As we've covered here at VL in the past, the 975X is not Intel's newest chipset, as that honour belongs to the Intel 965. We've covered the 975X to death here, so we invite you to look over those reviews to get a feel for the features. The main difference between the chipsets, other than the 965 being newer, is the new ICH8 South Bridge and native support for Core 2 Duo.
Intel's Matrix Storage Technology extends support for external SATA ports. All of the ports also support speeds of 3GB/s. Since the HD Audio support would make motherboards based on this chipset an ideal candidate for HTPC applications, Intel's Quiet System Technology will lessen the amount of noise generated provided you're not using an Extreme Edition processor.
A lot of changes were also made to the memory controller. The Memory Controller Hub has been better optimized to reduce latency and better control over the available bandwidth. Intel fast Memory Access features Just in Time Command Scheduling which monitors all pending accesses to memory and sorts out the requests to move though the memory bus more efficiently. Out of Order Execution is also supported which will allow for the resorting of these requests, hence reducing latency. Truth be told, we've seen very little improvement in the 965P over the 975X in this respect. We feel it'll be the boards with integrated graphics that will get more of a boost.
The MSI 965P Platinum Motherboard
MSI includes a nicely designed user manual that covers all of the key features of the board. The manual does a great job in helping the user put their system together, but the BIOS section needs some work as it simply repeats what you'll see when looking at the BIOS live, rather than explaining the functions. For those who only need a quick run through, there is a quick install guide as well if you're an experienced system builder. A driver CD contains all the required drivers for the motherboard, as well as the MSI included utilities.
There are a couple rounded cables which standard fare for MSI. The floppy and IDE cables are both coloured red and are sheathed in a plastic jacket. MSI also includes D-Brackets for FireWire and USB. The USB D-Bracket has four LED lights to aid in troubleshooting. The colour codes are listed in the main manual. There is a custom rear IO shield as well as a Socket-T installation clip. While we think most of our readers have the CPU install process down pat, there is still the risk of bending the motherboard pins. MSI's CPU clip does make damaging your motherboard near impossible.
For the most part, everything is laid out quite well. The low profile silver coloured heatsink on the South Bridge should not interfere with video card installation on yellow PCI Express Graphic (PEG) slot #2. The CPU area is relatively clear of obstruction, with the larger capacitors further away from the socket area. Two capacitors sit right on the Intel clearance zone, but not inside of it. The North Bridge heatsink as well as the memory slots are far enough that large CPU coolers should fit without issue.
Motherboard cooling is taken care of by a large North Bridge cooler (and the smaller South Bridge cooler we already mentioned). Silent PC enthusiasts will be happy with this, though we did find the cooler quite warm to the touch. If you are going to be overclocking or using water cooling, it'll be a good idea to think about adding some active cooling in this area. Unlike some earlier enthusiast boards, there isn't any cooling on the power components around the socket area. There's also no fancy heatpipe technology used here. Omitting exotic cooling will reduce the overall cost of the board, but we also think this is probably not required for the chipset. Yes, it runs warm, but not as warm as the NVIDIA 590 SLI.
The four 240-pin DDR2 DIMM Slots are coloured coded and the MSI 965P Platinum officially supports up to 8GB of unbuffered memory. For dual channel, you will have to used match memory pairs in each channel bank (ex: DIMM 1+3 or DIMM 2+4). The supported speeds are DDR2 533/667/800. We had some success using faster memory, but depending on the quality of the ram, your CPU and general overclocking luck, your mileage may vary. Of course, if you do have higher spec'd memory, you can down clock it to the supported speeds. The memory slots are also far away enough so that the video card in PEG#1 should not interfere with the memory slot anchors. Just beneath the memory slots are the main 24-pin power connection and floppy connection for the two people left in the world that still use these.
For stable operation of the motherboard, you should make sure power is supplied to the 8-pin EATX12V connector located between the back panel connections and the North Bridge. Optional is the 4-pin Molex connector near the PCI Express x16 slot which supplies additional power for more advanced video cards. To the right of the floppy connection is a Fintek F71882FG, which is the featured IO chip for legacy connections such as parallel, UART and serial ports.
Next to the South Bridge are the main storage connections. The sole IDE connection is controlled by the JMicron JMB361 chipset. The controller works with Windows XP install disks, so don't worry if you only have PATA optical drives. We didn't jump aboard the SATA optical drive bandwagon just yet, as we would guess many other people have not either so kudos to MSI for keeping these with this board.
