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Intel P965 Shoot-Out: Asus P5B-E vs. MSI P965 Platinum
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Date: Jun 01, 2007
Section:Motherboards
Author: Robert Maloney
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Introduction

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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.

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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.

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ASUS P5B-E Specifications

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Asus P5B-E Box Front
ASUS P5B-E

The P5B-E motherboard supports Intel Core 2 processors. It features the Intel P965 chipset and supports DDR2 800MHz dual-channel memory.  With its 8 GB max capacity DDR2 800 dual channel memory system architecture, PCI-E X16 graphic card slot, six expansion slots (3 x PCI-E X1 + 3 x PCI), and nine ATA connectors (8 x SATA + 1 x PATA), it is an excellent option for a mid-range gaming platform, with extreme flexibility and room for a lot of power.  ASUS' exclusive innovative tools – AI NOS™, AI Gear and AI Nap – allow users to adjust operation speed according to their specific needs, creating a cool and stable platform that delivers extreme performance, minimum noise and maximum power saving.  The motherboard and its packaging comply with the European Union's Restriction on the use of Hazardous Substances (RoHS). This is in line with the ASUS vision of creating environment-friendly and recyclable products and packaging to safeguard consumers' health while minimizing the impact on the environment.

Box Back    Green    Box Features

ASUS P5B-E Specifications
Looks aren't everything

CPU

  • LGA775 socket for Intel Core 2 Extreme/Core 2 Duo/Pentium Extreme/Pentium D/Pentium 4/Celeron D Processors
  • Intel Quad-Core CPU Ready
  • Compatible with Intel 05B/05A/06 processors
  • Intel Hyper-Threading Technology Ready

Chipset

  • Intel P965 
  • Intel ICH8R

Front Side Bus

  • 1066/800/533 MHz

Memory

  • 4 x DIMM, max. 8GB
  • DDR2 800 / 667 / 533 MHz, non-ECC, un-buffered memory
  • Dual channel memory architecture

Expansion Slots

  • 2 x PCI-E x16 slots, support x16 SLI (blue)
  • 3 x PCI-E x1 slot
  • 3 x PCI 2.2 slots

Audio

  • ADI® 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC
  • Support Jack-Sensing, Enumeration, Multi-streaming and Jack-Retasking
  • Coaxial / Optical S/PDIF out ports at back I/O
  • ASUS Noise Filter

Storage

ICH8R Southbridge

  • 6 x SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports
  • Intel Matrix Storage Technology supports  RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10

JMicron® JMB363 PATA and SATA controller

  • 1 x UltraDMA 133/100/66 for up to 2 PATA devices
  • 1 x Internal SATA 3.0 Gb/s port
  • 1 x External SATA 3.0 Gb/s port (SATA On-the-Go)
  • Support SATA RAID 0, 1 and JBOD (by 1x External SATA & 1x Internal SATA)

LAN

  • Attansic® L1 PCI-E Gigabit LAN controller

FireWire

  • VIA® VT6307 1394a controller supports 2xIEEE1394a ports (one at midboard; one at back panel)

Back Panel I/O Ports

  • 1 x Optical + 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output
  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard port
  • 1 x PS/2 Mouse port
  • 1x Parallel Port 
  • 1 x LAN (RJ45) ports
  • 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 1 x IEEE1394a
  • 1x External SATA 
  • 8-Channel Audio I/O

 

 

Internal I/O Connectors

  • 7 x Serial ATA 3Gb/s connectors
  • 4 x Fan connectors (1 x CPU, 1 x Power Supply, 2 x Chassisl)
  • 1 x IDE connector for two devices
  • 1 x FDD connector
  • 3 x USB 2.0/1.1 connectors (support 6 ports)
  • 1 x Azalia Digital Header
  • 1 x S/PDIF output connector
  • 1 x Front Panel Audio connector
  • 1 x CD-audio In 
  • 1 x IEEE1394a connector
  • 1 x COM connector 
  • 1 x Chassis intrusion connector
  • 24-pin ATX power connector
  • 4-pin ATX 12V power connector

Accessories

  • 4 x SATA cables
  • 2 x SATA power cables for 4 devices
  • 1 x 2-port USB2.0 module
  • 1 x IDE cable
  • 1 x FDD cable
  • 1 x I/O Shield
  • 1 x ASUS Q-Connector Kit (USB, 1394, system panel)
  • User's manual
  • Driver/Utility CD

Software

  • Drivers
  • ASUS PC Probe II
  • ASUS Update
  • ASUS AI Suite
  • Anti-virus software (OEM Version)  

BIOS

  • 8 Mb Flash ROM, AMI BIOS, PnP, DMI2.0, WfM2.0, SM BIOS 2.3, ACPI 2.0a, ASUS EZ Flash 2, ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3

Form Factor

  • ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9"(30.5cm x 22.9cm)

 

Special Features

ASUS Quiet Thermal Solution

  • ASUS AI Gear
  • ASUS AI Nap
  • ASUS Q-Fan 2

ASUS Crystal Sound

  • ASUS Noise Filter

ASUS EZ DIY

  • ASUS Q-Connector
  • ASUS O.C. Profile
  • ASUS CrashFree BIOS 3
  • ASUS EZ Flash 2

 Overclocking Protection 

  • ASUS C.P.R. (CPU Parameter Recall) 

Media    Cables   Q-Connector

Keeping with the relatively spartan outlook for the Asus P5B-E, the bundle is a bit on the short side.  A single User Guide with accompanying driver/utilities CD provides the necessary information and software used to get a system running, although a RAID setup will require a driver disk that is not included.  Four SATA cables and two SATA power cables (with two connections each) as well as single ribbon-type IDE and floppy cables provide the means to connect various drives.  A single bracket with two USB 2.0 ports and I/O shield are the only item installed on the backplane.  Something called the Q-Connector as well as two other headers are the only non-standard items present in the bundle.  The Q-connector is a handy little tool that creates a bridge between the front panel pins on the motherboard and the cables.  The other two headers are used for USB and FireWire connections, but they prove to be much less useful as their orientation is already set.

