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Intel delivers new processors and new sockets, in this ever changing world of technology we get to test MSI's latest upper echelon offering for Intel's latest, the P55 chipset.
Intel's P55 chipset is the latest change handed to motherboard manufacturers. Not only do we have a new chipset, it comes with a new socket and (so far) 3 new confusing CPU's. brings 2 variants of the P55 to bear, today we will look at their top of the line version, the P55-GD80.
The MSI P55-GD80 arrived with all of the fanfare warranted for a new board, pretty packaging and lots of cables / connectors to look through and play with. It's funny how my first focus is what kind of cables and little add-ons (like JP1 jumpers and SLI / CrossFire cross connects) are included, the P55-GD80 does not disappoint. Packed in a multi-tiered box to protect the motherboard. There is a plethora of SATA cables, all with my favorite little metal clip to hold them snug to the motherboard and hard drive.
Also included with the cables and what not is the eSATA adapter as well as the aforementioned JFP1 riser that is a godsend for those of us who hate connecting those FP cables onto the Motherboard. A CD that holds the latest drivers as well as a few programs that are neither a show stopper or a throwaway. The “Quick Reference” guides go over the basics of the motherboard, granted, anyone worth their salt would flip through the actual manual as that is where the meat is, that is where you hope to find the juicy tidbits of which memory module must go where (such is the case on the P55) and where in the BIOS do I go to start to have fun with the speeds...
There is a custom rear IO shield and a small bag containing some extension cables, which we will explain later. Here we also see the SLI / CrossFire connectors.
You'll need a full sized ATX case in order to fit the MSI P55-GD80. I was a actually surprised to see that there were no stickers attached over the PCIe slots, maybe they finally got our message . At first glance, I didn't detect any problem areas with the layout of the MSI P55-GD80. We'll address each section as we move through the review.
First of all, lets take a look at Intel's all new P55. Off the bat we see that the P55 chipset connects to the processor directly through DMI (Direct media interface) interface bus, very different from X58, where it connects directly to the QPI link. The P55 chip comes fully stocked: we see a first with integrated PCIe controller handling 16 lanes, this equates to x16 on a single graphics card or x8 speeds for dual PCIe cards. When it comes to input / output capabilities the P55 has built in support for 14 USB 2.0 ports with integrated USB 2.0 Rate matching hubs, 6 SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports and an integrated Gigabit LAN Ethernet.
The P55 also supports Integrated Clocking Buffer Through Mode, provides Thermal Sensor Data via SMBUS for discrete Fan Control Solutions and Intel Matrix Storage Technology 9.0. New Intel matrix storage has a new user interface for managing all storage related tasks, support for RAID 0,1,5 and 10, Rapid recover technology.
The MSI P55-GD80 sports the LGA-1156 socket, this new socket supports the latest processors from Intel, the i5 (Lynnfield) and i7 (Clarkdale) that use the LGA-1156 socket, these should not be confused with the i7 (Bloomfield) that utilizes the LGA-1366 socket, umm, what??? The P55 chipset, and hence the MSI P55-GD80 supports up to 16GB of memory. This is done using the 4 DIMM slots that support DDR3 at 1066, 1333, 1600, 1800, 2000 and 2133 speeds (1066 and 1333 are the default memory speeds).
The first section we will cover on the P55-GD80 is the Front left quadrant, here we will find your aforementioned 4 memory slots. Interestingly enough, while the memory must be installed in slots 1 and 3 first, slots 1 and 3 are not where you would think. The slot order, from CPU to the rear of the board is SLOT2 / SLOT1 / SLOT4 / SLOT3 (you can see this in the image). OK, moving on we also see the 24 pin power input and a nice little option MSI is calling “V-Switch” or Over Voltage Switch. This 4 pin switch allows you to override the BIOS limits for VCore, VTT, VDDR3 and PCH. Looking over the values that MSI allows you to select within BIOS I am somewhat confused, as the available values would void most warranties out there today. Is there something coming down the pipe and MSI has insider info on it? Next to the V-Switch is a voltage check block, this allows for a single point of reference to check those voltages, just in case you don't trust the reported values in your BIOS.
Moving to the Rear left quadrant we of course have the LGA-1156 socket, surrounding the CPU are several low profile capacitors as well as the DrMOS labeled SuperPipe cooling solution, which is marketed as 2x the size, therefore runs cooler, then that of other Heat Pipes. I must say that I rather like the break away MSI has done from the “Copper” heat pipes, the Blue/Pewter colors go nicely with the rest of the board. DrMOS is MSI's varient on the 4 phase Standard MOSFET, claiming DrMOS is a single phase solution that is 400% faster, therefore netting the end user a high OC with cleaner power distribution. The clasping mechanism for the LGA-1156 socket is a shift from previous versions, note the CPU hold down must slide underneath the holding screw.
The Rear Right quadrant of the MSI P55-GD80 houses the PCIe slots as well as some PCI slots. You will also find your USB, Firewire (IEEE-1394) and Audio risers. The 3 x16 PCIe slots are configured as follows: Single x16 (x16 mode), 2 x16 cards (x8 / x8 mode), 3 x16 cards (x8 / x8 / x4, all PCIe x1 lanes are unusable). While this is less then ideal (x58 has more built in lanes) remember that the P55 chipset does not have a southbridge, this is all controlled directly from, in this case, the i5 CPU.
The Front Right quadrant is where we find the solitary IDE connection as well as a plethora of SATA connections. On first glance you see that several of the SATA connectors are facing back instead of up, I am still on the fence with this positioning, while I like this design for IDE (the MSI P55-GD80 positions it's sole IDE facing back), the SATA connector, being much smaller, did not truly get in the way when pointed up. With the inclusion of “locking” SATA cables, I am less apt to be negative about this alignment, as the cables are fairly secure and stay in place (older non-locking cables would easily fall out of these connectors). SATA 1-6 are supported by the P55, SATA 7 and 8 are supported by the JMicron JMB322.
There is also several buttons that MSI have included in this section, they are as follows: Clear CMOS / OC Genie / Power ON / Power Reset / Green Power / Base Clock Control.
Clear CMOS, Power ON and Power Reset are fairly self explanatory, the only thing you might be wondering is, where are the buttons. Well, MSI decided to go the path of electromagnetic touch pad, there are no physical buttons, you simply touch the motherboard directly, pretty slick. I will dive deeper on the others.
OC Genie: This must be pressed while the system is powered off, yet still plugged in. Pressing OC Genie (turns the light on) you will get an automatic OC the next time you power on your system. This is calculated by the OC Genie ASIC, it intelligently determines proper OC values and applies them on boot. Pressing the button a second time (turns the light off) your system will return to default speeds.
Green Power: Enables the settings within BIOS, typically to conserve as much energy as possible, yet perform the functions requested of the CPU and surrounding components.
Base Clock Control +/-: These buttons allow you to “on the fly” increase or decrease your base clock, therefore increasing or decreasing your OC. The issue here is that your VCore needs to be up to speed to handle the new base clock so you don't freeze the system.
Now we move to the Rear I/O section where we have from left to right, top to bottom: Mouse / KB / Coax / Fiber S/PDIF out / 1394 / USB / USB / eSATA-USB combo / LAN / USB / LAN / USB / 6 port analog audio. Unique here is the eSATA-USB combo port, which of note, can be disabled in BIOS (along with the other USB ports) in order to protect from someone connecting an external eSATA / USB drive and stealing information from you.
The underside of the MSI P55-GD80 is understated as it should be. Only a simple metal plate that supports the Foxconn LGA-1156 socket can be seen (more on that later).