MSI P965 Platinum Motherboard Review
By Gabriel Torres on December 14, 2006
MSI P965 Platinum (also known as MS-7238) is a socket LGA775 motherboard targeted to new Core 2 Duo family, as it is based on the new Intel P965 chipset. One of the main advantages of this new chipset is the unofficial support for DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 memories, feature present on this motherboard from MSI. Let’s see how this new motherboard from MSI performed against competitors from ASUS and Gigabyte.
The first thing that immediately drew our attention is the use of a second x16 PCI Express slot. This second slot, which is yellow and called “PCI Express Lite” by MSI, works at x4 rate and its function is to allow the installation of a second video card in order to increase the number of independent video monitors you have on your system (with two video cards you can have up to four independent displays) or to increase the video performance, as MSI told us that this slot support ATI's CrossFire technology.
It is important to note that this PCI Express Lite slot is sharing the same PCI Express connections as the two x1 PCI Express slots available on this motherboard. So if you install a video card on this yellow x16 PCI Express slot the two x1 PCI Express slots are automatically disabled.
This motherboard also comes with a “special” PCI slot, which is orange, just like K9N Diamond. On our K9N Diamond review we said that MSI didn’t explain what is different about this slot. They corrected this on P965 Platinum manual: on MSI words, this slot has two “master” signals (we guess that this slot has two DEVSEL pins instead of one), allowing special two-in-one daughterboards manufactured by MSI to be installed there, like a wireless LAN and bluetooth combo card.
This motherboard uses a passive cooling solution on its chipset and does not use any cooling solution on its voltage regulator transistors, as you can see in Figure 1.
On the memory side, MSI P965 Platinum has four DDR2-DIMM sockets, supporting up to 8 GB officially up to DDR2-667 or 4 GB if DDR2-800 memories are used. This motherboard supports also DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 memories (we installed four DDR2-1066 modules and they worked just fine at 1,066 MHz). On this motherboard sockets 1 and 2 are green and sockets 3 and 4 are orange, and you have to pay close attention, as MSI uses a different color scheme compared to other manufacturers. While on other motherboards you need to install memory modules on sockets that have the same color to enable dual channel, on this motherboard you need to install memory modules on sockets that have different colors in order to enable dual channel. So you need to install one module at a green socket and the other module on an orange socket.
On the storage side, this motherboard has a total of seven SATA-300 ports, six provided by the south bridge (ICH8R) and one provided by a JMicron JMB361 chip (see Figure 3). The ports controlled by the chipset support RAID (0, 1, 5 and 10). This is one of the main differences between this motherboard and its competitors: most of mainstream P965-based motherboards use ICH8 south bridge – which only provides four SATA-300 ports and does not support RAID –, not ICH8R.
It is very important to notice that the single ATA/133 port available on this motherboard is controlled by the JMicron chip, not by the chipset. This means that if you still have a parallel IDE optical drive it will only be recognized on Windows after you install the JMicron driver. The problem is that this driver comes on the motherboard CD-ROM, and you won’t be able to install it, as the system does not recognize your optical drive. You can download the driver from the net, however the driver for the on-board LAN port is also on the CD-ROM… The only option you have is to copy the JMicron driver from the CD to a floppy disk or a USB pen drive using another PC. This problem happens not only with this motherboard from MSI, but also with all other motherboards based on Intel P965 chipset we’ve seen to date. Of course if you have a SATA optical drive you won’t face this problem, if you install it on a port controlled by the south bridge chip, of course.
This motherboard has 10 USB 2.0 ports (four soldered on the motherboard and six available through I/O brackets) and two FireWire ports controlled by VIA VT6307 chip (one soldered on the motherboard and one available through an I/O bracket). Like K9N Diamond, this motherboard uses colored USB headers, helping a lot installing the USB ports from the case – once you learned the color code, you don’t need to read the manual anymore; in fact not even this, as there is a big plus and a big minus signals printed on each header, meaning D+ and D-, so you can install the frontal USB ports from the case without reading the manual. We hope other manufacturers start to adopt this same idea soon. You can see this in Figure 3.
Following MSI tradition, the USB I/O bracket containing two USB ports that come with this motherboard have a LED diagnostics device (“D-Bracket 2”).