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ASUS P5B-E: Board & Software

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ASUS P5B-E
ASUS P5B-E Motherboard

The Asus P5B-E is much more understated than the MSI P965 Platinum in both appearance and features.  The color scheme harkens back to years past, where plain green or copper colored PCBs were the norm.  The overall layout is clean with a neat assortment of slots and colored dimm slots, and the majority of the connector pins are focused alongside the edges of the board.  The CPU socket area is completely surrounded by small capacitors that won't hinder the installation of larger heatsinks, such as the Zalman CNPS7000B, which radiates outwards like a mushroom cloud.

Heatsinks    CPU Socket Area   Clearance

Like the MSI P965 Platinum used in this review for comparison, the board is passively cooled with a hefty aluminum heatsink placed over the P965 North Bridge, and a much smaller profiled heatsink over the ICH8R South Bridge.  There's no special contraptions such as ASUS' own Stack Cool 2 used on the P5WD2 which removes heat to the underside of the board, nor the heatpipes found on P5WDH.  Here it's all about getting performance while keeping prices low and maintaining a "green" profile - that is, the board is environmentally friendly and uses recycleable components.

DIMM Slots    Fan Headers   Q-Connector

The two memory banks officially support up 8GB of DDR2-800 non-ECC, unbuffered RAM, and are color coded: yellow for the first channel and black for the second.  They are placed far from both the CPU socket and give plenty of clearance for longer graphic cards.  Seated directly at their side are two of the four fan headers, one for the CPU and the other for a system fan.  It's not really an ideal placement for a system fan header unless it is to be used with some of the active cooling kits for memory that have recently been introduced by Corsair or OCZ.  At the other end is where the Q-Connector for the front panel goes.  As you can see, the vertical writing on the bridge makes plugging in cables a no-brainer.

Slots    ICH8R   Floppy Drive Connector

The slots are arranged so that there are three PCI-Express x1 slots, one to the right of the main x16 slot and two to the far left.  Only one PCI-E x16 slot is included on the P5B-E, and it's colored in black to differentiate it from the rest.  With only one large slot, there's no way to install more than one video card into the P5B-E, thus limited its appeal as an enthusiast's board.  On the other hand, there are three PCI slots for installing a number of third-party cards.  One of these would get sacrificed, however, if installing a dual-slot graphics card.

Drive Connectors    JMicron Controller   Chips

The lower left corner places just about all of the drive connectors together, consisting of the six SATA ports from the ICH8R, and the IDE port from the JMicron JMB363 Controller.  A floppy drive header is also available, turned on its side to prevent cables from getting tangled.  Oddly, there is a seventh SATA port available, but placed far in the upper left corner.  Its placement could require some tricky cabling up and around the USB, Serial, and FireWire headers that are placed on the edge of the board there. 


ASUS Update    ASUS AI Suite

Asus Update was used to update the BIOS to the latest revision available.  At first, it would connect to FTP site that was listed by default, but it never actually downloaded the ROM file.  We updated the software version without any change, however, we were able to choose another URL listed in a drop down menu, completed the download, and subsequently updated the BIOS.  The ASUS AI Suite consisted of a number of separate applications that are accessed by the click of a button, all the while displaying the temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds in a spiffy looking screen.

ASUS AI Booster    PC Probe

One of those applications happens to be ASUS AI Booster, and it allows you to overclock the CPU while in Windows.  As in the BIOS, CPU, Memory, and PCI-E frequencies can be modified but the tool lacks the fine tuning that one would find elsewhere.   As such, it is only good to use for small speed bumps before the system ultimately becomes unstable.  One way to keep track of the temps and voltages, however, is to use the PC Probe utility.  It can be customized to display as much, or little, information desired.

RAID Failure
When RAIDs go bad...

After completing all of the benchmarks and overclocked tests, in which the ASUS P5B-E was repeatedly stressed and restarted, we ran into an issue with the Intel Matrix Storage Manager where we completely lost a drive out of the RAID 0 configuration.  This occurred after a mere boot into Windows and then quick shut down, with no other issues that we noticed.  A similar issue occurred on the P965 Platinum, but we were able to recover from it.  On the Asus P5B-E, we were not as lucky and had to reformat the drive.  We then tested the drive using WD Diagnostics and found no hardware issues.  While we would like to chalk this up to an odd occurrence, the fact that it happened with both motherboards left us concerned about the possible loss of time and data when using RAID and overclocking on the ICH8R. 

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ASUS P5B-E: BIOS & Overclocking

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ASUS P5B-E: Exploring the BIOS
Overclocking Options Galore

The Asus P5B-E comes with an AMI BIOS that at first seems much more condensed then the version used on the MSI P965 Platinum.  Instead of arriving at a series of sections to choose from, this BIOS immediately displays the System Date and Time, whether or not a legacy diskette (read: floppy drive) is installed, and what drives are attached to the 6 SATA channels.  Clicking on each drive reveals more information such as Vendor and Size places the configuration settings at the bottom, most of which should be left at [Auto].  The IDE Configuration page controls the setup for the JMicron controller.  Finally, the System Information screen displays the current version of the BIOS, and some basic CPU and memory information.

