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MSI P45 Platinum and Diamond Motherboards
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Date: Oct 27, 2008
Section:Motherboards
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

A few months back, Intel released the P45 Chipset -- at the time it was considered to be their mainstream offering, playing second fiddle to the X48 Express.  With official support of a 1333MHz FSB, PCI-E 2.0, ATI CrossFire, and support for both DDR2 and DDR3 memory, there's a lot of roads to go down with the construction of one of these boards, and MSI went down all of them.  MSI fleshed out a complete top-to-bottom assortment of  boards, which means that they have a P45 motherboard that suits just about every potential buyer's needs.  Two of these, the P45 Diamond and P45 Platinum are found towards the top end of their food chain, and we'll be taking a look at them today.


The P45 Platinum ships in a grey box with a World of Warcraft inspired creature drawn on the cover clearly promoting this board as a gamer's choice.  It almost seems impossible, but the P45 Diamond arrives in an even deeper sized box than the P45 Platinum with a more menacing looking mythical character on the cover.  The front cover flaps open to show off two of the major differences between these MSI's boards: the Circu-Pipe Liquid cooler utilized on the Diamond as well as the SoundBlaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio we first encountered on the P6N Diamond.  CPU Support is identical although the memory has been upgraded to list official support for up to 8GB of 1333 MHz DDR3 (with unofficial support up to 1600 MHz).

DrMOS and Greenpower technologies are also highlighted and further defined on the back.  DrMOS, short for Integrated Driver-MOSFET, refers to to low power loss MOSFETs used on these P45 boards that MSI claims helps them operate at a level of power efficiency up to 93.1%.  In a similar vein, Greenpower is an attempt at lowering power consumption by shutting down components, but only in junction with the Greenpower Genie (an optional component).  That's a small sample of what's to be found, but the following is a complete listing of specifications for the boards, with differences highlighted.

MSI P45 Platinum and Diamond Motherboards
Specifications and Features

CPU
• Supports Intel® Core 2 Extreme/Core 2 Quad/Core 2 Duo based processors in LGA775 package
• Supports Intel® Yorkfield, Wolfdale in the LGA775 package
• Supports FSB 1600* (OC)/1333/1066/800 MHz
• Support VRD 11.1 standard
      
Chipset
• Intel® P45 Chipset
- Supports FSB 800/1066/1333/1600* (OC) MHz
• Intel® ICH10R Chipset
- Hi-Speed USB (USB2.0) controller, 480Mb/sec, up to 12 ports
- 6 SATAII ports with transfer rate up to 3Gb/s
- PCI Master v2.3, I/O APIC
- ACPI 2.0 compliant
- Serial ATA RAID 0/1/5/10
- Integrated AHCI controller

Front Side Bus
1600/1333/1066/800 MHz           

Main Memory
• Supports four unbuffered DIMM of 1.5 Volt DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600* (OC) SDRAM, 8GB Max (P45 Diamond)
• Supports four unbuffered DIMM of 1.8 Volt DDR2 800/1066*/1200* (OC) SDRAM, 16GB Max (P45 Platinum)

Storage
• One Ultra DMA 66/100/133 IDE controller integrated in JMicron® 363
- Supports PIO, Bus Master operation modes
- Can connect up to two Ultra ATA drives
• SATAII controller integrated in ICH10R/JMicron® 362/363 chipest
- Up to 3Gb/s transfer speed
- Supports six SATAII ports by ICH10R
- Supports two SATAII ports by JMicron 363, support SATA RAID 0/1/JBOD
- Supports one eSATA port by JMicron 362 (two eSATA ports on P45 Diamond)
- Supports AHCI controller with SATA RAID 0/1/5/10 by ICH10R

Expansion Slots
• Two PCI Express x16 slots (PCI Express Bus SPEC V2.0 compliant; supports CrossFire Technology)
- When using two PCIE x16 slots, the PCIE x16 lanes will auto arrange from x16/ x0 to x8 x8.
• Two PCI Express x1 slots. (support PCI Express Bus specification v1.0a compliant)
• Two 32-bit v2.3 master PCI bus slots.
- Support 3.3v/5v PCI bus interface.

