Last week we received an early sample of MSI's new P45 Platinum motherboard. While the BIOS is still in the beta stage and has some flaws, we took some time to look at the board itself.
JMB381 Firewire 400mbit
Realtek 8111C PCIe network MAC
JMB363 e SATA II/IDE controller
Fintek F71882FG Super I/O controller
ICS9LPRS910BKL clock generator
passive cooling of chipsets/VRM
2x PCIe 2.0 x16
2x PCIe x1
2x Dual-Channel DDR3-slots for PC2-8500U memory up to 8GB
6-Port SATA II featuring RAID 0, 1, 5, 0+1, JBOD (via ICH10R)
1-Port IDE (via JMB)
2-port SATA II RAID (via JMB)
1-Port eSATA II (via JMB)
1x PS/2 keyboard
1x PS/2 mouse
1x eSATA II
1x Gb LAN
6x USB 2.0
1x CMOS-clear button
7.1 analog output
1x SP/DIF digital out
Accessories (not final yet):
1x 2-port USB 2.0 & 1-port Firewire bracket
6x SATA cable with clips
1x HDD-power to 2x SATA power cable
1x Floppy cable
1x IDE cable
1x MSI M-connector pack
Bus Speeds: Auto, 200MHz to 800MHz in 1MHz increments
Memory Ratios: Auto, fixed ratios: 1:1, 1:1.2, 1:1.25, 1.50, 1.60, 1.66, 1:2, depending on FSB/strap
FSB Strap: hidden, linked with Memory Ratio, 200MHz, 266MHz, 333MHz, 400MHz
DRAM command rate: Auto, 1T, 2T
DRAM timing control: Auto, manual
PCIe Frequency: Auto, 100 to 200 MHz in 1MHz increments
CPU Clock Multiplier: Auto, manual
Core 2 Duo: 6x-11x in 0.5x increments - Core-2 Duo, downwards unlocked
Core 2 Extreme: 6x-16X, downwards unlocked
CPU Voltage: not final yet
DRAM Voltage: not final yet
FSB Termination: auto, not final yet
Northbridge Voltage: not final yet
MSI P45 Platinum (provided by MSI)
Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
Scythe Andy Samurai Master (provided by Scythe-Europe)
Kingston 2GB Kit PC2-9600U KHX9600D2K2/2G (provided by Kingston)
CL5-5-5-15 CR2T 1.80V
Jetway Radeon HD3870 (provided by mec-electronics)
Seasonic S12-II 500W
Western Digital WD4000KD (provided by Ditech)
SilenX iXtrema Pro 14dB(A) (provided by PC-Cooling.at)
Cooler Master Stacker 831 Lite (provided by Cooler Master)
MSI did quite a nice job. While the new Northbridge is a die-shrink, many vendors claim that the new chip is about 10°C hotter compared to the P35, and therefore vendors are inventing new cooling solutions.
MSI's cooler looks fabalous, but we think all such constructions are flawed. All heatpipes terminates on top of the MOSFET coolers, which means that the heat isn't really dissipated well. We would like to see something different, like what DFI has tried to implement, but never really managed to pull off that well.
The height of the heatsink also blocks some big CPU coolers such as the Scythe Zipang, which helps tp cool down the NB-cooler due to its construction. At least they did what we asked them to do: use screws to fix the cooler, because we feel push-pins are not suitable for such heavy monsters. There will also be a water cooled version that will solve these tall chipset heatsink problems.
The VRM is an analog 5-phase design driven by an ISL6336A IC. Sadly, MSI didn't opt for a digital VRM solution. The BIOS still has overclocking issues so at this point, we can't tell you if DrMOS, which should reduce power, performs as intended.
The memory slots are quite close to the primary PCIe x16 slot, so you need to fiddle with your modules when replacing or upgrading them with a large graphics card is installed, but it's still manageable. As usual, the 24-pin power and floppy connector is located beneath.
The PCIe and PCI slots follow MSI's standard layout. You may use both PCIe 2.0 x16 for CrossFire which will work at x8 speed. Because PCIe 2.0 is double the speed of PCIe 1.1, PCIe 2.0 x8 offers the same bandwidth as PCIe 1.1 x16.
Network connectivity is provided by a Realtek Gigabit 8111C PCIe chip. On the X48 we found an Intel solution, which is more expensive, but at the same time it performs better. We don't feel Realtek is the right choice for a high-end board.
MSI changed the Firewire chip from VIA to JMB, which is much much smaller. As usual, a Realtek ALC888 provides 7.1-channel audio. The JMB363 offers 2x SATA/eSATA, but MSI choose to only take advantage of one of the ports for eSATA usage.
The SATA and PATA connectors are, as usual, at the bottom edge of the board. The six SATA connectors are angled at 90 degrees, so a second large graphics card can fit above them. This is the first time MSI utilizes all SATA ports from the chipset. Two extra ports from the JMB363 gives a total of 8-ports for you hard drives, except if you choose to use eSATA which will result in one port being deactivated.
The only con we could find is that there's no diagnostics display, but there are tons of LEDs which can't be turned off in the BIOS. So if you are sensitive to the ultra bright LEDs, or like to use your computer during night time, make sure your case blocks out the light.
It will take some time before we are ready with more benchmarks and scores, as we are waiting for the final BIOS, but stay tuned for the full review.