Main BIOS Screen    IDE Configuration   Boot Priority

Hardware Monitor    CPU Settings   EZ Flash

Skipping over the Advanced section for the time being brought us to Power, which covers the ACPI status mode and tweaking the settings for power loss occurrences or when the system should be awakened by device activity.  Delving a bit futher into the Hardware Monitor brings us to a page that displays the current CPU and Motherboard temperatures as well as the voltages and fan speeds.  ASUS Q-Fan control may be enabled here, with automatically controls the fan speeds to find a nice balance between cooling and noise output.

Under 'Boot', the boot device priority is set from the first device preferred down to the fourth.  The boot settings determine whether or not to display a full screen image, which can be modified using ASUS MyLogo, and what messages may or may not appear depending on certain conditions.  To protect your BIOS settings, a supervisor and user password can be saved in this section as well. 'Tools' offers up two handy utilities that take the headache out of updating the BIOS and in overclocking the system.  Rather than the arcane boot from floppy method for updating the BIOS, all one needs to do with the P5B-E is enter the BIOS and access the file from a drive.  O.C. Profile lets the user save two differing overclocking configurations - perhaps one for the highest stable overclock and one for just squeezing a few extra frames without risking your components.

Jumperless    CPU Frequency   DRAM Frequency

PCI-E Frequency    DRAM Timings   O.C. Profiles

Of course, one still needs to go about overclocking the system to begin with, and that brings us back to the Advanced menu. This menu lists 6 different sections, the first of which is labeled 'Jumperfree Configuration'.  By default, AI Tuning and DRAM Frequency are both set to [Auto], but switch over to [Manual] and voila!  there are frequency and voltage options galore.  CPU Frequences range from 100MHz all the way up to 650MHz in 1MHz steps.  DRAM frequencies, on the other hand, are chosen from presets of 533, 667, 800, 889, and 1067MHz (although the last one is not officially supported).  PCI and PCI-Express bus speeds can also be locked down to prevent any damage to these devices while raising the bus speed.

Of course, hand in hand with raising the speeds would be the voltage settings, and there are more options here than we have seen with just about any other board.  These include the CPU VCore, FSB Termination, NB VCore, SB Vcore, and ICH Chipset voltages.  The CPU VCore voltage can be set from 1.2750V to 1.7000V in 0.0125V steps.  Memory voltage, originally limited to a few choices in the original bios and ending at 2.1V receives an upgrade here, with voltages as high as 2.45V in the latest revision.  The NB, SB, ICH, and FSB voltages have far fewer options, typically consisting of three or four choices, the highest of which are usually cautioned against as they may cause damage to the chipsets.

 CPU VCore Voltage   Memory Voltage   FSB Termination Voltage

 NB VCore Voltage   SB VCore   ICH Chipset Voltage

Outside of overclocking, the Advanced menu also contains a few tweaks for the CPU and Memory.  On the CPU Configuration screen, the BIOS automatically detects and sets each option, although these can be manually overwritten.  The same is true for the memory timings found under the North Bridge Chipset Configuration.  When left to detect the DRAM Timings by SPD, the memory will be set at the timings found in the EEPROM on each module.  Disabling this setting unlocks 10 new options from the standard timings to some more esoteric ones.  

ASUS P5B-E : Overclocking
An Overclocker's dream

We took a Core 2 E6300 processor and the ASUS P5B-E and set out to see if the great number of options in the BIOS would result in a great overclock as well.  We started out by raising the front side bus in 10MHz increments, while dropping the DRAM frequency down from DDR2-800 to DDR-667, but still at 4-4-4-12 timings.  At each step, we booted into Windows, ran a few benchmarks and if everything ran stable, moved up and onward.  We continued on like this up past the 300MHz mark without having to change any other settings in the BIOS.    

SANDRA CPU Performance

CPU-Z Motherboard Info

 SANDRA CPU Performance

 CPU-Z Overclocked Results

E6300 @ 3.19GHz

E6300 @ 3.19GHz

We had to raise the CPU voltage at 360MHz to 1.35V, but never touched it again after that until the system began failing around 460 MHz.  We could not run any benchmarks and system unstable at this point, even with additional voltage.  The DDR Voltage was raised along the way to 2.1V at 420MHz since our RAM was now over spec, running at 840MHz, and we also relaxed the timings to 5-5-5-15 to keep things in hand.  When we started having problems running benchmarks while in the mid 400's, the NB Voltage and FSB Voltage were bumped up a notch to increase stability.

The final, stable overclock we were able to reach and maintain a stable environment at was a 454MHz FSB, which comes out to a 3.19GHz clock speed - up 1.33GHz over default speeds.  That's nearly an extra third higher than the 1.86GHz that the Core 2 Duo E6300 is expected to run at.  Our gut feeling was that the P5B-E might have been able to reach even higher, but at 454MHz the RAM was running at 908MHz, and we believe that might have held us back. We ran a few benchmarks including SANDRA and the F.E.A.R. performance test to get a feel for what we accomplished.  The SANDRA results were great and getting up to 432fps in F.E.A.R. speaks for itself.

F.E.A.R. Overclocked Results
F.E.A.R. running at an avg. of 432fps!

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MSI P965 Platinum: Specifications

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MSI P965 Platinum Box Front
MSI P965 Platinum

Micro Star International (MSI), one of the more prominent motherboard manufacturers, formally launched their P965 series of motherboards based on the Intel P965 Express Chipset at Computex Taipei 2006. These motherboards are featured with all functions of the new generation Intel platform, and fully support the Core 2 Duo processor. The P965 Platinum, in particular, was one of the first P965 boards to support ATI CrossFire, which uses two discrete ATI Radeon graphic cards to optimize video performance.  The MSI P965 Platinum supports CPUs with FSB up to 1066 MHz, EIST and Intel Hyper-Threading technologies, PCI Express x 16 graphics interface and dual channel DDRII 533,667, 800 memory up to 8GB (DDR II 533,667) and 4GB (DDRII 800). The MSI P965 Platinum also supports Six (6) SATAII ports by ICH8R up to 300MB/sec transfer, 7.1 HD audio, PCI-E Gigabit LAN, IEEE 1394 and offers plenty of expansion opportunities.  In observance of environmentally friendly practices and awareness, all the components of P965 series motherboards are RoHS compliant, including the manufacturing process. The P965 series motherboards are made with high quality components only and will not cause environmental pollution after disposal.