Audio
• Creative® SB X-Fi Xtreme H/W Audio Card (P45 Diamond)
- 24-bit / 96KHz audio quality
- 100dB SNR clarity
- Up to 7.1ch EAX 5.0 Surround Sound
• Chipset integrated by Realtek® ALC888/888T (P45 Platinum)
- Flexible 8-channel audio with jack sensing
- Compliant with Azalia 1.0 Spec
- Meet Microsoft Vista Premium spce
- Supports VoIP Card (for ALC888T only)

IEEE1394
• JMicron® 381 chipset (P45 Diamond), VIA® VT6308 chipset (P45 Platinum)
- Supports up to two 1394 ports. (Rear panel x1, pinheader x1)
- Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps

LAN
• Supports PCI Express LAN 10/100/1000 Fast Ethernet by Realtek 8111C

ATI CrossFire
Supports ATI CrossFire graphics cards (x8, x8)

On-Board Peripherals
• ATX 24-Pin power connector
• 8-pin ATX 12V power connector
• 4-pin ATX 12V VGA connector
• 5x FAN connectors
• Front panel connector
• 1x chasis intrusion connector
• 1x serial port pinheader
• 3x USB 2.0 connectors (2x on P45 Diamond)
• 1x Floppy disk drive connector
• 8x Serial ATAII connectors
• 1x ATA133 connector
• 2x HW-OC FSB jumpers 
• 1x GreenPower Genie connector
• 1x Reset Button
• 1x Power Button
• 1x TPM module connector 
• CD-in connector (P45 Platinum only)
• Front panel audio connector (P45 Platinum only)
• SPDIF-Out connector (P45 Platinum only)

Back Panel I/O Ports
• 1x Clear CMOS button
• 1x PS/2 Keyboard
• 1x PS/2 Mouse
• 1x eSATA port (2 ports on P45 Diamond)
• 1x IEEE1394 port
• 6x USB 2.0 ports (8 ports on P45 Diamond)
• 1x RJ45 LAN Jack (2 jacks on P45 Diamond)
• 1x 6-in-1 audio jack (*P45 Platinum only)
• 1x Optical SPDIF-out (*P45 Platinum only)
     *P45 Diamond comes with X-Fi Audio card
  
BIOS
• The mainboard BIOS provides "Plug & Play" BIOS which detects the peripheral devices and
expansion cards of the board automatically.
• The mainboard provides a Desktop Management Interface(DMI) function which records your
mainboard specifications.

Dimensions
• 30.5cm(L) x 24.5cm(W) ATX Form Factor
      
Mounting
9 mounting holes


   
 MSI P45 Platinum Bundle Contents  MSI P45 Diamond Bundle Contents
   

An array of cables and brackets comes bundled with each motherboard.  Red, rounded IDE and floppy cables provide connections for older drive types, with SATA power cables and data cables making up the rest.  As there are six SATA connectors on board, MSI should have gone the extra distance to get two more cables into the Platinum package, as they had done with the Diamond.  External USB and Firewire ports come on a single bracket, as well as a CrossFire link cable, a labeled I/O shield, and the M-Connector - a ease-of-use adapter similar in name and function to ASUS' Q-Connector.  Separate discs with Vista and XP drivers as well as a HDD Backup disc provide the necessary installation software to be used with the manual. The media in the bundle remains mostly the same, with the inclusion of a disc of X-Fi drivers made specifically for the onboard chip found on MSI's motherboards.  Downloading a set of drivers from Creative's website simply will not do here.

     

The Diamond also ships with some additional pieces catering to its higher-end profile and price-point.  Here we found the optional Greenpower Genie included along with a cable for connecting the Genie to the board and a 24-pin power adapter.  Audio output comes from a new X-Fi Xtreme riser card, separating the circuitry from the motherboard and providing a "cleaner" sound.  Finally, to accommodate water cooling kits, the Diamond also comes with a Circu-Liquid adaptor kit, and finally an I/O shield with large IN and OUT holes for running hoses out to an external water-cooling kit. 

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MSI P45 Platinum Layout




 MSI P45 Platinum
 We're big "fans" of this cooler...


The P45 Platinum supports Core 2 Duo / Quad / Extreme CPUs with up to an unofficial 1600 MHz front side bus.  It also supports up to 16GB of DDR2 memory, running as high as 1200 MHz (overclocked).  While 32-bit OS users won't benefit from the extra memory, 64-bit users should be able to see some benefits from this added feature.  Unlike the higher-end X48 chipset, the P45s comes with a brand new Southbridge, the Intel ICH10/R. 

