely plain with just the Krait snake on the front with the extremely identifiable white and black colour theme.
In the box we find very few accessories, the usual manuals and driver CD, I/O shield and 2x SATA 6Gb/s cables.
A Closer Look & Layout Analysis
This is a very striking motherboard. The Black and white contrast gives excellent focus on key areas such as the DIMM slots, PCIe lanes and audio channel layers. It’s a shame that there isn’t any white on the MOSFET heat sink
Look towards the I/O, things are relatively boring. However, this is the world’s first motherboard to feature USB 3.1 as standard. Along with these, you get 6x USB 2.0, 2x PS/2 connectors, Gigabit LAN and 6x HD audio ports.
Slightly further down the I/O side of the board, we are presented with the audio section, which features a defined audio area with the dashed white lines.
On the bottom of the board, we have the typical array of headers including, front panel audio, front panel buttons, USB 3.0, USB 2.0 and CMOS jumpers.
Working our way back up the other side of the motherboard, we see a decent bank of SATA 6 Gb/s ports. However, the two ports that are flat on the board could have been placed next to the other 4 to tidy up the looks.
We then move onto the 24 pin power connector and dual channel DIMM’s. An old feature which I personally really like here is the use of open-ended DIMM clips; far too many times I’ve hit issues with ‘faulty’ RAM sticks that make poor contact with the connections on single sided clips.
I normally don’t take pictures of the CPU power connector, but on this board I think it’s well executed. The MOSFET heat sink has been trimmed to allow snug fitment in between it and the I/O.
The Test System and Test Software
Before we delve into any testing we would like to take this opportunity to review our test system.
- Motherboard varies by review
- CPU: AMD FX-8350
- GPU: Sapphire R9 290 Tri-X graphics card
- RAM: Crucial 32GB 1866MHz DDR3
- Cooling: Thermaltake Water 3.0 AIO with Gelid GC-Extreme
- Case: Lian Li T80 Test Bench
- Storage Drives: Main storage: Crucial M550 512GB, Test Devices: SanDisk Extreme Pro 240GB SSD, Plextor 256GB M6e M.2 SSD and Patriot SuperSonic Magnum 256GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive
- PSU: be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 850w
- Operating System: Windows 8.1 64-bit
- Networking: ASUS RT-AC68U router
- SiSoft Sandra Engineer – available here
- WPrime – available here
- Cinebench – available here
- 3DMark – available here
- Bioshock Infinite – available here
- Tomb Raider – available here
- AIDA 64 Engineer – available here
- Latencymon – available here
- Rightmark Audio Analyser – available here
- LAN Speed Test Lite – available here
- Passmark – available here
All tests are conducted three times and the average taken to use in our charts.
BIOS and Overclocking
In recent months, all of MSi’s BIOS pages have been exactly the same apart from the personalization to each board type. The Krait Edition is white and black and to the unknowing consumer, could lead them to believe that their video output is broken.
Entering the Settings tab opens up the motherboard settings. Contained within are the usual settings you would expect to see from this section of the motherboard.
The Overclocking (OC) section opens up a vast amount of settings related to overclocking your system. A very in-depth, yet simple approach to what is normally a complicated process.
M-Flash is unique to MSi, although other manufacturers have their specific versions. This allows you to flash the BIOS from an applicable USB drive and USB port.
Onto the second column to Overclock Profiles. If you are like me, I like to have a different number of profiles for my system to run at; be it general work, gaming or even under-clocked states for acting as a media centre.
Into the Hardware Monitor, this gives you a visual look into what the system is doing. You can adjust the fans through drag and drop settings on the chart, monitor the voltage from the PSU and even system temperatures.
Finally, we have the Board Explorer. This is a relatively new tool to the world of enthusiast technology, allowing you to see what is plugged in and to where. On this particular version, it tells you the CPU make and model if you hover over the CPU socket.