Box Back    Core 2 Duo   Dual Core Cell

MSI P965 Platinum Specifications
Lean, mean, and green

CPU

  • Supports Socket 775 for Intel Core2 Extreme, Core2 Duo, Pentium 4 (Prescott, P4EE), Pentium D, Pentium XE/Celeron D processors in LGA 775 package
  • Supports Intel 05B/05A and 04B/04A processors
  • Supports EIST techonology
  • Supports Intel Hyper-Threading (HT) Technology
  • Supports Intel Dual Core Technology to 1066MHz and up

Chipset
Intel P965 Chipset

  • Support Dual channel DDR2 533/667/800 memory interface up to 8GB (with DDR2 800, memory only up to 4GB)
  • Support Dual PCI Express 16X interface with either 1x16 or 1x4 operation.
  • Supports PCI Express x 16 graphics interface.

Intel ICH8R Chipset

  • Integrated Hi-Speed USB 2.0 controller, 480Mb/sec, 8 ports
  • 6 Serial ATAII ports w/ transfer rate up to 3Gb/s and support RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10
  • PCI Master v 2.3, I/O ACPI 2.0 Compliant
  • Integrated AHCI controller

Front Side Bus

  • 1333/1066/800/533 MHz

Memory

  • Supports 4 unbuffered DIMM of 1.8 Volt DDR2 SDRAM
  • Supports up to 8GB memory size (with DDR2 800, memory only up to 4GB)
  • Support Dual Channel DDR2 533/677/800MHz and up

Expansion Slots

  • Two PCI Express 16x slots with 1x16 and 1x4 (yellow one) operations (PCI Express Bus SPEC V1.0a compliant)
  • 2 x PCI Express 1x slot
  • 2 x PCI 2.3 32-bit Master PCI Bus slots. (support 3.3v/5v PCI bus interface)


Audio

  • High Definition link controller integrated in Intel ICH8R chip
  • Audio codec Realtek 883
  • Compliance with Azalia 1.0 spec
  • Flexible 8 Ch. audio with jack sensing

Storage
One Ultra DMA IDE Controller in JMicron JMB361

  • Supports PIO, Bus Master operation modes
  • Can connect up to 2 Ultra ATA 133 drives

Serial ATAII controller integrated in ICH8R and JMicron JMB361

  • Up to 300MB/s transfer speed
  • Can connect up to 7 Serial ATA II drives (6 drives from ICH8R, 1 drive from JMB361)
  • Supports ACHI controller with SATAII RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 (ICH8R)
  • Supports SATAII hot plug

LAN
Realtek RTL8111B PCI-Express Gb LAN Controller

  • Supports 10/100/1000 Mb/s.
  • PCI-Express interface
  • Supports ACPI Power Management

IEEE 1394
VIA 6308P chipset

  • Supports up to two 1394 ports (Rear panel x1, front x2)
  • Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps

Back Panel I/O Ports

  • 1 x Coaxi al S/PDIF Output
  • 1 x Parallel Port
  • 1 x Serial Port (COM1)
  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard port
  • 1 x PS/2 Mouse port
  • 1 x LAN (RJ45) ports
  • 4 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 1 x IEEE 1394 port
  • 6 x Audio ports

Internal I/O Connectors

  • ATX 24-Pin power connector
  • 4-pin ATX 12V power connector
  • CPU / System / Power / NB FAN connectors
  • 1 x CD-in connector
  • Clear CMOS jumper
  • Chassis intrusion switch connector
  • IrDA infrared module header
  • Serial port connector
  • Front panel audio connector
  • Front panel connector
  • 3 x USB 2.0 connector support additional 6 ports
  • 1 x Floppy disk drive connector
  • 7 x Serial ATAII connectors
  • 1 x ATA133 connector
  • 1 x IEEE1394 connector support additional 1 port
  • 1 x D-Bracket 2 pinheader

Accessories

  • 4 x SATA cables
  • 2 x SATA power cable
  • 1 x 2-port IEEE1394a module
  • 1 x IDE cable (rounded)
  • 1 x FDD cable (rounded)
  • 1 x I/O Shield
  • 1 x D-Bracket 2 
  • Driver/Utilities CD
  • User's manual
  • Quick Installation Guide

Software

  • Drivers
  • MSI DigiCell
  • MSI Dual Core Center
  • MSI Live Update

Form Factor

  • ATX Form Factor, 12"x 9.65"(30.5cm x 24.5cm)

Special Features

MSI DigiCell

  • Extend mainboard network function
  • Support onboard audio
  • Support MEGA Stick MP3 player settings

MSI Dual Core Center

  • Key components status hardware monitor
  • Monitor the Dual Core CPU each unit status
  • D.O.T. Technology up to 12% improvement
  • Optimize System status define
  • Auto speed up with system loading change
  • 5 environment modes and 3 user defined modes

MSI Live Update

  • End-users only have to connect to the download center to receive files automatically

 MSI Dual Core Cell 

  • Integrates and optimizes multiple internal circuits
  • Reduces the signal noise dramatically
  • Delivers perfect and precise data transmission
  • Automatically adjust the fan speed to maintain the system cooling vs. noise level

Data Cables    Brackets and I/O Shield   Media

MSI's bundle included mostly standard stuff, including four SATA2 data cables, rounded IDE and floppy cables, two SATA2 power cables, and the I/O shield.  One bracket provided in the bundle is used for both standard and mini-port FireWire connections.  In typical MSI fashion, an additional bracket with two USB ports and a set of diagnostic LEDs is also included.  A Quick Installation Guide, User's manual, registration form and driver CD round out the bundle.  The user manual is well done, providing adequate information regarding the motherboard components, BIOS settings, and installation options, including setting up RAID and using the JMicron controller.

