iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






MSI P43 Neo-F Motherboard

An affordable mid-end product on a new chipset.

September 10, 2008

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As new Mid-End chipsets from Intel, P43 and P45, are rather similar, many manufacturers are tempted to build their motherboard series on the cheaper P43. For example, ASRock officially announced this. MSI sticks to a more conservative strategy here -- its new motherboards series includes two sterling models (in terms of functionality and expandability) based on the P43 chipset. Usually this does not happen to motherboards on cheaper chipsets. In case of Intel it traditionally means significantly curtailed functionality. It's interesting that MSI offers a few couples of nearly identical motherboards, as the only PCIEx16 slot negates all chipset differences -- P45 supports two graphics interfaces configured as x8+x8, and P43 doesn't, which does not prevent engineers from using the classic x16+x4 configuration for Intel P43. When users choose between such two motherboards, they apparently pay inversely proportional to their knowledge level.

The motherboard has a narrow PCB, but it has no problems with the layout of on-board elements. The only problem it has is the PCIEx16 slot installed too close to memory slots, so access to memory modules will be hampered by a graphics card. Besides, the Clear CMOS jumper as well as overclocking jumpers are also installed inconveniently -- however, you will hardly use them very often. Owners of old expansion cards will be pleased with on-board expansion slots: the motherboard offers 2 x PCIEx1 (you will have to sacrifice one of them if you install a graphics card with a bulky cooler) and 3 x PCI (all of them are accessible).

The power circuit of the board uses some technological solutions from the list of what MSI employs in its products (it's significantly expanded by the launch of the P43/P45 family). But P43 Neo-F is the cheapest model in the series, so the compromise shifts much to the saving side. As a result, the only components that distinguish this product from its competitors are screened ferrite-core coils and polymeric capacitors from the leading Japanese manufacturers -- but only in the most critical circuits (CPU and memory power circuits). The 3-phase switching voltage regulator of a processor incorporates four field-effect transistors per channel, 4 x 470 uF (16 V) and 9 x 820 uF capacitors. The memory circuit contains 7 x 680 uF and 2 x 470 uF capacitors. All of them are polymeric capacitors (from a noname manufacturer). Other circuits use usual electrolytic capacitors mostly made by United Chemi-Con and Panasonic (good companies).

The chipset comes with a weak cooling system, as in ECS P45T-A motherboard based on the P45 chipset: a small aluminum heatsink on the Northbridge (of a strange shape dictated more by artistic design rather than engineering ideas) and a small pin-fin heatsink on the Southbridge. This cooling system copes with its responsibilities well: under maximum load, heatsinks on both bridges grow hot, but they cool quickly when you switch to Windows desktop. During typical office activities they remain barely warm.

MSI has already launched eight motherboards based on Intel P43/P45. So there is nothing surprising about the fact that you can find similar models. Unexpectedly, there are only two P43-based products. The second motherboard belongs to the advanced Neo3 series. What concerns representatives of P45, we've found a nearly identical motherboard -- P45 Neo. Judging by specifications, chipset is its only difference. That is, considering the above-said, it's no different at all. (Well, the P45-based model supports the 1600 MHz bus a tad more "officially").

Motherboard is sized 305x220 mm (narrow ATX), has six-screw mount. The edges are loose, so installing memory modules is not convenient.

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

  • CPU voltage, +3.3 V, +5 V, +12 V
  • RPM of two fans
  • CPU and board temperatures (by the corresponding embedded sensors)
  • Automatic CPU fan speed control depending on temperature. This system is simplified significantly even compared to the usual design in budget motherboards: only CPU fan speed is controlled, you can adjust only the temperature value, when fan speeds up to maximum, and the fan speed before this threshold (at 12,5% steps).

Unfortunately, as it often happens with new products, MSI software for system monitoring and overclocking does not fully support this motherboard yet. So Dual CoreCenter added nothing to the list of BIOS Setup monitoring parameters, and new GreenPower Center refused to work at all. At the same time, we traditionally use SpeedFan for this purpose, and this program offers a much longer list of parameters monitored by the Fintek chip: rotational speed of all three fans (instead of two). Besides this utility added memory voltage, chipset voltage, and +3.3 V Standby. However, some values are far from true, so you have to introduce corrections, which will hopefully be provided by updated proprietary utilities.

Onboard ports, sockets, and connectors

  • Socket 775, supports all modern processors for this socket -- Core 2 Duo/Quad/Extreme, Pentium Dual-Core, and Celeron/Dual-Core with FSB operating at 800-1600 MHz (1600 MHz is not officially supported), including models on Wolfdale/Yorkfield cores; the list of processors tested for compatibility is published on the official web site
  • 4 x DDR2 SDRAM DIMM (up to 16 GB of DDR2-667/800 w/o ECC; dual-channel mode is supported even if memory slots are not filled symmetrically); the list of certified modules is published on the official web site
  • PCIEx16 (PCI-E 2.0), always works in full-speed mode; the list of graphics cards tested for compatibility is published on the official web site
  • 2 x PCIEx1
  • 3 x PCI
  • Power connectors: standard ATX 2.2 (24 pins, you can use a usual 20-pin connector ATX 2.03), and a 4-pin ATX12V connector for a processor
  • 1 x FDD
  • IDE (Parallel ATA) based on an additional controller for two ATA133 devices
  • 6 x chipset-based SATA-II (Serial ATA II) for 6 x SATA300 devices
  • 4 connectors for rear panel brackets with 8 x USB
  • Connectors for analog audio ins and outs on the front panel
  • 1 x CD/DVD audio connector
  • Connector for a bracket with S/PDIF-Out
  • TPM connector (Trusted Platform Module, checks authenticity of digital signatures and keys and other encryption/security functions)
  • Connector for a Chassis Intrusion sensor
  • Undocumented SPI connector
  • Three fan headers, one of them is a 4-pin header for a CPU fan, which allows to control its fan speed automatically depending on temperature.

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Article navigation:

Page 1: Introduction, design, ports

Page 2: Interfaces, package, controllers

Page 3: BIOS, performance

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