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[nextpage title=”Introduction – Part 1″]
P35 Platinum from MSI – which is also known as MS-7345 – is based on the latest Intel mainstream chipset, P35. This motherboard, however, does not have DDR3 sockets but on the other hand it has a big rollercoaster-shaped passive cooling solution, two eSATA ports, two x16 PCI Express slots and several other extra features. Let’s see the features and performance from this new release from MSI.
The thing that immediately catches our attention is the passive cooling solution used on this motherboard – MSI calls it Circu-Pipe. Looking like a rollercoaster, it is entirely made of copper and has several heat-pipes. The two loops found above the north bridge chip are in fact two heatsinks. One dissipates the heat coming from the south bridge chip, while the other dissipates the heat coming from the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator circuit. The heat produced by the north bridge chip is dissipated on the heatsink located on top of the MOSFET transistors from the voltage regulator circuit. The heatsink from the north bridge chip and the heatsink from the transistors are connected again using another heat-pipe, which is in turn connected to a stand-alone heatsink located near the memory sockets. This stand-alone heatsink has two holes for screws, probably allowing you to mount a fan on top of it. In total there are four heat-pipes.
The heatsink used on the south bridge chip is too high, creating a problem for installing video cards with big coolers, especially the ones that take two slots. This happened with us. The south bridge heatsink prevented us from installing our GeForce 8800 GTS till the end of the slot: our card was a little bit shifted from the place it was supposed to be. Since we tested this motherboard outside a case this didn’t cause us a problem, but we wonder what would happen if we needed to screw our video card to a case.
This motherboard has two x16 PCI Express slots. They don’t support SLI, as SLI is a feature found on NVIDIA chipsets only, however they support CrossFire. The main PCI Express x16 slot, which is white, works at x16, but the second PCI Express x16 slot, which is yellow, works only at x4, so even though this motherboard has two x16 PCI Express slots it is not the ideal platform for CrossFire configuration. We see the second x16 PCI Express slot more like a way for you to expand the maximum number of independent video monitors you can have connected to your PC.
This motherboard also has two x1 PCI Express slot and two standard PCI slots, as you can see in Figure 4.
[nextpage title=”Introduction – Part 2″]
Intel P35 succeeds Intel P965 chipset, being targeted to mainstream motherboards. The difference between these two chipsets is the support for DDR3 memories and the new 1,333 MHz bus on P35. Please note that DDR3 support does not mean that all motherboards based on P35 accept DDR3 memories: since DDR2 and DDR3 sockets are different, is up to the manufacturer to decide which kind of memories the motherboard will accept. This is the case of P35 Platinum: it has only DDR2 sockets. We think this was a smart choice. DDR3 isn’t easily found yet, its performance gain is questionable and when the motherboard features both DDR2 and DDR3 sockets the maximum memory capacity is cut in half, plus you have only two memory sockets available, so in this case if you want to add more memory in the future you have to replace your old modules – i.e., there is no way to simply add two additional modules, meaning more cost (in this case, for example, if you have two 512 MB modules for a total of 1 GB and you want to have 2 GB total on your computer, you would need to buy two 1 GB modules and remove the old ones; you couldn’t simply add two 512 MB modules).
Another difference between P35 and P965 is the south bridge chip. Intel P965 uses ICH8 chip, while P35 uses the new ICH9 chip. The difference between the two is very small, with ICH9 supporting 12 USB 2.0 ports instead of 10. The ICH9R variant – which is used by P35 Platinum – supports RAID, six SATA-300 ports (the plain ICH9 support only four) and the new “Intel Turbo Memory” technology, codenamed Robson Technology, which is a disk cache technology using flash memories, available through the installation of a x1 PCI Express card. Click here to learn more about this technology.
Officially Intel P35 chipset supports DDR2 memories up to DDR2-800 and DDR3 memories up to DDR3-1066. However, just like it happens with Intel P965 chipset, P35 unofficially supports DDR2-1066. We had no trouble configuring your DDR2-1066 modules to run at 1,066 MHz on this motherboard.
