While the Alderwood (925X) gets all the enthusiast targeted press, the Grantsdale (915P/G) has more or less been relegated to mainstream status. Intel's official stance is the Alderwood is faster, and geared towards performance minded buyers, while the Grantsdale is simply not as fast and more suited for business and home users. On paper, it would appear that way as Alderwood doesn't even officially support onboard graphics, as no enthusiast is going to even consider a non-discreet graphics solution.
Sound familiar? this is what Intel said not too long ago about the Canterwood (875P) and Springdale (865PE/G). Canterwood is supposed to be faster due to Performance Acceleration Technology, something that was left out of the Springdale design. Of course, that didn't stop motherboard makers from tweaking the much cheaper chipset and some Springdale boards performed on par (and sometimes faster) with some Canterwoods.
Can lightning strike twice? is no stranger to putting together great enthusiast boards, and on paper, their flagship 915P based board leaves little to be desired. Supporting Intel's entire 800FSB lineup, the MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum is a DDR-II board, with a discreet x16 PCI Express slot. Add Gigabit Ethernet and dual RAID controllers, and things are looking good indeed. Let's see if the board has some bite to backup its bark.
||- LGA775 socket for Intel Pentium 4/Celeron CPU
- Compatible with Intel 04B and 04A processors
- Intel Hyper-Threading Technology ready
||Intel Grantsdale 915P
|Front Side Bus
||800 / 533 MHz
||- Supports four unbuffered DIMM of 1.8 Volt DDR2 SDRAM
- Supports Dual channel DDR2 memory architecture.
- Supports DDR2 400/533 memory interface up to 4GB.
||1 x PCI Express x16 slot for discrete graphics card
2 x PCI Express x1
3 x PCI
||Intel ICH6R South Bridge:
- Dual Ultra DMA 66/100 IDE controllers
- Serial ATA/150 controller integrated in ICH6R.
- Supports AHCI controller with SATA Raid 0, Raid 1 and Matrix Raid.
VIA6410 IDE RAID Controller:
- Two Ultra DMA 66/100/133 IDE Controllers.
- Supports RAID 0, 1 and 0+1.
||Broadcom DBM5751 PCI-Express Gb LAN Controller
- PCI Express 1X interface with 2.5Gb/s bandwidth
||- Azalia link controller integrated in Intel® ICH6R chipset.
- 8-channel audio codec CMI9880L.
The MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum
The MSI 915P Neo2 Platinum ships in a black motherboard box, that uses a cardboard slip sheet that doubles to keep the inner box from springing open, as well as for aesthetics. All of the product features and specifications are clearly outlined, allowing a shopper to make an informed decision.
Outside of the motherboard, MSI includes red, rounded PATA and floppy cables. SATA cables are included, as well as a SATA power splitter in case your PSU lacks these connections. As with all their motherboards, we have MSI's D-Bracket2 which adds two USB 2.0 connections and 4 diagnostic LED lights for troubleshooting. Rounding things out are some driver disks, a product CD, a second bracket with FireWire ports and some manuals.
Looking at the motherboard, MSI did a good job in terms of layout and component choices. Their capacitor choices are mostly Japanese (including the well respected Rubycon Corporation), but some others scattered about originate from the US and Taiwan. For noise conscious users, you'll appreciate MSI's decision to go completely passive in terms of cooling, though serious overclockers may want to think about adding active coolers in its place (a NBFAN1 header is free should you wish to use it). As with many of MSI's performance boards, they've added heatsinks on their MOSFETs. It's worth mentioning that their marketing material references the ASUS P5AD2 quite often, and in the case of cooling, they claim their MOSFET cooling is more efficient than the ASUS Stack Cool technology which is a heatplate located beneath the motherboard. When you think about it, it's hard to argue against their claims, as they say that the heatsink wicks heat off the MOSFETs and directs it up into the open area in the case, while ASUS moves the same heat through the motherboard PCB and into the Stack Cool plate. In theory, MSI's method should be safer for the motherboard in the long run as they attempt to keep as much heat away from the motherboard PCB, rather than through it and out the other end.
