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MSI P35 Platinum Motherboard Based on Intel P35 Chipset

August 30, 2007



Along with a couple of mid-range models based on Intel P35 chipset MSI has provided us with a Platinum-version based on the renewed platform. As is usual during initial release stage this particular motherboard was a pre-sale sample. Later, after the testing of the newly-released chipset had been done, the selling version, based on PCB revision 1.2, has made its way into our lab. However, the new revision wasn't any different in terms of appearance and functionality, therefore let's think that MSI engineers had worked on improving layout of power supply and signal lines.

The motherboard has turned out to be rather peculiar. It has rich functionality, good wiring layout, and a number of appealing brand features. Of course, the first thing that captures one's attention is the chipset cooling system. Well, we have gotten used to coolers based on heat pipes in high-end and even average motherboards. From the buyer's standpoint, this is an appealing option, promising comfortable temperature conditions for the heat-producing board components without the extra fan noise (or providing additional cooling needed for overclocking). Nowadays motherboard manufacturers have learned to carefully lay heat pipes out between small heat sinks on the board's surface. Hence, such cooling systems are not only efficient, but also easy to handle during system assembly and upgrade.

Things are a bit different with this MSI's motherboard. Despite the significantly reduced heat emission of the new chipset series from Intel, the manufacturer has chosen to use the heat pipes. To add to that, MSI has laid them out in an unforgettable pattern, which the numerous reviewers have come up with quite a few witty nicknames for. What are the objective advantages and drawbacks of this decision? To our surprise, we have found hardly any disadvantages: perhaps the only one is that it makes detaching the CPU power supply connector harder. Couple of heat sinks are located very close to the memory slots, but even the bulkiest of the modules available to us (like Corsair Pro and Dominator) had no trouble fitting in. Also, apparently, not every CPU cooler can be installed onto this motherboard, because space around the socket is limited, though still it is more than what majority of competitor boards provide. At least the boxed cooler can be easily installed and fastened. Among the definite advantages we can note the cool to touch heat sinks while operating with FSB frequency increased to 1333+ MHz and no airflow from the CPU cooler. In comparison, motherboards based on P35 chipset with regular spiked heat sinks exhibited a moderate level of heating (albeit not as high as the previous generation of motherboards based on Intel P/G965 chipset).


The rest of the board matches the style of the chipset cooler. The multitude of functional elements is balanced by their convenient placement. The only clear drawback is the location of the video card slot too close to the memory slots, which restricts access to them after the card is installed. A customary design shortcoming is the number of PCI slots being limited to two. Moreover, the fans of CrossFire will most likely be able to use only one. This can be excused in view of a growing number of expansion cards with PCI Express interface (including Creative sound cards). Nevertheless, with further Crossfire development, when transmission rate of x4 will likely be chosen for the second video card slot, the user will be lacking those slots as well - there simply won't be enough southbridge interface lines for them. Apart from that, there are no more critical remarks concerning wiring layout of the motherboard. All peripheral ports are easily accessible, the numerous indicator lights (including power-on and idle state, the rest we'll focus on later) are clearly visible. The rear side of the motherboard is free from any excessive elements, so there shouldn't be any problems installing the board into any of the standard computer chassis.

The 4-channel impulse CPU supply voltage stabilizer uses 3 field transistors per channel. We leave the number and capacity of capacitors unspecified, because this particular area was modified in revision 1.2. In any case, MSI emphasizes that only polymer capacitors were used (Low ESR, made in Japan). Once more we thank Gigabyte company for introducing last year this "fashion" for using polymer capacitors that, in comparison to the regular electrolytic ones, have longer service life especially in extreme conditions. This time MSI, among other companies, is releasing its adequate answer to that challenge. High-quality polymer capacitors are used not only in the CPU power supply chain, but also all across the board (note the audio codec surroundings and its excellent results in analog audio output tests). In addition, MSI uses chokes with ferrite cores instead of iron ones, which reduces power consumption and, consequently, heat emission. Motherboard's form factor is 305x245 mm (full-size ATX). It is mounted using 9 standard screws, all corners being tightly secured.

Speaking of other MSI models based on the same PCB, it is worth noting that full-size ATX motherboards of the new series have only two distinct designs. We have already acquainted ourselves with one in case of P35 Neo/Combo, while the second one is presented in this article. Thus, all Platinum- and Diamond-versions including models that support only DDR3 or both memory types at once (design is slightly changed in the latter case to accommodate 6 slots) and a couple of Neo2 models (with simplified chipset cooling system) are based on design discussed in this article and offer very similar functionality.