This motherboard has four DDR2 sockets, supporting up to 8 GB total. On this motherboard sockets 1 and 2 are green and sockets 3 and 4 are orange. MSI has the bad habit of trying to be different as everybody else, and in order to enable dual channel you need to install your memory modules on sockets with different colors, not on sockets with the same color as it happens with all other motherboards.
On the storage side, this motherboard has a total of seven SATA-300 ports, six controlled by the ICH9R south bridge (supporting RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10) and one controlled by a Marvell 88SE6111 chip. This chip also controls a parallel ATA (ATA/133) port, since Intel P35 chipset does not support parallel IDE devices. Two of the SATA ports controlled by ICH9R are eSATA ports, which MSI soldered on the rear panel of the motherboard, which is simply great – they allow you to connect external hard disk drives and access them at their full speed.
This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by the south bridge using one Realtek RTL8111S chip to make the physical layer interface. We think that the absence of a second Gigabit Ethernet port is the only thing that prevents us from classifying this motherboard as a high-end model.
This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports (six soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets, which don’t come with the motherboard) and two FireWire ports controlled by VIA VT6308 chip (one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and another available through an I/O bracket that comes with the motherboard) – both FireWire ports use the standard “big” FireWire connector, not the miniature one.
The audio section from this motherboard provides 7.1 audio, produced by the south bridge chip with the aid of a Realtek ALC888T codec. This codec provides fair specs for the average user, with a 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs and a 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for its outputs. The maximum sampling rate of its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. While these specs are enough for the average user someone thinking of working professionally with analog audio editing and capturing should look for a motherboard with at least 95 dB SNR and 192 kHz sampling rate for its inputs.
Another very interesting of the “T” version of ALC888 codec is that it supports VoIP connections using a regular phone set. You need, however, an adapter – which doesn’t come with the motherboard – that is connected to the motherboard on a specific VoIP header (JSLIC1).
This motherboard has independent jacks for all analog inputs and outputs on the rear panel, so you can easily install a 5.1 or 7.1 analog speaker system without “killing” your line in and mic in jacks. It also provides an on-board optical SPDIF output, making it easy to connect your PC to your home theater receiver.
On the rear panel (Figure 5) you can find the PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard connectors, one FireWire port, optical SPDIF output, six USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port, two eSATA ports and analog audio inputs and outputs. As you can see this motherboard doesn’t have serial nor parallel ports, not even through I/O brackets.
[nextpage title=”Introduction – Part 3″]
All capacitors used on this motherboard are solid aluminum capacitors, which is great, as they provide a higher lifespan over regular electrolytic capacitors plus they don’t suffer from leakage problems. Another good thing about this motherboard is that MSI is using ferrite coils instead of iron coils on the voltage regulator circuit, which have 25% lower power loss compared to iron coils.
In Figure 7 you can also see that this motherboard features an EPS12V power connector that comes with a cover closing half of it, allowing you to use a regular ATX12V power connector in case your power supply does not provide an EPS12V connector. On this picture you can also see that this motherboard has another extra power connector using a standard peripheral connector. There is a problem with the location of the EPS12V connector on this motherboard: it is right in the middle of the passive cooling solution, and depending on how thick the EPS12V/ATX12V connector from your power supply is, you may have trouble installing it. On the manual MSI says that they have an optional ATX extender, a connector that raises the EPS12V connector above the heat-pipes. However, like all accessories that are marked as “optional” on any motherboard manual you won’t probably find it anywhere.
This motherboard also has a series of eight POST diagnostics LEDs. If your computer fails to turn on you can discover what is wrong looking which LEDs are turned on and which are turned off and checking on the motherboard manual what the corresponding code means. These LEDs are very bright, so bright that it hurts looking directly to them.
As you can also see in Figure 8, this motherboard has a clear CMOS button, helping out overclockers.
In Figure 9, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard. As you can see, this motherboard doesn’t come with a lot of stuff.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
MSI P35 Platinum main features are:
- Socket: 775.
- Chipset: Intel P35 Express.
- Super I/O: Fintek F71882FG
- Clock Generator: ICS 9LPRS906CQLF
- Parallel IDE: One ATA-133 port controlled by a Marvell 88SE6111 chip.
