There's something to be said for Intel's chipset release practices. Typically, each major revision has consisted of multiple versions: a powerful, enthusiast high-end chipset, and then a number of slimmed down versions. Note, we say "slimmed down" instead of "stripped down", as much of the architecture and feature set remains untouched. The result is usually a plethora of mid-range boards that are cheaper than the flagship models, that have a few limitations or exclusions in comparison to the upper-end boards that not every user will necessarily need or want.
In the case of the 975/965 chipsets, there a performance vs. price stigma still exists with the 975 Express generally considered the more powerful of the two. However, this time around, the P965 has some new features that originally could only be found on those boards, including official support for DDR2-800 as well as a newly designed Southbridge dubbed the ICH8/R. The ICH8 expanded on the supported number of SATA drives and USB ports, which was a step in the right direction. The ICH8, however, lacks support for PATA drives, which, one assumes, a mid-range PC would or should still be using, especially when upgrading with older components.
As such, many motherboard manufacturers have started integrating a standalone IDE controller onto their motherboards for the purpose of hooking up optical drives at the very least. Both boards that we will be looking at today feature a JMicron controller to do just that, although they also allow for additional hard drive and/or RAID support if needed. While we won't ding Intel for forward-thinking, its was definitely a littel early to drop support for PATA, especially after some initial feedback concerning the JMicron controller in regard to installation and stability.
A block chart of the Intel P965 Express chipset's major features is illustrated below.
The original block diagram only lists a single PCI-Express X16 Graphics card as being supported, but we've seen that revised boards, such as the MSI P965 Platinum, come equipped with two slots. The downside to this is that the second PCI-E slot, if used in a CrossFire setup, would only have a 4x electircal connection, as opposed to the 8 lanes that a 975X board would be able to put to use. The more utilitarian Asus P5B-E in our review still comes only equipped with one physical PCI Express x16 slot.
These problems aside, the P965 chipset still has a lot in common with the 975X, and both are well suited for housing Core 2 and Quad-core CPUs. The two boards in today's article are marketed from two different ends of the spectrum, which makes for a good comparison. The P965 Platinum is at the top of MSI's list, featuring dual-slot graphics, daughterboard connectivity for proprietary LAN/Bluetooth cards, and an eye for design. The Asus P5B-E, on the other hand, looks a bit more standard, with plain brown PCB, a single PCI-E slot, and a more conservative bundle. A closer look at each board is needed to see which board suits a buyer's needs.