     
     

A small copper heatsink is placed over the Southbridge with a MSI-branded plate on top that blocks the ridges of the heatsink, possibly slightly hindering heat dissipation as a result.  Two heatpipes lead away from here towards the Circu-Pipe 2 structure in the middle of the board, near the Northbridge.  Three other pipes also join here, running from heatsinks placed around the CPU sockets, although the one marked with DrMOS also receives some extra cooling via an opening in the I/O shield at the back.  A large copper block sits directly on top of the Northbridge, transferring heat away from the chip and into the pipes as well.  Like a work of art, the copper pipes arc upward and outward culminating in a five-bladed fan.

 

     

The 8-pin power connector lies up in the corner closest to the CPU socket, tucked in up and around the heatpipes.  This location may not cause an issue for most people, but we found it a bit hard to reach when the P45 Platinum was installed in one of our Antec cases, which mount the PSU at the bottom of the chassis. DDR2 slots are finally(!) color-coded with channels in mind; green for channel 0 and orange for channel 1.  Along the front edge are the 24-pin ATX power and floppy drive connectors, as well as front angled yellow IDE port and six purple SATA ports.  Nearly hidden here was a connector for the GreenPower Genie - a three-pin connector for monitoring power efficiency.  Two more SATA ports in blue sit perpendicular to the board, controlled by the JMicron JMB363 controller, which also supports the IDE and eSATA as well.

     

USB, TPM (Trusted Platform Module), front panel, and IEEE-1394 headers are all easily accessible along the left-modt edge of the board, most of which can be used with the M-Connectors for quick setup.  Two PCI-E x16 slots, colored in blue, can be used in CrossFire setups although on the P45 chipset these slots will shift down to 8 lanes each instead of the full 16 lanes found in the high-end X48 boards.  The slots are placed far enough apart that the cooling of each card should not be comprimised.  There also are two each of PCI and PCI-E x1 slots providing for further expansion needs.  These slots may be lost, however, due to the width of certain graphic cards, especially when there are two cards installed.  Ample fan connectors allow for the setup of proper airflow within a chassis.  Two are in the middle, two towards the front, and two more are found by the DIMM slots, one of which is for the CPU cooler.  Retention clips found on the DIMM slots are very close to the PCI-E X16 slot, which may conflict with larger graphics cards, such as the 9800 GTX.

     

Rear I/O options include color-coded PS/2 ports for mouse and keyboard, six USB 2.0 ports, IEEE-1394, S/PDIF audio, eSATA, a Clear CMOS button, LAN jack, and six audio jacks.  Not shown in the pics, but obvious when the system is powered, LEDs are placed throughout the board, a few of which are used for diagnosing operational issues.  This new system replaces the LED brackets that MSI has long used in the past.  Power and reset buttons are also found on the board, but thet are not labeled as clearly as those on let's say one of ASUS' Republic of Gamers boards, and can easily be mistaken for each other.  Finally, overclock jumpers can be used in an old-school way to increase the FSB in order to overclock the CPU.  It's an odd step backward that we never really looked at when making our own attempts at overclocking.  We preferred to control everything through the fully-featured Cell Menu within the BIOS.

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MSI P45 Diamond Layout



 MSI P45 Diamond
 A girl's (or guys) best friend

Next we get to the top of the food chain in MSI's P45 offerings: the P45 Diamond. Although similar in some aspects to the P45 Platinum, there are some major differences in the layout of the components, especially regarding the cooling.

     
     

The same branded heatsink with protruding heatpipe is found over the SouthBridge.  A single heatsink with fins sits on the edge of the board on top of the MOSFETS placed there, but remains totally isolated from the others.  Near the line of solid capacitors is yet another copper heatsink, this one with heatpipes leading directly to the centralized block.  This setup is not without some necessary forward-thinking, however, as the system relies on a water-cooling system to be applied.  Without such device, we feel that the overall amount of cooling may suffer compared to the P45 Platinum, so buyer beware...
 

     

Power connectors are in the same locations, but other components have been moved about such as the SATA and IDE ports swapping positions.  One of the PCI-E X1 slots also moves to the inside of the main PCI-E graphics slots, with the two PCI slots still on the other side.  This slot should be used for the riser card with the X-Fi's output jacks, although this is not mandatory and any PCI-Express slot could be used instead.  As with the Platinum, there are six fan headers once again, with one moved towards the edge of the board.  Coloring has also been changed a bit, with blue and pink DDR3-keyed DIMM slots and maroon SATA ports supplied by the nearby JMicron JMB363 chip.  The JMicron JMB363 controller supports the IDE port and two SATA devices, while the JMB362 controls the two external eSATA ports.