- Serial IDE: Six SATA-300 ports controlled by the south bridge chip supporting RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 (two of them eSATA soldered on the rear panel) and one SATA-300 port controlled by a Marvell 88SE6111 chip.
- USB: 12 USB 2.0 ports (six soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets, which don’t come with the motherboard).
- FireWire (IEEE 1394a): Yes, two ports controlled by VIA VT6308 chip (one soldered on the motherboard and another available through an I/O bracket, which comes with the motherboard).
- On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with Realtek ALC888T codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 96 kHz sampling rate for the inputs and up to 192 kHz sampling rate for the outputs, 90 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 97 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs), supporting VoIP using a regular telephone (adapter not included) and with one on-board optical SPDIF output connector.
- On-board video: No.
- On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by the chipset together with one Realtek RTL8111S chip.
- Buzzer: No.
- Power supply: ATX12V 2.x (24-pin) (EPS12V optional).
- Slots: Two x16 PCI Express slots (one working at x16 and the other, yellow, working at x4, supporting CrossFire), two x1 PCI Express slots and two PCI slots.
- Memory: Four DDR2-DIMM sockets (up to 8 GB up to DDR2-1066/PC2-8500).
- Number of CDs that come with this motherboard: One.
- Programs included: Drivers and utilities.
- Extra features: Passive cooling and LED diagnostics.
- More Information: https://www.msicomputer.com
- Average price in the US*: USD 202.00
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.
[nextpage title=”How We Tested”]
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested.
- BIOS version: 1.0
- Motherboard revision: 1.0
- Processor: Core 2 Duo E6700 (2.66 GHz, 1,066 MHz FSB, 4 MB L2 memory cache).
- Cooler: Intel.
- Memory: 2 GB DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 with 5-5-5-15 timings, two Patriot PDC21G8500ELK modules (512 MB each) and two Corsair CM2X512-8500C5 modules (512 MB each).
- Hard Disk Drive: Samsung HD080HJ (SATA-300, 7,200 rpm, 8 MB buffer).
- Video Card: MSI factory-overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS 320 MB (NX8800GTS-T2D320E-HD OC).
- Video resolution: [email protected]
- Power Supply: Antec Neo HE 550.
- Windows XP Professional installed using NTFS
- Service Pack 2
- DirectX 9.0c
- NVIDIA video driver version : 158.22
- NVIDIA nForce driver version: 9.53
- Intel Inf chipset driver version: 188.8.131.523
- Realtek Audio driver: R1.41
We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.
[nextpage title=”Overall Performance”]
We measured the overall performance of this motherboard using SYSmark2004, which is a program that simulates the use of real-world applications. Thus, we consider this the best software to measure, in practical terms, the system performance.
The benchmarks are divided into two groups:
- Internet Content Creation: Simulates the authoring of a website containing text, images, videos and animations. The following programs are used: Adobe After Effects 5.5, Adobe Photoshop 7.01, Adobe Premiere 6.5, Discreet 3ds Max 5.1, Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, Macromedia Flash MX, Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and Winzip 8.1.
- Office Productivity: Simulates the use of an office suite, i.e., simulates sending e-mails, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. The following programs are used: Adobe Acrobat 5.05, Microsoft Office XP SP2, Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1, NaturallySpeaking 6, McAfee VirusScan 7.0 and Winzip 8.1.
The software delivers specific results for each batch and also an overall performance result, all in a specific SYSmark2004 unit.
We compared the reviewed board to MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35), ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i), ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i), ASUS P5B (Intel P965), ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X). On the graphs present on this and on the following pages you will see the clock rate we configured our memories. Since we had DDR2-1066 memory modules installed, we ran our tests two times, first with our memories configured at 800 MHz and then configured at 1,066 MHz. Some motherboards (like the ones based on nForce 650i and Intel 975X chipsets), however, do not support DDR2-1066 and that is why you won’t find DDR2-1066 results for them.
You can see the results on the charts below.
With our memories running at 800 MHz MSI P35 Platinum achieved an overall performance on the same level as MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35), ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and ASUS P5B (Intel P965). Under this configuration the reviewed board was 3.27% faster than ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), 4.20% faster than Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), 4.83% faster than ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) and 5.15% faster than ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i) – all with their memories also running at 800 MHz.