This motherboard has one Gigabit Ethernet port, controlled by the south bridge using a Realtek RTL8111B to make the physical layer interface.
The audio section from this motherboard provides 7.1 audio, produced by the south bridge chip with the aid of a Realtek ALC883 codec. This codec provides a low (for today’s standards) signal-to-noise ratio for its inputs – only 85 dB. So it is not advisable to use this motherboard for professional audio capturing and editing (the minimum recommended for this application is 95 dB), unless you install a professional add-on audio card on it. Also the maximum sampling rate for its inputs is of 96 kHz, while its outputs supports up to 192 kHz. The signal-to-noise ratio for its output is of 95 dB.
On the rear panel (Figure 4) you can find the Gigabit Ethernet port, four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, analog audio inputs/outputs (7.1 format), SPDIF coaxial and optical outputs, plus one serial port, one parallel port, PS/2 mouse and PS/2 keyboard connectors.
This motherboard has an EPS12V auxiliary power connector, however if your power supply does not provide an EPS12V connector you can install the power supply ATX12V connector to the motherboard EPS12V connector, as this board comes with a cover that closes the EPS12V extra pins allowing you to make this installation. This board also has a standard peripheral power connector, but MSI does not say when it should be used. So we recommend you connecting it to the power supply to avoid any trouble.
MSI used aluminum solid capacitors on this motherboard voltage regulator (see Figure 6), which is great to prevent capacitor leakage, as these capacitors don’t suffer from this disease. Even though the other electrolytic capacitors used on this motherboard aren’t solid, the majority are from a good Japanese manufacturer, Chemi-Con. There are, however, some capacitors from Taiwanese OST and four capacitors used on the audio section are from G-Luxon, which has a bad reputation due to leakage problems. MSI could use a different supplier for these caps.
This motherboard comes with just one CD, containing its drivers and utilities.
MSI P965 Platinum main features are:
* Researched at Shopping.com on the day we published this review.
During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the motherboard being tested.
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.
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:
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 Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3, ASUS P5B, Intel D975XBX and Intel D975XBX2. These two motherboards from Intel are based on Intel 975X chipset, while the other boards are based on Intel P965. Since we were using DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 memories, we ran all programs under two scenarios. First with the memory configured at 1,066 MHz when the motherboard supported this speed and then with the memory configured at 800 MHz.
You can see the results on the charts below.
All motherboards based on Intel P965 chipset achieved a similar performance on SYSmark2004 overall score. MSI P965 Platinum was 4.28% faster than Intel D975XBX and Intel D975XBX2 motherboards when our memories were set to 800 MHz and 6.12% faster than these two boards when the memories were set to 1,066 MHz (on Intel motherboards the memories were always running at 800 MHz; it is also important to note that Intel 975X chipset does not officially support DDR2-800).
On Internet Content Creation all motherboards based on Intel P965 chipset achieved a similar performance as well. MSI P965 Platinum was 5.25% faster than Intel D975XBX and Intel D975XBX2 motherboards when our memories were set to 800 MHz and 5.97% faster than these two boards when the memories were set to 1,066 MHz (on Intel motherboards the memories were always running at 800 MHz; it is also important to note that Intel 975X chipset does not officially support DDR2-800).
On Office Productivity we saw a little performance difference between MSI P965 Platinum and Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 when we used DDR2-1066 memories: MSI’s motherboard was 3.06% faster. When we configured our memories to run at 800 MHz, however, all motherboards achieved the same performance level. The reviewed board from MSI was 3.53% faster than the two motherboards from Intel when the memories were set to 800 MHz and 6.27% faster than these two boards when the memories were set to 1,066 MHz (on Intel motherboards the memories were always running at 800 MHz; it is also important to note that Intel 975X chipset does not officially support DDR2-800).
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.
All motherboards based on Intel P965 chipset achieved a similar performance on PCMark05 System batch. MSI P965 Platinum was 3.97% faster than Intel D975XBX2 and 4.26% faster than Intel D975XBX when our memories were configured to run at 800 MHz, and 4.94% faster than Intel D975XBX2 and 5.23% faster than Intel D975XBX when our memories were configured to run at 1,066 MHz (on Intel motherboards the memories were always running at 800 MHz; it is also important to note that Intel 975X chipset does not officially support DDR2-800).
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.