System monitoring (Fintek F71882FG, from BIOS Setup data and Windows utilities)

  • CPU voltage, +3.3, +5, +12 V and +5 V Standby;
  • Rotation frequency of the three fans, one of which supports automatic rotation frequency control, while the frequency of another can be set manually.
  • Temperature of CPU (by built-in CPU sensor) and motherboard (by on-board sensor);
  • Method of CPU fan automatic rotation frequency control depending on temperature: one can set desired CPU temperature (40-65 °C) and fan's speed of rotation (in 12.5% increments) for lower temperatures.

Besides all that, this motherboard is the first within our recollection that allows to directly regulate the speed of rotation of one of the system fans (the desired speed can be set in 25% increments), although similar automatic control can be found on some boards from time to time.

Brand MSI Dual Core Center utility apart from the capabilities mentioned above allows monitoring the memory and chipset northbridge voltage. A universal SpeedFan utility also allows monitoring the battery voltage and +3.3 V Standby. MSI Dual Core Center allows adjusting rotation frequency of the CPU cooler in the same range (in 12.5% increments).

Ports, connectors and sockets on board surface

  • Processor socket (Socket 775, declared support of all modern Core 2, Pentium Dual Core and Celeron (with Core micro-architecture) processors for this socket, including the latest processors with FSB frequency of 1333 MHz. Of the models with Netburst micro-architecture only those that have a bus frequency of 800 MHz or above are supported;
  • 4 DDR2 SDRAM DIMM slots (up to 8 GB DDR2-667/800; dual-channel mode is supported in case when slots for both channels are occupied), a list of certified modules should become available later on the manufacturer's web-site;
  • 2 slots of PCIEx16 form-factor for video cards: one of which always works at x16 speed, while speed of the other one can be set up to x4; CrossFire mode should be supported, although the motherboard's manufacturer provides no official information about it;
  • 2 PCIEx1 slots (are switched-off when the speed of x4 is set for the second PCIEx16 slot);
  • 2 PCI slots;
  • Power supply connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, can use a standard 20-pin ATX 2.03 connector), 8-pin EPS12V for CPU supply (with ability to connect regular 4-pin ATX12V connector even without an adapter, but given that no less than 18 A is provided on +12 V line for the CPU) and one peripheral ATX connector for additional power supply of the video cards in PCI Express slots;
  • FDD slot;
  • IDE (Parallel ATA) slot, controlled by the extra Marvell controller for 2 ATA133 devices;
  • 5 SATA-II (Serial ATA II) slots for 5 SATA300 devices, of which 1 is controlled by the extra Marvell controller and 4 are "chipset" slots, disks connected to the latter can be combined into a RAID-array of levels 0, 1, 0+1, 5 and Matrix RAID along with disks, connected to the eSATA ports on the rear panel of the board;
  • 3 headers for 6 extra USB ports;
  • 1 header for an extra FireWire port;
  • 1 header for an extra COM-port;
  • CD/DVD-drive audio-out header;
  • Block of analog audio-in/out connectors for the computer's front panel;
  • 1 digital audio S/PDIF-Out header;
  • 1 VoIP card slot;
  • Undocumented SPI and DB slots;
  • 1 connector for chassis intrusion detector;
  • 6(!) fan sockets (3 of which have rotation frequency control), 4-pin CPU fan is capable of automatic rotation frequency adjustment.

Board's rear panel (left to right, blockwise)


click to view the board in 3/4 perspective from the rear panel side
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports;
  • 1 FireWire (6-pin), 1 optical S/PDIF-Out (Toslink) and 4 USB 2.0 ports;
  • 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 RJ-45 (Gigabit Ethernet) port;
  • 2 eSATA ports;
  • 6 analog audio sockets: Line-In, Front, Mic-In, Rear, Center/Sub, Side.

The need to place many different sockets on the rear panel has led to this configuration of 4 USB ports as a separate "block" that we haven't seen before. Nevertheless, this decision is in no way flawed. On the contrary, it actually makes it very difficult to find two USB devices that would conflict with one another. Even USB flash-cards of the most exotic shapes will fit comfortably in adjacent ports, you don't have to worry about spacing them out.

Package contents

We are listing the package contents citing MSI's description, because our pre-sale package wasn't complete (moreover, it came without any brand-name packing at all).