When we configured our memories at 1,066 MHz MSI P35 Platinum achieved an overall performance on the same level as ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and ASUS P5B (Intel P965), being 5.41% faster than ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i). They also had their memories running at 1,066 MHz for this comparison.
On Internet Content Creation with our memories running at 800 MHz MSI P35 Platinum achieved a performance on the same level as MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35), ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and ASUS P5B (Intel P965). Under this configuration the reviewed board was 3.23% faster than ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), 3.47% faster than Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X) and ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) and 3.95% faster than ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i) – all with their memories also running at 800 MHz.
When we configured our memories at 1,066 MHz MSI P35 Platinum achieved a performance on the same level as ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and ASUS P5B (Intel P965), being 4.17% faster than ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i). They also had their memories running at 1,066 MHz for this comparison.
On Office Productivity with our memories running at 800 MHz MSI P35 Platinum achieved a performance on the same level as MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35), ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and ASUS P5B (Intel P965). Under this configuration the reviewed board was 3.85% faster than ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), 5.47% faster than Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X) and 6.30% faster than ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i) and ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i) – all with their memories also running at 800 MHz.
When we configured our memories at 1,066 MHz MSI P35 Platinum achieved a performance on the same level as ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and ASUS P5B (Intel P965), being 6.61% faster than ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i). They also had their memories running at 1,066 MHz for this comparison.
[nextpage title=”Processing Performance”]
We measured processing performance using PCMark05 Professional program. PCMark05 Professional measures the system performance by running several tests. The System batch, which was the one we used, performs the following tests: HDD XP Startup, Physics and 3D, 2D Transparent Window, 3D Pixel Shader, Web Page Rendering, File Decryption, 2D Graphics Memory – 64 lines, HDD General Usage and three multithreading tests. The results are given in a PCMark05 specific unit.
Here all motherboards achieved the same performance level with the exception of Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X), which was 3.77% slower than the reviewed board when we used DDR2-800 memories.
[nextpage title=”3D Performance: Quake 4″]
We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.3 and ran its multiplayer demo id_demo001 at 1024x768x32 with image quality settings configured at “low” four times. The first result was always discarded, and from the other three values, we discarded the highest and the lowest score, i.e., we used the middle value for our comparison. You can see the results below.
On Quake 4 with our memories set at 800 MHz MSI P35 Platinum achieved the same performance level as ASUS P5B (Intel P965), ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965) and Intel D975XBX2 (Intel 975X). It was 3.40% faster than ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i), 5.24% faster than ECS NF650iSLIT-A (nForce 650i), 5.33% faster than MSI P35 Neo Combo (Intel P35) and 6.38% faster than ASUS P5N-E SLI (nForce 650i). We are comparing here the results with all memories running at 800 MHz.
When we set our memories at 1,066 MHz MSI P35 Platinum achieved the same performance level as ASUS P5B (Intel P965) and ASUS P5B Premium (Intel P965), being 5.78% faster than ECS PN2 SLI2+ (nForce 680i).
On MSI P35 Platinum we could find these overclocking options (1.0 BIOS):
- FSB clock: Can be adjusted from 200 to 500 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- PCI Express clock: Can be adjusted as auto or from 100 MHz to 200 MHz in 1 MHz steps.
- PCI Express x4 clock: Auto, 2x or 4x.
- CPU voltage: up to +0.7875 V in 0.0125 V increments.
- Memory voltage (DDR2): 1.80 V to 2.10 V in 0.05 V increments and 2.10 V to 2.70 V in 0.10 V increments.
- North bridge voltage: 1.250 V to 1.600 V in 0.025 V increments and 1.650 V.
- South bridge I/O voltage: 1.5 V to 1.8 V in 0.1 V increments.
- South bridge voltage: 1.05 V or 1.15 V.
- External bus voltage (FSB voltage): 1.200 V to 1.550 V in 0.025 V increments and 1.600 V.