     

Three buttons are located near the front corner, with larger writing on the PCB to identify them as power and reset buttons.  The third button is shown in the manual, but its use is not covered.  LEDs are placed everywhere, lighting up the board when powered and can be used to diagnose problems with the setup, although the manual still must be referred to decipher the problem.

     

The PCI-E slots that will be used for graphics cards are once again colored in shades of blue, with the spacing between the two optimal for multi-card use.  Rear I/O options, however, get a facelift, sporting two PS/2 ports, 8 USB 2.0 ports, 2 LAN jacks, 2 eSATA ports, a single IEEE-1394 port, and the ever-useful Clear CMOS button.  With the additional JMicron chip, MSI has offered an additional eSATA port over the Platinum version.  Also, with the use of the X-Fi riser card for onboard audio output, MSI was able to tack on two additional USB ports and another LAN jack.  And who doesn't want extras like that?

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BIOS Options & Overclocking


 

MSI sticks at what works best with both of these boards, and that's a mostly standard AMI BIOS. The menus are simple and uncluttered, and you don't need to be a rocket-scientist to figure out what most of the sections are referring to.   The main menu lists these sections in more or less the order you'll want to run through, from standard and advanced BIOS features, to power management and monitoring information, and finally to GreenPower and the Cell Menu (ok, the last one might not be as intuitive unless you've worked with MSI boards before).

     

In the beginning, you'll want to quickly run through the Standard CMOS Features if only just to enter in the correct date and time, and make sure the right number of drives are listed, and in the correct port.  Advanced BIOS Features aren't so much advanced as they are different, in that here you can decide whether or not you want one of the showy characters to appear as opposed to the POST information, order the boot sequence of your drives, and possibly enable or disable features such as HPET (High Precision Event Timers), TPM (Trusted Computing), or some CPU tweaks like Execute Bit Support and setting the maximum CPUID Value Limit.

     

Green is in, or so we've been told, and MSI's P45 boards come with not only the standard Power Management Setup screen allowing the user to setup ACPI standby states and wakeup events, but with a new Green Power screen used when the Genie is installed.  The Genie gets installed between the PSU and motherboard and with the GreenPower Center application monitors the power usage of three main areas, CPU, DDR, and MCH, in order to control fan usage.  This results in more effective heat dissipation as well as more efficient power usage.

Overclocking the MSI Platinum and Diamond
Getting out what you put into it

     

The Cell Menu is where all the fine-tuning gets done, especially when it gets time to overclock the boards.  D.O.T. is short for Dynamic Overclocking Technology, developed as part of the Dual Core Cell Technology found in the Cell Menu.  It is load-balanced so that the system will enhance system performance when needed, but return to default settings when at idle.  Steps 1 through 3 can be set manually from a tame 1% overclock to a maximum setting of 20%.

     

The Front Side Bus (FSB) speed is entered in directly ranging anywhere between 133 MHz and 800 MHz with the new CPU and DRAM frequencies updated dynamically on-screen.  CPU ratio can also be set when SpeedStep is disabled to attempt even higher FSB settings than usually possible. Memory ratio dividers allow the user to keep the memory speeds in check while we raise the CPU speed, and the Memory-Z pages display the SPD settings of each DIMM installed.  Finally Disabling Spread Spectrum helps prevent jitters from locking up the CPU.  There are plenty of voltage options available, with grey defining default or "safe" settings, white as "high-performance", and red as "not recommended".

Here are some of the BIOS voltage ranges...

CPU Voltage:
DRAM Voltage:
FSB Voltage:
MCH Voltage:
ICH Voltage:
0.9675V-1.9175V (0.010V steps)
1.428V-3.324V (0.012V steps)
0.89V-2.47V (0.010V steps)
0.728V-2.624V (0.012V steps)
0.56V-3.41V (0.030V steps)


Overclocking began with the P45 Platinum, and we began with 10 MHz bumps of the FSB.  We quickly flew past some of our recent attempts with a few X48 boards we had tested.  At 395 MHz, we noticed that even though the CPU Voltage had been left at AUTO in the BIOS, CPU-Z reported that voltages were being raised automatically to 1.4V. After two failed POSTs, the board rebooted a third time going into Windows.  CPU-Z now reported an increase in voltage to 1.44V which had stabilized the system.  Along the way we had to continually alter the memory to FSB ratio all the way down to 1:1 so that the memory would not be affected.

