P35 Neo Combo from MSI – which is also known as MS-7365 – is based on the latest Intel mainstream chipset, P35, being a motherboard targeted to the average user that wants support for DDR3 memories but keeping DDR2 compatibility, as this motherboard provides sockets for both DDR2 and DDR3 memories, plus support for the forthcoming Core 2 Duo CPUs based on the new 1,333 MHz external bus. Let’s see the features and performance from his new release from MSI.

MSI P35 Neo ComboFigure 1: MSI P35 Neo Combo motherboard.

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. In the case of P35 Neo Combo it has two DDR2 sockets and two DDR3 sockets, so that is why it can accept DDR2 or DDR3 memories. Also, you cannot use both memory technologies at the same time. You have to choose between one of the two to use.

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 (P35 Neo Combo is based on the plain ICH9) 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. On this motherboard, however, we had a problem setting up our DDR2-1066 memories to run at 1,066 MHz. Even though on the motherboard setup there is an option to set our memories at 1,066 MHz (actually a FSB/memory clock ratio option) our memories were always running at 800 MHz. This is probably a bug with the BIOS we were using, which was the first release (1.0), because on another P35-based motherboard (MSI P35 Platinum) we could set our memories at 1,066 MHz without a problem. We complained with MSI about this bug and we got no answer from them before we posted this review (at a later date they wrote us saying that a new BIOS is available solving this problem).

Another problem we had was that leaving our memory set to “auto” on the motherboard setup made it to be configured as DDR2-667, even though we were using DDR2-1066 modules (which are usually recognized as DDR2-800).

As mentioned this motherboard has two DDR2 sockets, supporting up to 4 GB total, and two DDR3 sockets, also supporting up to 4 GB total. Since you cannot use DDR2 and DDR3 at the same time the maximum memory capacity of this motherboard is 4 GB.

This motherboard supports dual channel, but MSI made a carnival, with each memory socket using a different color. DDR2 sockets are green and orange, while DDR3 sockets are blue and pink. In order to enable dual channel on this motherboard just install two DDR2 modules or two DDR3 modules.

MSI P35 Neo ComboFigure 2: MSI P35 Neo Combo memory sockets.

Unfortunately we don’t have DDR3 modules, so we will benchmark this motherboard using only DDR2 modules.

On the storage side, this motherboard has a total of five SATA-300 ports, four controlled by the ICH9 south bridge (not supporting RAID, as mentioned) 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.

This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port controlled by the south bridge using one Realtek RTL8111S chip to make the physical layer interface.

This motherboard has 12 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and eight 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 doesn’t come with the motherboard).

Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.