[nextpage title=”Introduction”]

Let’s take a look at one of the first socket LGA1155 motherboards that will reach the market, the MSI P67A-GD65 (a.ka. MS-7681 Ver 2.0), based on the forthcoming P67 chipset for future Intel processors based on the “Sandy Bridge” architecture. The highlights of this motherboard include four USB 3.0 ports, four SATA-600 ports, high-end components in the voltage regulator circuit, and nice overclocking features.

The next-generation Intel CPUs, codenamed “Sandy Bridge,” will be released in January, 2011, and will use a new socket, called LGA1155 or “socket LGA1155.” To match this new CPU generation Intel will launch two chipsets, the H67 and P67. The first one is targeted to computers with integrated video (keeping in mind that the video itself is produced by the CPU, and not by the chipset), while the second one is targeted to mid-range and high-end motherboards without integrated video.

The MSI P67A-GD65 uses the standard ATX form factor.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 1: MSI P67A-GD65 motherboard

[nextpage title=”Slots”]

The MSI P67A-GD65 comes with two PCI Express x16 slots, which are controlled by the CPU, not the chipset. The first slot works at x16 when only one video card is installed, but both slots drop to x8 when two video cards are used. They support both SLI and CrossFireX modes.

If you install a dual-slot video card in the first PCI Express x16 slot you will “kill” one of the PCI Express x1 slots, while if you install a dual-slot video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot you will “kill” one of the standard PCI slots.

It is important to understand that the P67A-GD65 has two slots between the two PCI Express x16 slots, meaning that you can install a video card that occupies three slots and still install a second video card in the second PCI Express x16 slot. There are two slots between the second PCI Express x16 slot and the motherboard edge, meaning that you can also install a video card that uses three slots in the second PCI Express x16 slot while still using a standard seven-slot case.

The motherboard has two PCI Express x1 located between the two PCI Express x16 slots and two standard PCI slots.

It is important to understand that the P67 and H67 chipsets don’t support standard PCI slots anymore, and the PCI slot is provided by an ASMedia ASM1083 bridge chip.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 2: Slots

[nextpage title=”Memory Support”]

Intel socket LGA1155 CPUs have an embedded memory controller, meaning that it is the processor – and not the chipset – that defines what 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.

The integrated memory controller from socket LGA1155 processors supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,333 MHz under dual-channel architecture, but MSI says the P67A-GD65 supports memory up to 2,133 MHz through overclocking.

The MSI P67A-GD65 has four memory sockets and, since currently DDR3 memory modules can be found in capacities up to 4 GB, you can have up to 16 GB with this motherboard, if you use four 4 GB modules.

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

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 3: Memory sockets; install two or four modules for the best performance

[nextpage title=”On-Board Peripherals”]

The Intel P67 chipset is a single-chip solution, and is also known as PCH (Platform Controller Hub). This chip supports two SATA-600 ports and four SATA-300 ports, supporting RAID (0, 1, 5 and 10). The manufacturer added two additional SATA-600 ports, using a Marvel 88SE9128 controller, which supports RAID 0 and 1. These two extra ports are labeled “SATA7_8” and we think the manufacturer could have a different color to identify them. All SATA ports are located on the motherboard edge, rotated 90°, so video cards won’t block them.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 4: SATA-300 (black) and SATA-600 (white) ports

Additionally the P67A-GD65 has two eSATA-300 ports, controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip.

This motherboard doesn’t come with ATA-133 or floppy disk ports.

This motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the rear panel and two available though one header located on the motherboard. It also has four USB 3.0 ports controlled by two NEC μPD720200 chips, two soldered on the rear panel of the motherboard and two available thru a header on the motherboard (the product comes with an I/O bracket for you to use these ports).

Two FireWire (IEEE1394) ports are available, one soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available through a header. They are controlled by a VIA VT6308P chip.

The P65A-GD65 comes with eight-channel audio, generated by the chipset using a Realtek ALC892 codec. Unfortunately Realtek doesn’t publish technical specifications for this codec at their website. The portrayed motherboard comes with on-board optical and coaxial SPDIF connectors, and you can either route digital audio to your video card to have digital audio in the HDMI connector using the available “JSP1” header.

The analog audio jacks are completely independent, so you won’t “kill” the mic in or the line in jack when installing a set of 7.1 analog speakers.

The portrayed motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip, which are connected to the system using PCI Express x1 lanes and thus not presenting any potential performance issues.

In Figure 5, you can see the motherboard rear panel, with shared PS/2 keyboard and mouse connector, eight USB 2.0 ports, external clear CMOS button, coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs, FireWire (IEEE1394) port, two eSATA-300 ports, Gigabit Ethernet port, USB 3.0 ports (blue ones), and independent analog 7.1 audio outputs.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 5: Motherboard rear panel

[nextpage title=”Additional Features”]

The MSI P67A-GD65 has several other smaller features. It has two BIOS chips (see Figure 6), so in case the main BIOS gets corrupted by a bad BIOS upgrade or a virus, you can easily restore the contents of the ROM chip and prevent your motherboard from becoming “dead.”

