[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

MSI launched so far five different socket LGA1156 motherboard models based on the new Intel P55 chipset. Today we are going to take a look at one of their high-end models, P55-GD80 (a.k.a. MS-7581), which comes with several overclocking features not found on competing products. Let’s take a look.

As you can see, P55-GD80 uses a cooling solution based on an 8-mm heat-pipe that, according to MSI, is to date the thickest heatpipe used on a motherboard (usually motherboards use 5-mm heat-pipes), which translates in a better cooling capability. It is interesting to note that the heatsink located on the left end of the heat-pipe in Figure 1 (i.e., the heatsink near the first x16 PCI Express slot) does not touch any component (there is no component below it), being used only to dissipate the heat produced by the voltage regulator circuit.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 1: MSI P55-GD80 motherboard.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 2: Cooling solution used on the voltage regulator circuit.

[nextpage title=”Slots”]

One of the main new features from socket LGA1156 processors is the presence of an integrated PCI Express 2.0 controller inside the CPU. This controller supports one x16 connection or two x8 connections. Usually on P55-based motherboards the manufacturer puts two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots on the board, with the first slot working at x16 when only one video card is used or both slots working at x8 when two video cards are used. MSI P55-GD80 uses this scheme, plus it has a third PCI Express x16 slot working at x4 and being controlled by the chipset. MSI P55-GD80 also has two x1 PCI Express slots and two standard PCI slots.

This motherboard from MSI supports both CrossFire and SLI configurations. Keep in mind that SLI support on P55-based motherboards will depend on whether the manufacturer licensed this technology from NVIDIA or not, i.e., not all P55-based motherboards have SLI support. On the MSI line-up P55-CD53 and P55-CD45 do not support SLI.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 3: Slots.

[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]

Socket LGA1156 CPUs, like socket LGA1366 and AMD processors, have an embedded memory controller. All other Intel CPUs use an external memory controller, which is located on the north bridge chip (a.k.a. MCH or Memory Controller Hub) from the chipset. This means that with other Intel CPUs the chipset (and thus the motherboard) is the component that says what memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have on your PC.

Since now the memory controller is inside the CPU, it is the processor, and not the chipset, that defines the memory technologies and the maximum amount of memory you can have. The motherboard, however, may have a limitation as to how much memory can be installed.

At the moment, the integrated memory controller of socket LGA1156 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, however MSI says P55-GD80 supports DDR3 memories up to 2133 MHz through overclocking. P55-GD80 has four DDR3 sockets and since, at the moment, each DDR3 memory module can have up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard.

The first and the third sockets are dark blue, while the second and the fourth are black. In order to achieve the maximum performance, you should install two or four memory modules to enable the dual-channel architecture. When only two modules are used make sure to install them on the black sockets. If you install them on the dark blue ones the computer won’t turn on.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 4: Memory sockets. Install two or four modules for the best performance.

[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]

Intel P55 chipset is a single-chip solution. The basic features provided by this chipset include six SATA-300 ports (RAID support is optional), no support for parallel ATA (PATA) ports, 14 USB 2.0 ports supporting port disable, embedded Gigabit Ethernet MAC (Medium Access Control) and eight x1 PCI Express lanes.

MSI P55-GD80 provides all the six SATA-300 ports with support for Intel Matrix Storage, which provides RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10, plus two SATA-300 ports (the blue ones) controlled by a JMicron JMB322 chip, supporting RAID 0, 1 and JBOD. An eSATA-300 port and an ATA-133 port are provided by a JMicron JMB363 chip.

The six SATA ports controlled by the chipset and the ATA-133 connectors are placed facing the motherboard edge, which is a terrific solution, because on motherboards where the ports are facing up the video cards usually block the access to them or even completely prevent you from installing cables on them.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 5: SATA and ATA-133 ports.

P55-GD80 comes with an I/O bracket containing two eSATA ports, so you can convert internal SATA ports into eSATA. This adapter is targeted to the two blue ports, because they feature Port Multiplier – feature that allows more than one device to be installed on a single SATA port, click here to learn more – and since they also feature RAID, you can install SATA-based external hard disk drive enclosures that support Port Multiplier to connect several drives to a single port, supporting RAID controlled by the motherboard. This I/O bracket also features one standard male peripheral power plug for you to feed external drives. A cable to convert this external power plug into a SATA power plug is also available.

No floppy disk drive controller is present.

From the 14 USB 2.0 ports supported by the chipset, MSI P55-GD80 offers 13 of them, seven soldered on the rear panel and six available through three motherboard headers. The motherboard comes with an I/O bracket containing two USB ports.