AMD make overclocking a pain, you can only choose from preset values with no detailed tweaking like on Intel chips. Here I managed to attain an overclock of 4.7GHz
So the manufacturer’s point of difference is not only the components it uses, but also what it can offer the user during day-to-day use. MSi, like others, offer many different programs for you to choose from once set up which can help to make your life a little easier. Usually these programs are useless, offering bloatware or some pretty pointless programs that you wouldn’t normally download. MSi used to be the same, but have now changed and have tuned the software on offer to be extremely useful.
First up is the MSi Command Center. This is the performance tweaking and analysis side of the MSi utilities, allowing you to increase or even decrease clock speeds, fan speeds or even set up a RAMDisk. The first page takes you to the Fan speed and CPU frequency.
Next are the RAM and IGP frequencies. These are bundled onto the same page despite being on separate tabs.
The RAMDisk is a very simple tool to create and run an extremely fast storage feature from your unused RAM.
Last up is the OC Genie, this is a one-stop shop for overclocking; although despite how far technology has come, features like this still don’t yield the full overclocking potential that the CPU has. This feature works even if you do not have the OC Genie button on your motherboard (MSi motherboards only).
Then we have a very small application, Fast Boot. This has just 2 functions, to boot into BIOS at the next reset; which can prove invaluable if you have a faulty keyboard and to fast boot, does exactly what it says on the tin.
Then we have Live Update 6. This is the heart and soul of the MSi utilities and drivers. A simple click can reveal what BIOS, utilities and/ or drivers are missing from your current install. This does require the internet but can prove extremely useful for new users.
Last up is Network Genie. This feature has one function, to get the maximum internet speed through prioritising your current workload and what applications are using the internet.
CINEBENCH is a real-world cross-platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s CPU performance. Cinebench R15 is a totally free utility and is available for download here.
The only other board we have to test with is our control board; the ASUS Crosshair V Formula. Despite how high-end that board is, the 970A Krait holds a demanding lead.
wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton’s method for estimating functions. wPrime is a free utility that is available for download here.
At stock, the 970A Krait is lagging behind, but when overclocked it takes a good lead.
The SiSoft Sandra Dhrystone and Whetstone benchmarks are widely used measures of compute power and performance for a wide array of real world usage scenarios. You can find out more details on these tests here or download SiSoft Sandra here.
Performance here is on par with the ASUS board, and when overclocked it takes a small lead.
3DMark Firestrike is Futuremark’s latest creation for testing the GPU performance of high-end gaming PCs using Direct X 11 graphics. You can download a free basic version of 3DMark here.
This motherboard offered sufficient bandwidth at stock, so once overclocked; there was little in the way of GPU performance gain.
Tomb Raider is a popular action-adventure video game published by Square Enix based on the Tomb Raider franchise. The game was released in 2013 and as of March 2014 had sold 6 million copies.
Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter developed by Irrational Games that is the third instalment of the Bioshock series. The game is the last to be produced by Irrational Games before they announced their closure in February 2014. The game has sold over 4 million copies since its 2013 release.
Very level performance between the two boards here.
Combined Latency Test
Again, very little in the way of performance difference here.
SATA, M.2 and USB Performance
To test the storage performance in our motherboard reviews we use AIDA’s Disk Benchmark utility built into their AIDA64 Engineer Edition software package and run linear read and write tests. We run each of the benchmark tests on a SATA III, USB 3.0 and M.2 device. For SATA III testing we use a SanDisk Extreme Pro 240GB, for USB 3.0 testing we use the Supersonic Magnum 256 GB USB 3.0 flash drive and for M.2 testing we use Plextor’s 256GB M.2 M6e SSD. The drives are always formatted before use.
The 970A Krait motherboard has a strong lead in the USB performance but is on par in SATA performance.