Here is where we could see some performance difference between the reviewed motherboards. When we configure our memory to run at 1,066 MHz, MSI P965 Platinum was 4.83% faster than Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3, but achieved the same performance level as ASUS P5B. When we configured our memory to run at 800 MHz, these three motherboards achieved the same performance level.
MSI P965 Platinum was 5.97% faster than Intel D975XBX2 and 15.03% faster than Intel D975XBX when our memories were running at 800 MHz and 11.81% faster than Intel D975XBX2 and 21.43% faster than Intel D975XBX when our memories were running at 1,066 MHz (on Intel motherboards the memories were always running at 800 MHz; it is also important to note that Intel 975X chipset does not officially support DDR2-800).
MSI P965 Platinum provides many overclocking options, including dynamic overclocking. What is different on this motherboard from other boards from MSI is that you can choose dynamic overclocking to be used only on the CPU, only on the PCI Express bus, or on both.
On MSI P965 Platinum (1.20 BIOS) you will find the following overclocking options:
The PCI Express clock configuration is 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.
We could only find two features missing: adjustment for the memory timings and a separated clock configuration for the x16 PCI Express slot. But we think that the features present will satisfy almost all users. Of course if you want even more overclocking options, you will need to buy a high-end motherboard.
With this motherboard we could increase the FSB clock of our Core 2 Duo E6700 from 266 MHz to 306 MHz and the system worked just fine. We locked the PCI Express bus at 100 MHz and configured the memory as DDR2-800 in order to keep them under their specs.
The overclocking we achieved represents a 15.04% increase on the CPU internal clock, making our 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 to run at 3.06 GHz. The performance measured by PCMark05 increased 9.24% and the performance measured by Quake 4 increased 14.26% with this overclocking – really nice.
We can consider this overclocking to be on the same level of Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 (which we could put its FSB running at 208 MHz) but worse than the one we could achieve with ASUS P5B (316 MHz).
It is very important to keep in mind that our overclocking is limited by the overclocking capability of the CPU we used, a Core 2 Duo E6700. Also, the CPU overclocking capability is not only defined by its model, but also by its production batch. You may achieve better results with different CPUs and even with the same CPU model but from a different batch.
We didn’t play with voltage adjustments or any other fancy adjustments, so you may achieve a better overclocking than we did with more time and patience.
MSI P965 Platinum is, in our opinion, the motherboard that provides the best cost/benefit ratio for the mainstream user building a Core 2 Duo-based system. In other words, this motherboard is targeted to users that want a high-end performance and features but don’t want to spend a lot of money on a high-end motherboard.
What is great about this motherboard is that it provides more features that its competitors like ASUS P5B and Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 and costs the same thing or less (you can get a USD 15 mail-in rebate at Newegg.com and this board from MSI will cost you only USD 120).
MSI P965 Platinum uses ICH8R chip instead of the plain ICH8 used by Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 and ASUS P5B, supporting six SATA-300 ports with RAID0, 1, 10 and 5, plus one extra SATA-300 port. It also has FireWire ports and a second x16 PCI Express slot (working at x4 though), allowing you to connect a second video card for attaching three or four video monitors to your system or to increase your 3D performance, as according to MSI it supports CrossFire technology (keep in mind that as this slot works at x4, CrossFire performance will be lower than other motherboards were the two slots work at x16).
On the other hand, we achieved a higher overclocking with ASUS P5B.
This motherboard is faster than boards based on Intel 975X chipset, which is great. It also supports DDR2-1066/PC2-8500 memories and has a good overclocking potential for its market segment, features that will surely attract users wanting to pump the maximum performance possible from their systems.
It also features SPDIF optical and coaxial outputs, allowing you to connect its on-board audio to digital speakers or to your home theater receiver. Keep in mind that this motherboard has a low (for today’s standards) signal-to-noise ratio on its audio inputs (85 dB), so this board isn’t a good choice if you want to capture analog audio and edit it on your PC professionally (for this task we recommend a minimum 95 dB SNR ADC, i.e., for the inputs).
The electrolytic capacitors used on its voltage regulator are aluminum solid, preventing you from suffering from the infamous capacitor leakage problem – at least on this section of the motherboard, which is the section that suffers from this disease. Having all other motherboard capacitors aluminum solid too would be the best – but that would be asking too much.