Additionally MSI P55-GD80 comes with a FireWire (IEEE 1394) controller, providing two FireWire ports, one soldered on the rear panel and one available through a header. The motherboard doesn’t come with an I/O bracket for you to use the second FireWire port. So if you decide to buy this motherboard, it is a good idea to buy a case with four USB ports and one FireWire port, so you can use all ports available.

Audio is generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC889 codec, which provides professional-grade audio to this motherboard, with eight channels, 24-bit resolution, sampling rate of up to 192 kHz for both inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the analog inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs. With a high signal-to-noise ratio like this you can work professionally converting, mixing and editing audio from an analog source (e.g., conve
rting VHS tapes and vinyl records to the digital format) with no background noise (white noise). This motherboard comes with on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs. The board also has an SPDIF out header (labeled “JSP1”), which can be used to route sound to the video card HDMI output in order for you to have an HDMI output with digital audio on a single connector. As you can see in Figure 6 this motherboard has fully independent analog outputs for all eight audio channels.

MSI P55-GD80 has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, controlled by two Realtek RTL8112DL chips, which is connected to the system using PCI Express x1 lanes, and thus not presenting any potential performance issues.

In Figure 6, you can see the motherboard rear panel with PS/2 mouse and keyboard connectors, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, FireWire port, seven USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 6: Motherboard rear panel.

[nextpage title=”Other Features”]

MSI P55-GD80 has several other features, most of them targeted to the overclocking community, as we will explore in the next page.

All capacitors used on this motherboard are solid, as one might expect on a high-end motherboard, and it uses a voltage regulator with a different design. Called “DrMOS,” it doesn’t use discrete MOSFET transistors, but integrated circuits containing these transistors. Each “DrMOS” chip (Renesas R2J20602) features three MOSFETs inside (“high side,” “low side” and the driver) switching at 1 MHz, instead of the 250 kHz of traditional voltage regulators, in order to increase efficiency (i.e., less energy is wasted, causing the CPU and memory to pull less energy from the power supply compared to other designs). According to MSI one “DrMOS” phase is more efficient than four traditional phases because of that design. MSI P55-GD80 uses an 8+2 design, i.e., eight phases for the CPU and two phases for the memory controller located inside the CPU, all of them using “DrMOS” technology (other motherboard models from MSI use “DrMOS” only for the CPU voltage regulator, using the standard design for the memory controller). Click here if you need more background information on motherboard phases.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 7: Overall look from the voltage regulator circuit without the heatsinks.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 8: DrMOS chips. Notice that no discrete transistors are used.

Besides having a high-end voltage regulator circuit, P55-GD80 can disable phases from the voltage regulator circuit as needed in order to save energy, feature called APS (Active Phase Switching). A display located on the middle of the motherboard shows how many CPU phases are active at the moment.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 9: CPU phases display.

MSI P55-GD80 comes with an operating system stored inside the motherboard read-only memory that allows you to access the Internet without needing to load the operating system or even without having a hard disk drive installed. This feature, called Winki, is identical in concept to the Express Gate feature available on motherboards from ASUS and the eJiffy feature present on motherboards from ECS.

This board comes with interesting overclocking-related hardware features that we will explore in the next page.

In Figure 10, you can see all the accessories that come with MSI P55-GD80. On the installation CD there is 60-day trial version from Norton Internet Security 2009.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 10: Accessories.

[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options”]

MSI P55-GD80 is clearly targeted to overclockers, featuring a function called “OC Genie.” When this button is pressed, the motherboard automatically overclocks the system (it must be pressed when the computer is turned off). Previous automatic overclocking functions available by MSI and other manufacturers increased the base clock to preset values; OC Genie relies on a chip that overclocks the system on-the-fly, based on your hardware configuration. You can also manually increase or decrease the CPU base clock in 1 MHz steps by simply pressing “+” and “-“ buttons located on the board. A two-digit display shows the last two digits from the current base clock value.

In Figure 11, you can see all buttons available on this motherboard: Clear CMOS, OC Genie, the “-“ and “+” buttons and, on the lower part, “Green Power”  (which turns off the LEDs from the motherboard), Reset and Power.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 11: Buttons.

MSI P55-GD80 features overvoltage switches (to prevent you from increasing voltages above a dangerous level where you could burn components) and voltage monitoring points, where the extreme overclocker can install a multimeter to manually monitor the CPU, memory and chipset voltages.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 12: Switches and voltage monitoring probes.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 13: Manually measuring the CPU voltage.