As with all LGA775 motherboards, MSI has a protective cover protecting the pins in the socket. They also include a CPU clip to assist in CPU installation as with Intel moving the pins off the CPU and on to the motherboard, it can be trickier to properly seat the CPU without breaking the motherboard. Outside of the capacitors lined up along two edges of the socket, the surrounding area is free of any obstructions and we had no problems with Intel's stock cooler, Cooler Master's Hyper 48 (the CPUFAN2 header for air coolers is located just below the socket), and PolarFLO TT water block installations.
Four colour coded DIMM slots support up to 4GB of DDR-II 400/533 ram. Dual Channel is supported of course, and unlike some 915P boards we have reviewed, this is a DDR-II only house, so don't think of placing DDR-I modules here. Just beneath the ram slots, we have one PATA port, one floppy port and a 24-pin ATX power connection. While a 24-pin PSU connector is preferred, the board will operate just fine with the more common 20-pin connector.
Intel's ICH6R South Bridge is passively cooled by MSI (though with a much shorter heatsink than the one used on the North Bridge), and supports Native Command Queuing via RAID or AHCI. Matrix RAID, which gives you the ability to run multiple RAID types on a single array, as well as SATA RAID-0, 1 and single SATA are also supported. The four SATA connections (as well as the PATA connection mentioned earlier) are controlled by the ICH6R, and the two PATA connections pictured above are controlled by the VIA6410 IDE RAID controller. This controller supports RAID-0, 1 and 0+1.
For your peripherals, the 915P Neo2 Platinum is outfitted with one x16 PCI Express graphics slot, two x1 PCIe slots, and three standard PCI slots. In between the x16 PCIe slot and PCI#1 is MSI's CoreCell chip that allows for dynamic overclocking, and keeps your system running at peak efficiency at all times. Also located in this area is the CMOS battery and CMOS reset jumper.
Rounding things out are the IO connections. Moving from left to right, we have the mouse and keyboard PS/2 ports, one serial and parallel port, one RCA port, four USB 2.0 ports, one Gigabit Ethernet port, five audio ports and one S/PDIF optical port.
The AMI BIOS is the base which MSI uses for the 915P Neo2 Platinum. Naturally, MSI has customized it in favour of the enthusiast. Outside of the usual features such as selecting device boot order, enabling/deactivating onboard peripherals and monitoring system health, there are a number of areas for users to tweak the setup.
Probably the first order of business is to tweak the memory timings in order to maximize performance. By setting the DRAM Timing by SPD to "Disabled", all the memory timing options become unlocked. DRAM CAS# Latency, DRAM RAS# to CAS# Delay, DRAM RAS# precharge delay, and DRAM RAS# Activate to Precharge can be adjusted where lower values increase performance at the expense of stability. How far you can make adjustments will vary greatly on the quality of the ram.
Under the Integrated Peripherals page, you can configure all the onboard peripherals you choose to use. Of note is the SATA Devices Configuration. The 915P Neo2 Platinum fully supports Native Command Queuing (NCQ), but that is only enabled if you choose to configure the SATA as either RAID or AHCI. While today's applications do not yet fully take advantage of NCQ, it's worth enabling for the performance boost should the application call for it.
The Cell_Menu is where the majority of the CPU options can be configured. High Performance Mode is set to Optimized by default, and the CoreCell chipset dynamically overclocks and tweaks the system on the fly. Setting it to Manual allows the user to custom configure the settings on their own. Under Dynamic Overclocking, you can leave it Disabled, or select from a number of predefined overclocking options which range from 1% to 15%.
The CPU FSB Frequency option controls CPU's FSB, which has a range of 200MHz to 500MHz. The Adjust DDR Memory Frequency option deals with the memory speed. All the memory options are based on a CPU FSB of 200MHz, and your options range from 400MHz to 700MHz.
Wrapping things up are the PCI and PCI Express Frequency options, and voltage adjustments. For both the PCI and PCIe, you can manually set values of 40MHz and 133MHz respectively, though we suggest keeping these values in spec for stability. The CPU voltage option has a maximum value of 1.55v, while DDR and North Bridge top out at 2.4v and 2.2v respectively.