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 6: Two BIOS chips

The motherboard also has on-board power and reset buttons, plus an overclocking button called “OC Genie II.” By pressing this button the motherboard will automatically overclock your system, and you won’t need to go through any option inside the motherboard setup program.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 7: Buttons

If you are into overclocking, this motherboard comes with tests points where you can install a multimeter to manually monitor the chipset, memory and CPU voltages.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 8: Voltage monitoring points

This motherboard also features a legacy serial port (you need to acquire an adapter to use it).

In Figure 9, you can see all accessories that come with this motherboard.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 9: Accessories

[nextpage title=”Voltage Regulator”]

One of the highlights of this motherboard is its voltage regulator circuit, which uses military-grade components. Electronic components are available in two series, civilian and military. Military components are more expensive, but have tighter tolerance and can withstand a wider range of temperature. All electrolytic capacitors used in the voltage regulator circuit are SMD (surface mount device), also known as highly-conductive polymerized or simply Hi-c, and solid ferrite chokes, also known as SFC, Super Ferrite Choke, which, according to MSI, can provide up to 20% improvement in efficiency. Please read our Everything You Need to Know About the Motherboard Voltage Regulator tutorial for more information.

The voltage regulator circuit has seven phases, six for the CPU main voltage (Vcc a.k.a. Vcore), and one phase for the CPU VTT voltage (integrated memory controller and L3 memory cache). Therefore it uses a “6+1” configuration.

Comparing only the number of phases is unfair, though. Each phase from this motherboard switches at a higher frequency (1 MHz instead of 250 kHz) and has a lower switching loss, resulting in a higher efficiency and lower operating temperature. This is achieved by using an integrated circuit (Renesas R2J20652, click here for a detailed description and here for its datasheet) called DrMOS instead of discrete transistors. According to MSI each DrMOS phase is equivalent of four regular phases, so the “6+1” configuration used by this motherboard is comparable to a “20+4” configuration using the standard voltage regulator architecture used by competing products.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 10: Voltage regulator circuit

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 11: Voltage regulator circuit

The P67A-GD65 has a feature called “Active Phase Switching” or simply “APS,” which disables phases in order to save energy when the system isn’t requiring a lot of power. A group of LEDs show which phases are currently active.

MSI P67A-GD65 motherboardFigure 12: Active phases LEDs

[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]

The main specifications for the MSI P67A-GD65 include:

  • Socket: 1155
  • Chipset: Intel P67
  • Super I/O: Fintek F71889AD
  • Parallel ATA: None
  • Serial ATA: Four SATA-300 and two SATA-600 ports controlled by the chipset (RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10), two additional SATA-600 ports controlled by a Marvell 88SE9128 chip (RAID 0 and 1)
  • External SATA: Two eSATA-300 ports controlled by a JMicron JMB362 chip
  • USB 2.0: 10 USB 2.0 ports, eight soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available through one header on the motherboard
  • USB 3.0: Four ports controlled by two NEC μPD720200 chips, two soldered on the motherboard rear panel and two available on a motherboard header
  • FireWire (IEEE 1394): Two ports controlled by a VIA VT6308P chip, soldered on the motherboard rear panel and one available on a motherboard header
  • On-board video: No
  • On-board audio: Produced by the chipset together with a Realtek ALC892 codec (eight channels, no further technical information is provided), on-board coaxial and optical SPDIF outputs
  • On-board LAN: One Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by a Realtek RTL8111E chip
  • Buzzer: No
  • Infrared interface: No
  • Power supply required: EPS12V
  • Slots: Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots (the first one working at x16 when one video card is installed, both working at x8 when two video cards are installed, supporting SLI and CrossFireX), two PCI Express x1 slots, and two standard PCI slots (ASMedia ASM1083 chip)
  • Memory: Four DDR3-DIMM sockets (up to 16 GB up to DDR3-2133)
  • Fan connectors: One four-pin connector for the CPU cooler and three three-pin connector for an auxiliary fan
  • Extra Features: Serial port, OC Genie II, dual BIOS, Active Phase Switching with monitoring LEDs
  • Number of CDs/DVDs provided: One
  • Programs included: Norton Internet Security (OEM version)
  • More Information: https://www.msi.com.tw
  • Average price in the US: This product wasn’t released yet on the day we published this First
    Look article

[nextpage title=”Conclusions”]

The MSI P67A-GD65 will be a good option for users looking for a high-quality mid-range socket LGA1155 motherboard with lots of features. Its highlights include four SATA-600 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, automatic overclocking by simply pushing a button (“OC Genie II”), dual BIOS, two PCI Express x16 slots (x16 or x8/x8 configuration) supporting both SLI and CrossFireX modes, voltage monitoring points, and a high-end voltage regulator circuit.