In total there are seven SATA connections on the MSI 965P Platinum. Each port will support 2nd generation SATA drives up to 300MB/s transfer speed. Six of the ports are handled by the Intel ICH8R, and in standard IDE mode, you do not need driver disks for Windows installation. As mentioned, the controller supports up to 300MB/s transfer speed, as well as RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. The JMicron JMB361 chipset controls SATA7. RAID 0, 1 and JBOD are supported by the JMB361.
Moving on to the peripheral slots, we can see the two PCI Express Graphics x16 slots sandwiching two PCIE x1 connections. Dual slot coolers will kill the use of one PCIe and PCI slot, but at least you still have access to one of each otherwise. The added space (two slots between the PEG slots) will allow for specialized cooling for CrossFire setups. Of course, you'll likely lose the use of the adjacent PCI and PCIE slots, but this will not be the case if you stick with single slot cooling.
Round things out are the external inputs and outputs. From left to right we have; two PS/2 ports, one serial and parallel connection, FireWire, coax SPDIF, four USB 2.0, one Gigabit LAN and the audio connections. Azalia 1.0 audio is supported via the Realtek 883 physical interface.
Like most enthusiast boards, there are a large number of options for those who like to get their hands dirty in the BIOS. We'll skip directly to those areas since we figure most of you know how to fiddle with items like system time and boot order.
The MSI Cell Menu page is where most of you will probably spend a lot of time. Almost all key areas of CPU, memory and system manipulation can be done from this page.
The majority of users will be locked out of any CPU ratio settings since all retail and OEM Intel CPUs are factory locked. That said, if you happened to trip and find an unlocked CPU, the ratio ranges from 14 to 60, though the latter number is nothing more than a pipe dream. For the CPU frequency, you can go from 200MHz to 550MHz.
Memory options are quite extensive and allows for editing in 5 areas. By setting the DRAM Timing Selectable to "manual", all the main settings become available. CAS Latency ranges from 3 to 6. Ras# to CAS# Delay goes from 2 to 6. The same range exists for the RAS# Precharge. tRAS settings start at 8 and top off at 15.
Less experienced overclockers will probably be interested in MSI's DOT control page. From here, there are a number of predefined settings to choose from.
Private is the most conservative overclock and as you move up in rank, the percentage increases. Commander, the highest overclock, is still rather conservative from an enthusiast standpoint, but it does keep the system stable.
MSI does employ a BIOS Watchdog so to speak. If your OC settings end up being too aggressive, the CMOS will scale back to default speeds and not wipe out your other settings. However, this wasn't always perfect. It seemed to do the job with our CPU overclocking tests, but the memory overclocks often required us to fully reset the CMOS.
Operating System: Windows XP Professional (5.1, Build 2600) Service Pack 2
Processor: Genuine Intel(R) CPU 3.20GHz (4 CPUs)
Memory: 2046MB RAM
Card name: NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GT
Comparison Motherboards: ASUS P5WD2 955X, Abit AWD9-MAX, Abit AB9-Pro, MSI 975X Platinum
Test Software is as follows:
- Our standard synthetic suite gets an upgrade. We like to use Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) to collect some numbers as a base. The numbers collected are consistent and are easily comparable between systems during tests.
- A good indicator of CPU/Motherboard performance is version 4.2, by Xavier Gourdon. We used a computation of 10000000 digits of Pi, Chudnovsky method, 1024 K FFT, and no disk memory. Note that lower scores are better, and times are in seconds.
- CDex v170b2 was used to convert a 440.5MB Wav file to a 320kbs MP3. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.
- We used an Animatrix file, titled , and a WAV created from VirtualDub. The movie was then converted it into a DVD compliant MPEG-2 file with a bitrate of 5000. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.
DVD Shrink - We ripped the War of the Worlds bonus feature off the disk at 100% and compressed the file from the hard drive to 70%. Times are in minutes:seconds, and lower is better.
- Photoshop is perhaps the defacto standard when it comes to photo editing tools. Given that it is so popular, we incorporated DriverHeaven's latest test into our review process. Lower scores are better, and times are in seconds.
- We run the full suite of tests offered by 3DMark06 at 640x480 and collect the total 3DMark score and CPU score.
Doom 3, Far Cry, Unreal Tournament 2004 @ 640x480, HQ Settings - While higher resolutions tax the video card, lower resolutions rely on CPU and subsystem speed. Higher scores are better.
All benchmarks will be run a total of three times with the average scores being displayed. Any system tweaks and ram timings were configured to the best possible for each platform.