At 530 MHz, we found that we could not get the system to work, with warnings that something had failed and the system needed to be restored, no POST, or even having the BIOS lock up.  On the very next boot, the board cycled four times on and off and then allowed us back into the BIOS to change the settings. Our final result was a 525 MHz overclock of the FSB, 3.68 GHz for the CPU with the memory running at 1050 MHz using a 1:1 ratio.

   

MSI P45 Diamond Overclock
FSB: 518 MHz   CPU: 3.62 GHz

MSI P45 Platinum Overclock:
FSB: 526 MHz   CPU: 3.68 GHz


With the similarities between the two BIOS, we jumped right in with an aggressive overclock of 450 MHz on the P45 Diamond and immediately met with a blank screen.  After clearing the CMOS, every attempt at getting back into the BIOS was met with a "WAIT..." screen that never changed.  After some research, we found that the issue was to be fixed in a later BIOS, so we updated to version 1.5 from MSI's website. 

We started again, a bit slower now and moved on up to 425 MHz, where again we could not continue, regardless of of the settings or tweaks we applied.  Hearing of "dead zones" on some boards, we decided to try a large jump forwards and found we were able to get in at 475 MHz with no other changes from default settings other than the FSB and memory ratio.  From here, it was mostly straightforward until we reached a high point of a 518 MHz FSB, 3.62 GHz for the CPU and memory running at 1034 MHz using the 1:1 ratio.

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Test Systems and PCMark Vantage

 

How we configured our test systems:

When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set memory timings for DDR2-1066 with 5-5-5-18 timings or DDR3-1066 with 7-7-7-20 timings. The hard drive was then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

 HotHardware's Test Systems
 Intel Inside

System 1:

MSI P45 Platinum
(Intel P45 Chipset)

Core 2 Duo E6550
(2.33GHz - Dual-Core) 

2x1GB OCZ Reaper PC2 9200
CL 5-5-5-18 DDR2-1150

GeForce 8800 GTS 512
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10

7,200 RPM SATAII

Windows Vista Ultimate
INTEL INF Update v9.0.0.1009
NVIDIA Forceware v175.19

System 2:

MSI P45 Diamond
(Intel P45 Chipset)

Core 2 Duo E6550
(2.33GHz - Dual-Core)

2x1GB Super Talent PC3-8500F
CL 7-7-7-20 DDR3-1066

GeForce 8800 GTS 512
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
7,200 RPM SATAII

Windows Vista Ultimate
INTEL INF Update v9.0.0.1009
NVIDIA Forceware v175.19



 Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmarkvantage/

For our first round of benchmarks, we ran all of the modules built into Futuremark's PCMark Vantage test suite which was updated using the November 2007 Hotfix.  Vantage is a new Windows Vista-only benchmarking tool that we've incorporated into our arsenal of tests here at HotHardware.  Here's how Futuremark positions their new benchmarking tool:

"The PCMark Suite is a collection of various single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics and HDD test sets with the focus on Windows Vista application tests. Tests have been selected to represent a subset of the individual Windows Vista Consumer scenarios. The PCMark Suite includes CPU, Graphics, Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and a subset of Consumer Suite tests."

The overall PCMark Vantage score is derived from the subset of individual scenarios and suite tests, calculated in total "PCMarks".  Here are the overall results:

Our testing of the two MSI boards starts off a little bit on the down side, as they posted the second and third lowest overall PCMark Vantage scores.  Our only NVIDIA nForce board in the bunch, the ASUS Striker II Formula was in dead last, a good 30-40 Marks behind them.  However, other ASUS boards including one using a P35 chipset posted higher overall scores, with the X48-driven Rampage Formula beating out MSI's duo by a 4 percent margin. 


"Our memories are often kept in digital form. Here, large digital photos in HD Photo format are stretched, flipped and rotated using the CPU. Plenty of system memory is highly beneficial for manipulating large images. Importing digital photos to Windows Photo Gallery is where a high performance HDD shines. More and more image manipulation is being done using the GPU, enabling instantaneous color correction, sharpening and softening of images. Home video editing with Windows Movie Maker can be very time-consuming – unless you have a high performance HDD. Home videos recorded on digital video cameras are sometimes transcoded and transferred to a portable media player. High definition videos are often archived in media servers. It may, however, be handy to have them transcoded and transferred to a portable media player. A fast CPU with many cores can handle transcoding swiftly." - Futuremark

The PCMark Vantage "Memories" suite includes the following tests:

Memories 1 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU image manipulation and HDD picture import
Memories 2 - Two simultaneous threads, GPU image manipulation and HDD video editing
Memories 3 - Video Transcoding: DV to portable device
Memories 4 - Video Transcoding: media
server archive to portable device

"Memories" finds the boards right in the thick of things - the P45 Diamond earned the second highest spot behind the Rampage Formula, yet the P45 Platinum fell as low as fourth. One of the boards the Platinum beat out was the P35-based Blitz Formula, but it also manages to outrun the technically superior X48-class board from Intel, the DX48BT2.  Still, differences between the boards are quite slight.