Let’s see the overclocking options available on MSI P55-GD80 setup.[nextpage title=”Overclocking Options (Cont’d)”]

The main options we could see (1.4 BIOS) were:

  • CPU base clock: can be adjusted from 100 MHz to 600 MHz in 1 MHz increments.
  • PCI Express clock: can be adjusted from 90 MHz to 190 MHz in 1 MHz increments.
  • CPU differential amplitude (“CPU amplitude control”): 700 mV to 1 V in 100 mV increments.
  • PCI Express amplitude
    control: 700 mV to 1 V in 100 mV increments.
  • CPU voltage: From 0.9 V to 2.1 V (with overvoltage switch off) or from 1.0 V to 2.2 V (with overvoltage switch on), in 0.006 V increments.
  • CPU VTT voltage: From 0.482 V to 2.092 V (with overvoltage switch off) or from 0.682 V to 2.292 V (with overvoltage switch on), in 0.016 V increments.
  • Memory voltage: From 0.930 V to 2.430 V (with overvoltage switch off) or from 1.130 V to 2.630 V (with overvoltage switch on), in 0.015 V increments.
  • CPU clock generator (PLL) voltage: From 0.2 V to 2.4 V in 0.1 V increments.
  • Chipset (PCH) voltage: From 0.464 V to 1.964 V (with overvoltage switch off) or from 0.664 V to 2.164 V (with overvoltage switch on), in 0.015 V increments.
  • Memory data reference voltage: From 0.450 V to 1.150 V in 0.025 V increments (for each memory module).

Memory timings can also be tweaked.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 14: Overclocking menu.

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 15: Overclocking menu (Cont’d).

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 16: Overclocking menu (Cont’d).

MSI P55-GD80 motherboardFigure 17: Memory timing options.

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

MSI P55-GD80 motherboard main features are:

  • Socket: 1156.
  • Chipset: Intel P55 Express.
  • Super I/O: Fintek F71889
  • Parallel ATA: One ATA-133 port controlled by a JMicron JMB363 chip
  • Serial ATA: Eight SATA-300 ports, six controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10) and two SATA-300 ports controlled by a JMicron JMB322 (RAID 0, 1 and JBOD).
  • External SATA: One controlled by the JMicron JMB363 chip. The motherboard comes with two SATA-to-eSATA adapters.
  • USB: 13 USB 2.0 ports, seven soldered on the motherboard and six available through three headers on the motherboard. The motherboard comes with one I/O bracket containing two USB ports.
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports controlled by a VIA VT6315 chip, one standard-sized soldered on the rear panel and one available through a header. The board doesn’t come with an I/O bracket to use this second port.
  • On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC889 codec (eight channels, 24-bit resolution, up to 192 kHz sampling rate for both the inputs and outputs, 104 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the inputs and 108 dB signal-to-noise ratio for the outputs). On-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs.
  • On-board LAN: Two Gigabit Ethernet ports controlled by two RTL8112DL chips, each one connected to the system through a PCI Express x1 lane.
  • Buzzer: No.
  • Power supply required: EPS12V (ATX12V compatible).
  • Slots: Three PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (the first two working at x8 when two video cards are installed, the third one always working at x4), two PCI Express x1 slots and two standard PCI slots.
  • Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-2133 through overclocking).
  • Number of CDs/DVDs provided: Two.
  • Programs included: Norton Internet Security 2009 (60-day trial), motherboard drivers and utilities.
  • Extra features: Only solid capacitors, Winki, DrMOS voltage regulator circuit, APS (Active Phase Switching) with display, OC Genie with “+” and “-“ buttons, display to monitor the CPU base clock, switches to protect CPU, memory, memory controller and chipset overvoltage, probes for monitoring CPU, memory and chipset voltages with a multimeter.
  • More Information: https://www.msi.com
  • Average price in the US*: USD 210.00

* Researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this First Look article.

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

MSI P55-GD80 is an outstanding high-end motherboard for the socket LGA1156 platform, with tons of advanced features: three x16 PCI Express slots (although the third one works at x4 and the first two work at x8 when more than one video card is installed), support for both SLI and CrossFire modes, professional-grade on-board audio with terrific signal-to-noise ratio and on-board SPDIF connectors, thicker heat-pipe, high-end voltage regulator circuit, it automatically turns off unnecessary phases from the voltage regulator circuit for best efficiency and shows how many phases are being used at any given moment through an LED display, and much more.

The advanced overclocking features are the highlight from P55-GD80, with the motherboard automatically overclocking your PC by simply pushing a button called OC Genie, the manual CPU base clock configuration through “+” and “-“ buttons located on the motherboard, a display that shows the last two digits from the current base clock, probes for manually measuring the CPU, memory and chipset voltages and a DIP switch for preventing you from configuring voltages above levels that can burn components (CPU, memory or chipset).

If you are into overclocking, this is definitely the socket LGA1156 motherboard you should buy. The only high-end feature this motherboard doesn’t have is SATA-600 ports, however P55-GD80 costs less than motherboards with this feature, like ASUS P7P55D Premium (USD 210 vs. USD 280).

Of course its price is not what we could call a mainstream offer, but for its intended audience it comes with the right price tag.