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MSI P965 Platinum: Board & Software

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965 Board
P965 Motherboard

First off, when looking at the two boards, there is an obvious size difference.  The MSI P965 Platinum is a full size ATX motherboard at 305 x 245mm in size.  The black-colored PCB tends to set off the other components, each of which is color coded to help identify and simplify installation.  For example, SATA ports are blue, while DIMM slots are green and orange.  We believe we've mentioned this with other MSI boards, but the coloring scheme could be considered misleading or confusing, especially to a first-time builder.  Our feeling is that to promote the idea of dual channels, there should be both an orange and green set in each bank.  This way, a pair of dimms would be installed in both orange slots, denoting one channel.

DIMM Slots    Center   NorthBridge

The P965 uses only passive heatsinks - no active fans and none of the fancier heatpipes that one might expect on a board marked as "Platinum" (NOTE: MSI has revised the P965 Platinum to include just such a cooling solution).  The passive cooling is both a quiet option, and also a space-saver.  Their smaller stature does not conflict with larger CPU heatsinks or longer graphic cards (especially if using CrossFire).  However, passive options come with the expectation that an adequate airflow is maintained within the chassis to keep things running cool.  Pairing the P965 with a case such as the Antec Nine Hundred is a great combination, as it has fans placed strategically all around the perimeter, bringing in much needed cooler air. 

CPU Socket    24-pin Power   SATA drives

Placement of the drive and power connectors is just about perfect.  Other than the centrally placed 12V power connector, which uses either a 4-pin or 8-pin cable, all of the other components are placed nearly at the edge of the board.  This keeps cable clutter at a minimum, as we don't have to weave cable around the board.  Even the front panel pins are placed along the front side of the board, color coded to match the various cables.  The ICH8R supports the six SATA ports grouped together in the lower left corner, with an additional 7th in light blue placed further up towards the PCI slots coming from the JMicron controller.  The JMicron JMB361 controller is both a boon and a headache.  It provides the sole means necessary to install IDE based optical devices, which we're sure at least one of which will be installed in the average PC, and requires its own driver.  Our original setup, however, would always downgrade the DMA settings of these drives to PIO Mode.  We found that only be updating the BIOS to the 1.4 revision would fix this issue.

Side View    Slots   South Bridge

ATI's CrossFire is officially supported on this P965 board, which is why there are two physical PCI-Express x16 slots, however only the first white slot uses a full 16 PCI Express lanes.  The yellow slot uses only 4 lanes, 2 of which come from the PCI-E x1 slots, thus rendering them inoperable when two graphics cards are installed.  On the bright side, the two slots are placed far apart from each other which would allow plenty of room for air to pass between dual slot graphics cards.  Even with this preferred layout, our take on this is if you want CrossFire, upgrade to a 975X board instead.  Installing a video card for additional monitor support is a probably a better use for this extra slot.  Two PCI slots complete the lot, the last of which is colored in orange and is meant for use with special daughterboards manufactured by MSI, such as a wireless LAN and Bluetooth card.

VIA Chipset    Realtek Chipset   Connections

Ten USB ports from the ICH8/R SouthBridge and two FireWire ports controlled by the VIA VT6307 chip are spread out amongst the headers on the motherboard.  The Realtek RTL8111B LAN Controller provides for a Gigabit Ethernet connection.  A High Definition link controller in the ICH8R is used in connection with Realtek's ALC883 codec for the audio output, which is a fair solution, but not as clean as the 24-bit SoundBlaster Live! controllers we've seen on the more expensive boards.  At the rear of the board, the I/O panel consists of four USB2.0 headers, five auto-sensing audio jacks, S/PDIF coaxial and optical audio outputs, 2 PS/2 ports and a FireWire port, and a RJ-45 Gigabit LAN port.


Live Update 3    Audio Controls

There were a few issues that we encountered almost immediately with the stock version of the motherboard.  Booting with a non-bootable CD in the drive, even when the RAID was set as the first bootable device, would always say "select proper boot device".  We were able to bypass this by hitting the spacebar, but this didn't go away completely until updating the BIOS.  Speaking of which, MSI Live Update, a user-friendly utility used to download new files, always dropped to the desktop when searching for files.

There are no advanced audio controls for HD Audio (i.e. Bass or Treble sliders) from within Windows.  MSI Controls offer various environments, but they mostly result in simple echo/reverb effect and aren't very usefull.  Pre-set equalizers are more useful for optimizing your audio experience.  Karaoke settings have a tool-tip for Voice Cancellation, but we toggled this with no effect on the audio playback.

DigiCell    Dual Core Center

Digicell offers various diagnostics such as network connectivity, Power on Agent, Audio Settings, and the Dual Core Center (which crashes when selected).  Once, during MP3 playback, clicking on the Audio Settings actually reset the system.  After closing down the Digicell software, running the Dual Core Center allowed us to check VGA and Motherboard temperatures, fan speeds, and voltages.  These are expressed as up-to-date information, as well as with a time-elapsed graph.

Finally, the Intel Matrix Storage Controller reported an error with one of the two Western Digital drives in our setup, stating that an "Error Ocurred (0)" with one of our drives.  We were able to boot into Windows and "repair" the RAID setup by clicking on Intel Matrix Storage Manager and marking the problematic drive as 'Normal'.  After this issue, we were able to continue on with benchmarking and eventually overclocking, without any further interruptions.