"High definition TV broadcasts and movies have arrived. Playing an HD DVD with additional HD content, a Blu-ray movie, or watching HDTV smoothly (while making a backup of an HD DVD by transcoding to a media server or transcoding from a media server archive to a portable media player) requires lots of computing and graphical power. Windows Media Center with a high performance HDD can handle simultaneous video recording, time-shifting, and streaming to an Extender for Windows Media Center, such as Xbox 360™."

Vantage TV and Movies suite includes the following tests:

TV and Movies 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback: HD DVD w/ additional lower bitrate HD content from HDD, as downloaded from the net
TV and Movies 2 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback, HD MPEG-2: 19.39 Mbps terrestrial HDTV playback
TV and Movies 3 - HDD Media Center
TV and Movies 4 - Video transcoding: media server archive to portable device, Video playback, HD MPEG-2: 48 Mbps Blu-ray playback


 

The TV and Movies suite brings us right back to the original results with both MSI boards back at the rear of the pack again.  The only difference is that this time it's the P45 Diamond placing last overall instead of the P45 Platinum.  Again, we noted that the scores were actually quite close for the most part, with four of the boards placing within 10 points of each other.  The only two boards to truly differentiate themselves here were the ASUS RoG boards: the Rampage Formula and Striker II Formula, using both Intel and NVIDIA chipsets.

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PCMark Vantage (continued)

 

We continue our test coverage with the remaining modules from the comprehensive PCMark Vantage suite of benchmarks.   Unlike the majority of our benchmarks, Vantage takes nearly and hour and a half to complete its round of tests, hitting upon all facets of hardware and drivers to come up with its final results.

 Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Synthetic Benchmarks

Courtesy, Futuremark:  "Gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment for all ages. Today’s games demand high performance graphics cards and CPUs to avoid delays and sluggish performance while playing. Loading screens in games are yesterday’s news. Streaming data from an HDD in games – such as Alan Wake™ – allows for massive worlds and riveting non-stop action. CPUs with many cores give a performance advantage to gamers in real-time strategy and massively multiplayer games. Gaming Suite includes the following tests: "

Gaming 1 - GPU game test
Gaming 2 - HDD: game HDD
Gaming 3 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU game test,
Data decompression: level loading
Gaming 4 - Three simultaneous threads, GPU game test, CPU game test, HDD: game HDD

 

Vantage's Gaming suite took an unexpected turn, with the MSI P45 Diamond suddenly leading the pack - and by a decidedly large margin.  While each of the other boards hovered mostly nearly the lower 3900s (with the P45 Platinum hitting the low point at 3910), the Diamond was the only board to make it into the 4000s.  With a 111 point lead over its brethren, it would seem that this board would be the better of the two for gaming purposes. 



"Online music shops have changed the way we purchase music, letting us buy exactly the tracks we want, right from home. Cataloguing your music library is a breeze for fast and powerful HDDs. The most common audio file formats decrease your music’s audio quality which is undesirable. Luckily, lossless audio file formats are becoming more popular. Transcoding from non-compressed audio to a lossless format is heavily taxing on the CPU. Transcoding your audio files from one format to another is much quicker and easier using high performance CPUs."

Vantage Music suite includes the following tests:

Music 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Web page rendering – w/ music shop content, Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player
Music 2 - Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless
Music 3 - Audio transcoding: MP3 -> WMA
Music 4 - Two simultaneous threads, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player



Similar to the Gaming suite results, we find the two MSI boards at the opposite ends of our testing spectrum.  The P45 Diamond once again took the lead, although this time it was more hotly contested with the Blitz Formula and Stirker II Formula right on its heels.  The P45 Platinum, on the other hand, was in a closer grouping with the lower third of boards, both of which just happened to be X48-based.