These are basically the same settings found on MSI P35 Neo Combo. The main difference between the two, though, is on the D.O.T. (Dynamic Overclocking Technology) feature. On P35 Platinum you can configure D.O.T. for the CPU only, for the PCI Express only or for both of them. Also, D.O.T. can be individually selected from 1% to 20% in three levels – on P35 Neo Combo there is only a single D.O.T. option that goes up to 15% (a.k.a. “Commander”).
This motherboard also provides several memory timings adjustments, as you can see in Figure 11.
On this motherboard there is no way to lock the memory clock at a specific clock rate, so overclocking the CPU you will automatically overclock the memory as well. This may be a problem as the maximum clock your memories can achieve may limit your overclocking. On the other hand, you can configure the FSB/memory clock ratio, so you may increase this when you think your memories are running at a too high clock.
The PCI Express clock configuration is also very important, as you can lock the PCI Express clock at a given value (100 MHz, for example). Usually when you increase the FSB clock you will automatically increase the PCI Express clock as well, and sometimes your overclocking will be limited not by the CPU but by the devices connected to the PCI Express bus. Thus with this option you can increase the probability of setting a higher overclocking.
The maximum external clock rate we could configure on this motherboard was 305 MHz, what made our memories to run at 915 MHz (FSB/memory ratio of 1:1.5). With this overclocking our Core 2 Duo E6700, which normally runs at 2.66 MHz, was running at 3.05 GHz, a 14.66% increase on its internal clock rate. With this overclocking our system performance increased 14.77% on Quake 4 and 9% on PCMark05.
We could configure our external clock above that but the system was unstable. We only consider our overclocking to be successful after we can run at least four times Quake 4 and PCMark05 with no errors.
We could set a higher overclocking with almost all other motherboards we reviewed recently: on ASUS P5N-E SLU we could set our CPU running at 327 MHz, on ASUS P5B Premium we could set our CPU running at 323 MHz, on ASUS P5B we could set our CPU running at 316 MHz and on MSI P35 Neo Combo we could set our CPU running at 314 MHz.
We, however, didn’t play with voltage settings or any other fancy adjustments, so you may achieve a better overclocking than we did with more time and patience – on this motherboard and also on the other motherboards we reviewed.
P35 Platinum is one of the fastest socket LGA775 motherboards available today, providing full support for the forthcoming Core 2 Duo CPUs with 1,333 MHz external bus.
It comes with several extra features, like two eSATA ports (allowing you to connect external hard drives at their full speed), two FireWire ports, 12 USB 2.0 ports, decent on-board audio quality, two x16 PCI Express slots supporting CrossFire (even though one of them work at x4), an exotic passive cooling solution and diagnostics LEDs.
The overall quality of this motherboard is great, as MSI use only solid aluminum capacitors and also ferrite coils instead of iron coils.
There are only two things we didn’t like about this motherboard. One was its overclocking capability, below all major motherboards we reviewed recently. However we didn’t play with any fancy adjustments, so you may achieve a better overclocking than we did.
The second thing was its price. The cheapest place we saw was carrying it for USD 184. That is at least USD 50 more than nForce 650i-based motherboards like ASUS P5N-E SLI. If you compare average price with average price we are talking about a huge USD 70 gap between the two.
So average users have an option of buying a cheaper motherboard based on nForce 650i, which brings two PCI Express x16 slots supporting SLI. The drawback is that nForce 650i motherboards are a little bit slower than MSI P35 Platinum. ASUS P5N-E SLI continues to be, in our opinion, the best cost/benefit for the average user looking for a decent mainstream motherboard full of features.
Comparing the features, ASUS P5N-E SLI has only one eSATA port (instead of two on P35 Platinum), uses an inferior audio codec, meaning that you can’t use it for professional analog audio editing and capturing with it and doesn’t support DDR2-1066 memories, but on the other hand has an outstanding overclocking capability (the best overclocking we could get with a socket LGA775 motherboard to date).
We think the correct price for this motherboard should be around USD 145, USD 150 tops. Until it doesn’t drop to this price point, we will still recommend ASUS P5N-E SLI instead. Unless, of course, you don’t mind paying USD 70 more for only 5% performance gain – or if you really need RAID.
Don’t get us wrong. MSI P35 Platinum is a very good motherboard; we only think it is overpriced.