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MSI P965 Platinum: BIOS & Overclocking

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MSI P965 Platinum: Exploring the BIOS
Let's start with the basics 

The AMI BIOS that came with the P965 Platinum is a familiar sight for anyone who has built even a few systems in their time.  A standard list of sections are listed down the left side of the main screen, offering up options that are more or less catered to basic setup of the system.  For example, date, time and drive information is found on the Standard CMOS Features, while CPU parameters and simple Boot-up procedures get listed under the Advanced BIOS Features.

AMI BIOS    Standard CMOS Features   Advanced BIOS Features

Advanced Chipset Features    PCI Configuration

In the Advanced Chipset Features, the first thing that you'll notice are there aren't very many options available.  Even after disabling the setting for 'Configure DRAM Timing by SPD', the timing options are only limited to the "big" four: CAS Latency, RAS to CAS Delay, RAS Precharge, and RAS Activate to Prec.  There are no other fine tunings, or other means available for tweaking the system at this point.  As MSI is usually a tweaker-friendly manufacturer, this comes as a bit of a surprise.  We might have expected fewer options on a lower-end desginated board, but not on a "Platinum" model. 

Integrated Peripherals offers a slew of choices to choose from, as just about everything you could want for in the board comes standard on the P965.  Onboard LAN, FireWire, HD Audio - it's all in there.  There's also mention of the Onboard RAID controller, which is actually referring to the JMicron JMB361 controller.  It's almost a misnomer, as there is a higher probability that you will be using it for connecting IDE drives rather than using it in a RAID setup, especially since 6 of the SATA ports controlled by the ICH8R Southbridge are already able to be used for RAID configurations.

Integrated Peripherals    On-Chip ATA Devices   IO Devices

Hardware Monitor    Power Management

Drilling down even further into the On-Chip ATA Devices is where you'll need to go to set that RAID up, and the ICH8R supports RAID 0, 1, 10 or RAID 5 configurations.  I/O Devices contain the lost stepchild of the BIOS settings, enabling or disabling what are mostly seen as legacy devices these days.  These include parallel and serial ports, what type of parallel port mode to use, and the floppy drive support.  It's been years now that motherboard manufacturers have been on the edge about dropping support for parallel and serial ports, as they are rarely ever used, but I for one will always need my floppy drive.

It's when we get to the Cell Menu that the real fun begins.  Within this section are just about all of the settings for overclocking the P965, whether that means using one of MSI's presets, or going about it on your own. It's even possible to overclock the CPU only, the video card, or both from here as well, taking guesswork completely out of the hands of the newly indoctrined overclocker.

Dynamic Overclocking    CPU or Video D.O.T.   CPU Voltage

Assuming you are up to the challenge, moving directly to the CPU FSB Frequency is where you will get started.  The FSB can be set anywhere between 266 and 550MHz in 1MHz steps with the voltage going from the default setting as high as +0.7875V.  Not that we would ever go that high, but it's good to see that the range exists.  As voltages are raised, the new voltage level will actually be colored to match a safety level: gray for default values, white for safe, yellow for "high performance" and red meaning the setting is not recommended and may cause an issue.

DRAM Frequency    DRAM Voltage   NB Voltage

DRAM frequencies allow for some creativity as it allows the user to install various kinds of DDR2 modules into the system, and also allows the speed to be lowered or raised over the actual rated frequency.  DRAM Voltage ranges from 1.85V to 2.45V, and can be used to stabilize the DDR or at least meet expected values.  For example, the Corsair DDR2 we used is only rated to hit its timings at 2.1V, which is what we set it at here in the BIOS.   Finally, it's also possible to dial in the frequency of the PCI-Express bus and adjust the NB Voltage from a min voltage of 1.26V to a maximum 1.84V.  All of these voltage options could come into play when overclocking the system.

MSI P965 Platinum : Overclocking
Over the speed limit, and loving it

SANDRA CPU Performance

CPU-Z Motherboard Info

Overclocked SANDRA Results

Overclocked CPU-Z Results

E6300 @ 2.56GHz

E6300 @ 2.56GHz

Overclocking the P965 proved to be a bit more of a challenge than we expected, considering all of the luck users have had with overclocking Conroes.  We were only able to move up to a 300MHz FSB before Windows would not load in at all.  At this point we lowered the DDR frequency so that it would not cause any issues (at a 300MHz FSB, the DDR was running at 900MHz - well above the specified speed of 800MHz).  We still had problems getting into Windows, however, and had to bump up the CPU Voltage.

We continued to push onwards, raising the NB voltage up to 1.51V when we reached a 320MHz FSB to once again stabilize the system.  The final tally was a 366MHz front side bus resulting in the E6300 running at 2.56GHz.  Total voltage added to the CPU was 0.175V, the NorthBridge voltage was set to 1.67V, and the memory, which was kicked back to a 533MHz setting, was running at 732MHz while at 2.1V.

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Testing Setup & SiSoft SANDRA

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How we configured our test systems: When configuring our test systems for the following set of benchmarks, 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 DDR2-800 at 4-4-4-12 1T latency.  The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows XP Professional SP2 was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we installed the drivers necessary for our components, and removed Windows Messenger from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were then disabled, and we set up a 768MB permanent page file on the same partition as the Windows installation. Lastly, we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Intel Inside

Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 (1.86 GHz)

ASUS P5B-E  (Intel P965 Chipset)
MSI P965 Platinum  (Intel P965 Chipset)

2 x 512MB Corsair PC2-6400
CL 4-4-4-12-1T - DDR2-800

GeForce 7900 GT
On-Board Ethernet
On-Board HD Audio

2 x 250GB Western Digital SE16
7,200 RPM SATA 3.0 GB/s in RAID 0

Windows XP Pro SP2
Intel INF 8.1.1.1010
Intel Matrix Storage Manager 6.2.1
DirectX 9.0c
NVIDIA Forceware v93.71 
 

Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2007
Synthetic Benchmarks

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2007 suite (CPU, Multimedia, and Memory) with the ASUS P5B-E and the MSI P965 Platinum, both using our Core 2 Duo E6300 processor and 1GB of DDR2-800 memory. All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed of 1.86 GHz.