"To compress and encrypt all personal information is vital for safe computing. Emails are the most important type of communication, whether it is personal or business. To keep the workflow smooth and enjoyable, high performance CPUs and HDDs are recommended. Reading news online while having your cup of coffee is quality-time. Often one site isn’t enough, so tabbed browsing is a perfect solution for news-hungry people. Spyware is very common on systems without protection against it, letting Windows Defender scan & protect your system is recommended. Voice over IP – with Skype™ or Windows Live Messenger – is very popular these days. Encrypted messaging for home and workplace gives additional security."

Vantage Communications suite includes the following tests:

Communications 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Data compression, Web page rendering: graphics content, 1024x768, windowed
Communications 2 - Three simultaneous threads. Web page rendering: open various news pages from IE 7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one, Data decryption: CNG AES CBC, HDD: Windows Defender
Communications 3 - Windows Mail: Search
Communications 4  - Two simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA - to simulate VOIP

 

Performance in the Communications suite of tests was varied, ranging from a hgih of 3362 with the Intel DX48BT2 to a nadir of 3207 with one of ASUS' boards, the Striker II Formula.  As for MSI, the boards are evenly matched with each other, and as a whole find themselves smack dab in the middle of the pack.


"Starting various applications can take a long time – unless you have a high performance HDD. Editing text with WordPad is a breeze when done with fast CPUs and graphics cards. Often one site isn’t enough, so tabbed browsing is a perfect solution for highly productive people. Spyware is very common on systems without protection against it, letting Windows Defender scan & protect your system is recommended. Starting Windows Vista is a rather demanding task for the storage device, but a fast HDD will notably decrease the loading time. Our busy lives find us hard at work, balancing multiple tasks; with little time for breaks. It’s the same for our computers. Multiple tasks, running simultaneously, put your system under a lot of stress. Having a modern, up-to-date CPU, HDD, graphics card and board full of system memory increases your computer’s productivity and reduces your stress."

Vantage Productivity suite includes the following tests:

Productivity 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Text editing, HDD: application loading
Productivity 2 - Two simultaneous threads, Windows Contacts: search, HDD: Windows Defender
Productivity 3 - HDD: Windows Vista start-up
Productivity 4 - Three simultaneous threads, Windows Contacts: search, Windows Mail: Run Message Rules, Web page rendering: simultaneously open various pages from IE7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one.


 

Admittedly, both MSI boards come with the "gaming" tag and are geared towards frame-rate watching enthusiasts, but the productivity results are a bit distressing.  The P45 Diamond is at rock-bottom, well below the other cards and the P45 Platinum as well.  The Platinum at least is holding its own with two other boards, the Intel DX48BT2 and ASUS Striker II Formula.  However, all of these are well behind the leader - the ASUS Blitz Formula just nipping at 3600 points.

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POV-Ray & Cinebench Testing



 

POV-Ray, or the Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer, is an open source tool for creating realistically lit 3D graphics artwork. We tested with POV-Ray's standard included benchmarking model on all of our test machines and recorded the scores reported for each.  Results are measured in pixels-per-second (PPS)throughput.


POV Ray Performance
Details: www.povray.org

  


Both of MSI's board fared very well with the POV-Ray Ray Tracing benchmark, posting the two highest scores with the P35-based ASUS Blitz Formula in a close third.  The results have to be seen as a little bit of a surprise, since both the P45 and P35 boards are considered more mainstream, and come with lower prices than the Intel X48- or NVIDIA nForce 780i-based boards.

 Cinebench R10 Performance Tests
 http://www.maxon.net/pages/download/cinebench_e.html

Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D. Cinema 4D from Maxon is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.  It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.  This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below, listed in seconds.

And yet, even when we look at the Cinebench encoding times, we again see both of MSI's P45 boards leading the way.  The single-threaded encoding times were mostly close with about 13 points separating the lead MSI P45 Diamond from the Intel DX48BT2, but the Platinum board really saw a boost during the multi-threaded pass.  It's performance dwarfed the Diamond's by 42 points and was 85 points better than Intel's board.

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3DMark06 and LAME MT MP3 Encoding



3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering.  The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.

 Futuremark 3DMark06 - CPU Test
 Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

 


The CPU performance test resulted in not only close scores for the two MSI P45 boards, but all the boards used for comparisons as well.  Oddly, the top score came from the oldest board, the ASUS Blitz Formula using the P35 chipset - just what the MSI P45 boards are replacing.  Yet, these same boards outran the higher-end X48 boards with a 1-10 Mark difference.  Between the two, the Platinum board has the slightest of edges.

 LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test

 Converting a Large WAV To MP3

LAME MT is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications. In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file and converted it to the MP3 format using this multi-thread capable application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Here, shorter times equate to better performance. 

 


There's little to be gleaned from the LAME MT Encoding results.  Whether using a single threaded pass or a multi-threaded one, the times from start to finish almost always turned out to be exactly the same, with the two ASUS boards off by a second during one of the runs.

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Crysis & ET: Quake Wars Framerates

 

Benchmarks with Crysis SP Demo and ET: Quake Wars
DirectX 10 and OpenGL Gaming Performance

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with the Crysis Single Player demo and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. When testing processors with Crysis or ET:QW, we drop the resolution to 800x600, and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible.  However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU. 

In our gaming benchmarks, we found that the two MSI P45-based boards lagged behind somewhat when testing Crysis, yet led the pack in ET: Quake Wars.  We also noted that between boards of the same type (X48, P45), those using DDR2 memory typically fared a frame per second or better when compared to another board using DDR3.  With both sets of RAM running at 1067 MHz, the extra latency of the DDR3 sticks just manages to hold these boards back that little bit.  Couple that with prices of DDR2 hitting all time lows and it's still tempting to stick with boards that use that particular type of memory.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

 

Performance Summary: Taken as a tandem, MSI's P45 boards offered up a good gaming experience and the lead all the other boards in ET: Quake Wars, although Crysis results were a bit more mixed.  MSI's boards also really shined during our encoding tests, posting the fastest times in most cases.  Some of the PCMark Vantage suites, however, found both P45's headed towards the rear of the class, with the lowest scores in Productivity, TV and Movie playback, and Communications recorded out of any the boards we tested. 


MSI P45 Platinum

The P45 Platinum is the cheaper of the two boards by nearly $100, but by its performance you wouldn't guess that.   Paired with cheaper, easily attainable DDR2, the Platinum typically matched the Diamond in each of our benchmarks, and was usually even a frame or so faster during our gaming runs.  With the price of DDR2 nowadays, it's a less-costly way to get 4GB or more of memory installed into your system for even more performance.

We're also impressed by the Circu-Pipe 2 - possibly by the aesthetics of the heat pipes and fins if not solely by the cooling performance itself.  The overall layout and color scheme leaves little to be improved upon, including MSI finally getting it right with coordinating the DIMM channels.  There's a few minor placement oddities, like the 8-pin ATX power plug placed high in the corner and the proximity of the DIMM slots to the primary graphics slot, but they don't detract from the overall impression.  Overclocking the Platinum was a great experience, theoretically enabled by the newly introduced DrMOS which, along with shielded chokes and solid capacitors keep temperatures lower than previous generation MSI motherboards.

  • Copper heatpipes culminating in a work of art for a cooler
  • Uses inexpensive DDR2
  • Good overclocker
  • Hardware-OC jumpers (in 2008?)
  • CrossFire kicks back to x8 for each card 
  • Some minor layout issues

 


MSI P45 Diamond

The P45 Diamond is MSI's high-end offering with this chipset, and not only does it come with some better features than the Platinum, but a higher-price as well.  Currently selling around $250-275, it's one of the highest P45 motherboards out there, outpricing some X48 boards as well.  Now, you could turn around and point at the inclusion of the X-Fi riser card and waterblock and point that there's money well spent, and well, yes, we would have to agree with you, at least half of the time.  The X-Fi audio is one of the best, non-discrete, options we have listened to as we attested back in the P6N Diamond review.   However, the cooling actually seems to be lacking the full setup seen on the Platinum, and then you'd still have to go out and purchase a water-cooling kit, such as the Thermaltake BigWater 760i or Corsair Nautilus, each costing another $150 or so. 

Still, the performance was good overall, not necessarily better than the Platinum or boards using comparative chipsets, but definitely on the same level.  Overclocking was a bit more of a project, hampered by finicky BIOS issues and "dead zones" where the boards simply wouldn't post, and the end result was just shy of what we attained on the Platinum.


  • Comes with waterblock pre-installed
  • Creative X-Fi Audio onboard 
  • GreenPower Genie and ControlCenter provide better power efficiency
  • Higher-priced than many other motherboards
  • Still might need external water-cooling kit 
  • Isolated heatsinks

Our Final Verdict:  Either of these two boards from MSI would make a great addition to a mid-level PC, but of the two, we like the value price and use of cheaper, less-latency DDR2 that the MSI P45 Platinum provides.  If you want that higher-end audio, you can always use the money saved on a discreet sound card.



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