  • Documentation: English language user's guide and a multi-language diagram specifying wiring layout and features;
  • Cables: 4 SATA (with two power adapters for two devices), 1 ATA66 cable and 1 for connecting a floppy drive - both cables are brand-name, red, with connector holders for easy detaching;
  • Rear panel plug for corresponding connectors;
  • Optional eSATA cable, extra FireWire port bar and adaptor-extension for EPS12V power supply connector;
  • Compact-disks with necessary drivers and brand utilities including Dual Core Center and DOT Express (for monitoring and controlling rotation frequency of the coolers, overclocking etc.) and Live Update (for searching and updating drivers, utilities and BIOS on the Internet).

Integrated controllers

  • Audio controller, based on 10-channel (7.1+2) Realtek ALC888T HDA-codec (ALC888 Telecom, an average quality analog audio output version with two stereo-ADCs with a VoIP-support module), capable of connecting 7.1 audio systems via a front audio-in/out connector and optical S/PDIF-Out port;
  • Network controller, based on Realtek RTL8111B chip (PCIEx1 interface) supports 10/100/1000 Mbit/s (Gigabit Ethernet);
  • IDE/SATA-II based on Marvell 88SE6111 chip supports 2 ATA133-channel devices and 1 SATA300 device (PCIEx1 interface);
  • FireWire, based on VIA VT6308P chip supports 2 devices (PCI interface).

We have evaluated quality of the integrated audio in 16-bit 44-KHz mode using RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5 testing suite and Terratec DMX 6fire sound card:

Frequency response (40 Hz to 15 KHz), dB: +0.02, -0.10Excellent
Noise level, dB (A): -90.8Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A): 90.5Very good
Harmonic distortion, %: 0.0011Excellent
IMD + noise, %: 0.0088Very good
Channel crosstalk, dB: -89.0Excellent
IMD at 10 KHz, %: 0.0084Very good

Overall rating: Very good. As the results of our testing demonstrate, the quality of analog audio output is on a good level, standard for HDA-codecs. The only interesting feature of the audio codec used on this motherboard is Internet-telephone service support for the "common" telephones (designed to work with analog lines). Unfortunately, it isn't quite clear from the press-releases and disclosed information, what part of functionality is provided by the Realtek codec, and which one is offered by "VoIP-card" with SLIC-chip responsible for communication with xDSL-link. It is even less clear, what format should the VoIP-card be of and how this computer VoIP-complex connects to the signal lines. In any case, it's worth pointing out that the lure of the ability to use a simple household telephone for VoIP/Skype will not be enough to make one choose having to find exotic (for now?) components over simply buying a relatively inexpensive VoIP-phone that connects to a computer via a standard USB port.

The motherboard uses Marvell's IDE/SATA-controller and we can only reiterate the comment we made in the review of the junior MSI models based on P35: the board had no trouble booting from CD-drive through IDE interface, allowed us to install the OS from a CD/DVD, required no updates of specific manager-programs in order to work with disk images and no updates of Windows XP drivers. As a result, we only experienced positive emotions while testing this motherboard. Let us remind you, though, that using this controller model is still a novelty and it simply hasn't been long enough for any information about possible problems to accumulate. Therefore, we advise the most interested of our readers to wait a little while the other users provide necessary statistics. As a universal option while building a computer we strongly recommend buying a CD/DVD-drive with SATA interface.

Proprietary technologies and features

  • LED indication of expansion slots' status - each slot is equipped with a bright LED that lights up when a working expansion card is inserted. It is peculiar that our SATA-controller, although perfectly operational, wasn't recognized by the motherboard.
  • LED indication of system boot-up problems - several pairs of LEDs on the motherboard along with description of their states in the user's manual allow to quickly find any problem that prevents normal boot-up.