SANDRA CPU Module

ASUS P5B-E
CPU Module
Core 2 Duo E6300

  

SANDRA Multi-Media

ASUS P5B-E
Multi Media Module

Core 2 Duo E6300

  

SANDRA Memory Module

ASUS P5B-E
Memory Module
Core 2 Duo E6300

  

SANDRA CPU Module  
MSI P965 Platinum
CPU Module
Core 2 Duo E6300

SANDRA Multi-Media Module  
MSI P965 Platinum
Multi-Media Module
Core 2 Duo E6300


SANDRA Memory Module  
MSI P965 Platinum
Memory Module
Core 2 Duo E6300
The two boards compare favorably in SANDRA's suite of benchmarks, with the ever slightest edge in CPU and Multi-Media performance going to the MSI P965 Platinum.  Memory performance was exactly the same for both boards.  Compared to SANDRA's internal database, the CPU and Multi-Media modules have the E6300, running at 1.86 GHz, positioned directly behind a 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor.  The latest memory bandwidth scores that were shown came from a 955X board, so there's no direct comparison, but the 965P boards are outperforming the test score by over 140 MB/s.
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3DMark06 and PCMark05 Benchmarks

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Futuremark 3DMark06 - CPU Test
Simulated DirectX Gaming Performance

3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded "gaming related" DirectX metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are generated with a software renderer, which is dependant on the host CPU's performance.  This means that the calculations normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the central processor.  The number of frames generated per second in each test are used to determine the final score.

3dmark_p965.png

Although paired with the same CPU, we found that the MSI P965 Platinum was able to run just a hair faster than the Asus P5B-E as evidenced by the 22 point spread in 3DMark06.  Although the delta is relatively small, we found that this difference between the two boards would occur in other synthetic benchmarks as well. 

Futuremark PCMark05
More Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks

For our next round of synthetic benchmarks, we ran the CPU and Memory performance modules built into Futuremark's PCMark05.  For those interested in more than just the graphs, however, we've got a couple of quotes directly from Futuremark that explain exactly what these tests do and how they work.

"The CPU test suite is a collection of tests that are run to isolate the performance of the CPU. The CPU Test Suite also includes multithreading: two of the test scenarios are run multithreaded; the other including two simultaneous tests and the other running four tests simultaneously. The remaining six tests are run single threaded. Operations include, File Compression/Decompression, Encryption/Decryption, Image Decompression, and Audio Compression" - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

pcmcpu_p965.png

As we mentioned earlier, the MSI board outpaced the Asus P5B-E in straight-out CPU performance, and almost by the same point margin as 3DMark06.  In actuality, however, the 28 point difference only amounts to less than a one percent difference in performance, and is well within expected variances of running the benchmark.


"The Memory test suite is a collection of tests that isolate the performance of the memory subsystem. The memory subsystem consists of various devices on the PC. This includes the main memory, the CPU internal cache (known as the L1 cache) and the external cache (known as the L2 cache). As it is difficult to find applications that only stress the memory, we explicitly developed a set of tests geared for this purpose. The tests are written in C++ and assembly. They include: Reading data blocks from memory, Writing data blocks to memory performing copy operations on data blocks, random access to data items and latency testing."  - Courtesy FutureMark Corp.

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Memory performance was also slightly skewed in MSI's favor, with a 55 point difference between the two boards. 

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WorldBench Office & Photoshop Benchmarks

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PC World's Worldbench 5.0: Office XP SP2 & Photoshop 7 Performance
More Real-World Application Performance

PC World Magazine's Worldbench 5.0 is a new breed of Business and Professional application benchmark, that has replaced the aging and no-longer supported Content Creation and Business Winstone tests in our suite. Worldbench 5.0 consists of a number of performance modules that each utilize one, or a group of, popular applications to gauge performance.  Below we have the results from each module, recorded in seconds.  Lower times indicate better performance here, so the shorter the bar the better.

ofcxp_p965.png 


 psp7_p965.png

The previous synthetic testing had always shown the MSI P965 Platinum holding a lead, however slight, over the Asus P5B-E, but the WorldBench modules we used have the two boards just about spot-on with each other.  The Office XP SP2 module completed with an average of 287 seconds for both boards.  The Photoshop 7 module wound up with a 1 second variance - not surprisingly in MSI's favor. 

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Rendering & Encoding Tests

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Cinebench 9.5 Performance Tests
3D Modeling & Rendering Tests

The Cinebench benchmark is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test, based on the commercially available Cinema 4D application.  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). 

cinebnch_p965.png

If there truly were any major differences between thse two boards, we would expect them to surface during our benchmark tests.  Instead, we found that one core or two, the Asus and MSI boards produced the exact same times for rendering the scene in Cinebench 9.5.

LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test
Converting a Large WAV To MP3

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a very popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis, to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a never-ending Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

lamemt_p965.png 

We also found that nothing much had changed on the encoding side either.  Using single core or multi-threaded processing, encoding a custom WAV file to MP3 took exactly the same amount of time.  That makes four benchmarks in a row that basically paint the two boards as equals.

