DDR3 is something not many of us probably have just lying around. The ram is still terribly expensive and there hasn't been much change in price (for the cheaper) in quite some time. At the same time, if you're in the market for a new motherboard, it does seem rather "un-cool" to pick up a new DDR2-based board (we're sticking with Intel for the purposes of this discussion) since there might be a day where DDR3 is affordable.
Despite the release of the X48 chipset, the P35 is still quite new and offers a compelling price to performance ratio. There are many P35 boards that will support either DDR2 or DDR3, and a handful that will support both. The MSI P35 Platinum Combo is one such board as both memory formats are supported, though you cannot use both at the same time?
What is the point? In case you glossed over the first two paragraphs of the review, if you have plenty of DDR2, you're more than welcome to use it on the MSI P35 Platinum Combo. Once you've upgraded to DDR3, you can replace the memory on the board instead of buying a brand new one. There are some caveats to this, but we'll cover that later.
The MSI P35 Platinum Combo
The Platinum series of MSI boards are one step under their top-of-the-line MSI Diamond products. As such, I believe the only thing you are really missing out on is the Creative X-Fi sound chip. Otherwise, the package contents are generally similar. For the MSI P35 Platinum Combo, what you'll get is a quick start guide, manual, driver CDs for XP and Vista, a rear IO shield and some custom "M-Connectors". What these connections will do is that you can install the internal case front IO to these connectors and place them right on to the motherboard itself. This makes the install, and if needed, reinstall much easier as it's quite a hassle sometimes trying to fish your fingers into this are and connect the wiring.
For connectivity, we have a couple SATA power adapters, an IDE cable, a floppy cable and four SATA cables. We also have a costar to the big show, the DDR2/DDR3 Turbo Cards.
As the name sort of implies, these cards are to be installed into the memory slots; how depends on the memory used.
If you are using DDR2 in dual channel mode, these cards are placed in DIMM_DDR3_1 and DIMM_DDR3_2 for example. The Turbo cards are keyed appropriately and only fit into the slots one way. The manual has more details covering memory card installation.
The MSI P35 Platinum Combo is an ATX board and for the most part it is well laid out. There are a couple areas of concern in terms of placement, but come into play only if you need to make component changes after installation. We'll point these areas out shortly.
The CPU area, despite appearance, is relatively free and clear. We were a bit worried about fancier coolers having problems, but our Thermaltake V1 had no issues with the surrounding Circu-Pipe cooling.
The Circu-Pipe cooling is an array of passive heatpipes that pass through key areas of heat. The design uses a high number of heat fins, arranged vertically which allows for larger coolers, such as the aforementioned V1, and effectively cools the chipset and MOSFETs silently. Thus, for those of you looking for a HTPC or quiet PC application, this board can be a viable option.
Amongst the heat pipes, to the left of the main Circu-Pipe block is the JPWR2 connection. MSI has placed an adapter for this power connection since being between the pipes, it would be very difficult to install and remove the power connection. To the left of the power connection and to the left of the first turn of the heatpipes are additional power connections for system fans and JPWR1. The CPU fan header is in this are, which we though was a bit awkward since it seams rather far away. If you tend to tuck your CPU cooler's cable to make things neat, make sure you account for the distance here.
The memory banks are colour coded to visually assist the ram installation process. There are 4 DDR2 slots and two DDR3 slots. System support is officially DDR2-800 and lower, as well as DDR3 at 1066 or 800MHz. The board supports a maximum of 8GB of either capacity only.
The memory slots run nearly flush with PCIE#1, which can make the changing of ram modules a bit tricky if you have a longer PCI Express video card in this slot.
Just below the memory slots is the 24-pin ATX1 power connection. Some more capacitors line around this area, but these should not interfere with installation of any other parts. The fan header in this area is accessible, but we found it difficult to get to should this be the last connection to make.
The MSI P35 Platinum Combo uses the ICH9R South Bridge which handles most of the storage and connectivity needs. Four SATA connections are grouped together near the edge of the motherboard between the PCI Express graphics slots. A Marvell 88SE6111 chip handles the IDE port as well as one of the SATA ports. All of the SATA connections are 3Gb/s compatible as well as being backwards compatible with the older 1.5Gb/s spec. RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, AHCI and JBOD are all supported by the ICH9R.
Moving on to the peripheral slots, we can see the single PCI Express graphics x16 (PEG) slot as well as 2 PCIE x1. There is a second PCI Express x4 slot and two PCI connections. PCIE 2 to 4 share 4 PCIE channels.
The CMOS battery and jumper reset are located between the PCIE_4 and first PCI slot. While the battery location will be tough to get to if you have along expansion card, the reset button is out of the way. Right next to the last PCI slot is the floppy connection as well as all the USB headers running along the side of the board..
Near the edge of the motherboard, between the first PCI slot and second PCI slot is the Realtek ALC888 audio chip. The chip is Azalia 1.0 compliant and is a flexible 8-channel audio solution that is also jack sensing. This the board can detect which jack you plug a speaker or headphone into provided you install all the required sound software.
Rounding things out are the external inputs and outputs. From left to right we have; two PS/2 ports, FireWire, four USB, S/PDIF, LAN, two more USB, two eSATA (controlled by the ICH9R) and the audio block.
The MSI P35 Platinum Combo uses the AMI BIOS which over the years has become quite the favorite around here. The menu is very intuitive, with each option opening a new page with further options for modification. Most of the items are straight forward, but there are a few areas of note.
The Advanced BIOS features page is the first place you would go to to configure the boot order and some of the basic chipset features. You can enable or disable the boot logo as well as choosing a quick boot or something more verbose.