Settings

Based on jumpers and buttonsCMOS reset button 
Through BIOS based on AMI version 2.61 Ability to turn special CPU functions off+Hyper-Threading, No-Execute Memory Protect, CPU EIST Function, Virtualization Technology
Setting memory timings+CAS Latency, RAS# to CAS# Delay, RAS# Precharge, RAS# Activate to Precharge, TRFC, TWR, TWTR, TRRD,TRTP
Memory clock rate selection+Auto or can set multiplier relative to FSB frequency: 1:1, 1:1.2, 1:1.25, 1:1.5, 1:1.67, 1:2
Ability to set frequencies of peripheral buses+PCI-E: 100-200 MHz in 1 MHz increments, with dynamic bus acceleration functionality;
operational rate of the second PCIEx16 slot: Auto, x2, x4
Manual distribution of interrupts by slots+ 
Adjusting FSB frequency+standard to 600 MHz in 1 MHz increments, with dynamic CPU overclocking functionality (up to 1000 MHz in revision 1.2 with BIOS 06/28 version)
Adjusting CPU multiplier+ 
Adjusting CPU core voltage+up to +0.7875 V in 0.0125 V increments
Adjusting memory voltage+1.80-3.30 V in 0.05 V increments up to 2.10 V, in 0.1 V increments up to 2.7 V and in 0.2 V increments above that
Adjusting chipset voltage+northbridge: 1.250-1.650 V in 0.025 V increments;
southbridge: 1.05 and 1.15 V;
for southbridge I/O: 1.5-1.8 V in 0.1 V increments
Adjusting FSB voltage+1.175-1.550 V in 0.025 V increments

For testing we used BIOS version 1.1, which was the latest available at the time of testing. The aforementioned BIOS capabilities are available in the specified version of the BIOS. Nonstandard settings were not tested for operability. The motherboard allows accessing a boot-up device selection menu by pressing a specified key during POST procedure. This makes it possible to perform a single boot-up, from a CD-drive for example, without the inconvenience of having to make changes in BIOS Setup.

As an alternative to overclocking through BIOS Setup, one can use MSI Dual Core Center - a brand Windows-based utility. In our case however (with given BIOS versions and the utility itself), its capabilities were limited. We were able to adjust FSB frequency from 212 to 372 MHz for a CPU with default FSB frequency of 266 MHz. Memory voltages could only be raised to 2.6 and 1.6 V respectfully, while CPU voltage adjustment was available in accordance with BIOS Setup. However, in most cases this will probably be enough, while the convenience of such a method is beyond any comparison.

Note also that revision 1.2 of the board has two additional jumpers that can be used to set initial FSB frequency (hello, Pentium!).

Performance

Testbed configuration:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz)
  • RAM: 2 Corsair CM2X1024-9136C5D modules of 1 GB each (tested in DDR2-800 mode with timings of 4-4-4 )
  • Video adapter: ATI Radeon X1900 XTX 512 MB
  • Hard drive: Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 (SATA, 7200 rpm)
  • PSU: HiPro W460GC31
  • OS: Windows XP SP2

As far as speed characteristics are concerned, we compare MSI P35 Platinum with a more modest MSI model based on the same Intel P35 chipset (MSI P35 Neo) and with one of the first motherboards based on Intel 965 that we have tested (Gigabyte 965P-DQ6).

Test MSI P35 Platinum MSI P35 Neo Gigabyte 965P-DQ6
Data compression using 7-Zip, min:sec 4:14 4:17 4:10
MPEG4 (XviD) encoding, min:sec 3:36 3:37 3:37
FarCry (Low@640x480), fps 357 353 359
FarCry (Highest@1600x1200), fps 151 152 152
Doom 3 (Low@640x480), fps 216 215 218
Doom 3 (Highest@1600x1200), fps 121 121 123

It is clear that MSI's "platinum" model based on P35 is a just little faster than its ordinary counterparts (P35 Neo and P35 Neo Combo). In comparison to the fastest boards based on the previous Intel chipset this new generation (temporarily, perhaps) seems even a little slower.

Please note that we have deliberately tested the retail version of MSI P35 Platinum (1.2) motherboard, when it was kindly provided to us by MSI Russia, using the latest version of BIOS and the results were the same up to a tenth of a percent.

Conclusions

What it all boils down to is that this motherboard is quite fast (though, speed is not the focus of this article) and has a rather high price for a minimum supplied package. Is this board worth it? In our opinion, it doesn't live up to the declared high-end status. The board has a standard audio codec (its potentially interesting VoIP support has no clear paths of realization at this time). An ordinary gigabit network controller along with a single IDE port does not make it stand out either. FireWire is the only distinctive feature. What does count in its favour is the original implementation. A remarkably efficient heat pipe cooler poses hardly any problems during assembly. Exclusively high-quality polymer capacitors and convenient LED indication including POST-controller also make us laud the original design of the motherboard (and, consequently, of all Platinum/Diamond MSI models based on P35). In the end the choice is purely your's to make: either you opt to save money or choose to pay for quality design and implementation of MSI P35 Platinum.

Original Design

This model on the manufacturer's web-site

The motherboard provided for testing by the manufacturer.
Memory modules provided for testing by Corsair



Sergey Pikalov (peek@ixbt.com)
August 30, 2007

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