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Gaming Benchmarks

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For our first gaming test, we benchmarked the test systems using a custom single-player Quake 4 timedemo, then we set them loose on F.E.A.R. Normally, for motherboard reviews, we like to see how the boards run at very low resolutions with all the bells and whistles turned off, to make the game as CPU dependent as possible.

Performance Comparisons w ith Quake 4
Details: http://www.quake4game.com/

Quake 4
id Software, in conjunction with developer Raven, recently released the latest addition to the wildly popular Quake franchise, Quake 4. Quake 4 is based upon an updated and slightly modified version of the Doom 3 engine, and as such performance characteristics between the two titles are very similar.  Like Doom 3, Quake 4 is also an OpenGL game that uses extremely high-detailed textures and a ton of dynamic lighting and shadows, but unlike Doom3, Quake 4 features some outdoor environments as well. We ran this these Quake 4 benchmarks using a custom demo with the game set to its "High-Quality" mode, at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024 and 1,600 x 1,200 with 4X AA and 8X aniso enabled simultaneously.

quake_p965.png 

Finally, a little disparity.  We ran the Quake 4 timedemo a few times and averaged the frame rates to come up with a final score.  Overall, the MSI P965 was able to put up slightly higher framerates on the average when compared to the Asus P5B-E.  

Performance Comparisons with F.E.A.R
More Info: http://www.whatisfear.com/us/

F.E.A.R
One of the most highly anticipated titles of 2005 was Monolith's paranormal thriller F.E.A.R. Taking a look at the minimum system requirements, we see that you will need at least a 1.7GHz Pentium 4 with 512MB of system memory and a 64MB graphics card, that is a Radeon 9000 or GeForce4 Ti-class or better, to adequately run the game. Using the full retail release of the game patched to v1.08, we put the graphics cards in this review through their paces to see how they fared with a popular title. Here, all graphics settings within the game were set to the maximum values, but with soft shadows disabled (Soft shadows and anti-aliasing do not work together currently). Benchmark runs were then completed at resolutions of 1280x960 and 1600x1200, with anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

fear_p965.png 

We were expecting a difference in F.E.A.R. frame rates as well, but both motherboards settled in at an average of 292 frames per second using the bare minimum graphical settings.  We re-ran the performance test again after reaching the highest stable overclock on each of the boards, with much different results.  The 100MHz increase on the front side bus of the P965 netted an additional 81fps.  The superb oc results of the Asus P5B-E got us even futher, winding up with an excellent 432 fps while running at a 454MHz FSB. 

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

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Benchmark And Performance Summary: 

For two boards that are labeled as "mid-range", we found that their performance was anything but.  The P965 Platinum either tied or beat the Asus P5B-E in each test, whether synthetic or real-world, although the delta between the two boards was slight at best.  Where the ASUS P5B-E really shines is in overclocking.  Although we were initially satisfied with the 366MHz FSB we achieved on the P965 Platinum, the P5B-E nearly doubled the increase, maxing out at 454MHz.

ASUS P5B-E:

Although a bit short on looks and additional items, ASUS has ultimately offered a well-rounded board that performs well and overclocks even better .  Throughout our testing, the board remained stable even when reaching a front side bus speed nearly 200MHz over the default frequency for our E6300.  Not once during this time did we run into any major crashes with the system or with Windows.  When benchmarks failed to run, raising one of the many voltage options in the BIOS usually enabled us to continue onward.  For tweakers, the BIOS covers all aspects well, including a full array of DRAM timings and voltage options to play with.

The software that comes with the P5B-E covers all of the basics, from monitoring the temperatures and fan speeds without entering the BIOS or installing other third-party programs, to overclocking the system from within Windows.  The AI Booster could probably use a "boost" itself, however, offering more options to the user.  It remains to be seen whether or not the issues we had with our failing RAID setup are endemic to the new ICH8R, the Intel Matrix Storage Manager drivers, or something else, but the drives worked fine before and have been working fine since.

If there's one area that the P5B-E falls short, it may well be the lack of any sort of dual-graphics support.  That might not affect a huge number of potential buyers, who can opt for the ASUS P5B Deluxe which does come with two PCI-E x16 slots for slightly more money.  For the current going price of approximately $149 it seems to be a good bargain, and getting a nice overclock will only sweeten the deal.

 

  • Good Core 2 Duo performance
  • Excellent overclocking results 
  • Plenty of BIOS options

 

  • No CrossFire for this P965 board
  • Plain-jane color scheme
  • Odd placement of SATA drive header 

MSI P965 Platinum:

You can say the MSI P965 Platinum has a bit more panache than the ASUS P5B-E.  It's got better looks, performs just a tiny bit better, and comes with two full PCI-Express slots and a more robust bundle.  The downside to including two slots, however, is that using dual graphics cards disables the two x1 slots in the process.  There are still plenty of other features to talk about, however, including Gigabit LAN, 7.1 channel HD audio, and a slew of SATA and USB ports to connect your devices to.

On the software side of things, we were a bit let down by the utilities that came with the MSI P965 Platinum.  Not that the programs were actually lacking the features that we wanted, we just couldn't get them to run all of the time.  We're sure MSI will look into resolving some of these issues as time goes by, but it's disheartening to have one application close because another is running, especially when they are linked to each other.  We also encountered a few issues with the JMicron controller that did get solved with a BIOS revision.  

The P965 Platinum seems to be priced about the same as the P5B-E, maybe even a few dollars less at some retailers.  For those who want to jump right in an get going, the MSI P965 Platinum seems like a great choice especially when paired with a Core 2 Duo CPU.  Supreme tweakers might be more interested in the number of BIOS choices and overclocking results of the ASUS P5B-E, however.    

 

  • Good performance
  • Supports dual-graphic cards
  • CrossFire consists of x16/x4 configuration
  • Modest overclocker 
  • Flaky software

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