For our networking tests we connect the test system up to our Intel Gigabit enabled ASUS Rampage IV Extreme X79 motherboard test system through the ASUS RT-AC68U router and run our tests. We opted for this over a direct point-to-point connection because we wanted to simulate real world performance. For our WiFi tests we do the same except we connect the test system to the ASUS RT-AC68U router via WiFi at a distance of 2 metres from the router.
LAN Speed Test Lite
LAN Speed Test was designed from the ground up to be a simple but powerful tool for measuring file transfer, hard drive, USB Drive, and Local Area Network (LAN) speeds (wired & wireless). It does this by building a file in memory, then transfers it both ways (without effects of windows file caching) while keeping track of the time. Download the free Lan Speed Test Lite utility from here.
Very little difference between the two boards here.
Passmark Performance Test 8
The PassMark Advanced Network Test (which is part of PerformanceTest) is designed to test the data transfer rate between two computers both of which must be running PerformanceTest. One of the computers must act as the server and will sit waiting for a connection. The other computer acts as a client. It connects to the server machine and sends data to it for the duration of the test. You can download a trial version of PerformanceTest from here.
Similar performance here, however, the Realtek LAN has a more average CPU usage.
RightMark Audio Analyser (RMAA)
RMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio device. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. Available here. We run the RMAA test using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable connecting the line out to the line in to test the quality of the motherboard audio codec not any external audio devices. We run the complete playback and recording test at default settings and then get RMAA to interpret the results giving the below outputs. We sync the playback and recording audio devices to the same setting as the test for accurate results.
16 Bit, 44KHz (DVD Quality)
16 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)
24 Bit, 96KHz (Studio Quality)
A pretty good rating for a mid-range motherboard.
DPC Audio Latency Analyser
DPC is a Windows tool that analyses the capabilities of a computer system to handle real-time data streams properly. It may help to find the cause for interruptions in real-time audio and video streams, also known as drop-outs.
The Realtek ALC887 pulls a commanding lead of the SupremeFX III.
To measure power consumption we use a killawatt meter and measure the total system power draw at the wall. We run three different use-case scenarios for 5 minutes and take the average reading.
Nothing spectacular here, all within a few watts of eachother.
The MSi 970A Krait motherboard is currently available from SCAN UK for £69.56. In the US, it is available from Newegg.com for $84. Both of these are subject to shipping depending on your geographical area.
I’m in two minds about this motherboard, in general, it is great and the performance is on or above average in most tests. The overall build quality is second to none and the attention to detail with the little things like the CPU power connector being positioned neatly in the MOSFET heat sink.
Aesthetically speaking, the white and black detailing is very refreshing, it is such a crisp refresh to the red and blacks that has really taken the motherboard market by storm in recent years. The heat sinks are clean-cut and positioned to perfection, but I think that the larger heat sink could have done with a small splash of white, or maybe a white SATA port or two to break up the black down in that corner.
When it comes to software and utilities, MSi is really on point when it comes to what they can offer. With this particular motherboard, the options are limited, but in a good way. You don’t have the option to install all of the gaming options, which can be really daunting. Instead MSi offers the bare essentials, with the extremely well executed LIVE UPDATE 6.
Performance wise, it performed as expected with some better and some poorer scores in a whole range of tests. CPU performance was slightly better than expected and the addition of the USB 3.1 really gave our Patriot Magnum USB drive a good stretch. Audio performance was also a good performer, it dominates other motherboards at the same price point.
Now one thing that gets me with most motherboards under £100, is the lack of onboard power buttons; more and more computer users are starting to build their own units, so the addition of these buttons would prove invaluable in my opinion.
- Great price
- High quality audio
- Stylishly subtle
- Attention to detail is second to none
- Missing on-board power and reset buttons
“AMD CPU’s have taken the bench due to the dominance by Intel, but the motherboard market is extremely competitive thanks to AMD using the same AM3/ AM3+ socket. If you are on the lookout for an upgrade and require Sli or Crossfire Support, this is a great option.”
Thank you to MSi for providing this sample.