Preview: MSI P45 Platinum

Intel’s P45 chipset must be the industry’s worst-kept secret. While the chip giant has yet even to officially announce the successor to the P35, two manufacturers have already delivered their first P45 boards: first the Asus P5Q Premium, and now the MSI P45 Platinum.

Preview: MSI P45 Platinum

Like the Asus P5Q, MSI’s first model is a premium board: the manufacturer has used the “Platinum” name in the past to denote high-end models, and this one’s branded as part of the manufacturer’s gaming series too. Naturally, it supports Intel’s latest LGA775 processors, including the 45nm Yorkfield and Wolfdale parts, with a front side bus that can be ramped up to 1,600MHz.

Yet, despite its prestige designation, the P45 Platinum isn’t really an enthusiast’s board. An obvious indicator of this is its choice of DDR2 over the more expensive, but faster, DDR3, despite the chipset’s ability to support either.

On the bright side, RAM can be overclocked up to 1,200MHz and, unusually, DIMMs of up to 4GB can be used, for a theoretical maximum of 16GB of system RAM.

That RAM support isn’t P45 Platinum’s only economy, though, something that becomes obvious when you compare it to the company’s older X48-based Platinum model. That board had dual Ethernet controllers, twin eSATA ports and an onboard LED POST readout. It also had four PCI-E 16x slots, two 2.0 slots offering full 16x bandwidth and two PCI-E 1.0 4x bandwidth slots.

Next to that, the P45 looks positively Spartan. It offers just one networking port, a single eSATA socket and nothing resembling the POST display. And though it supports CrossFire with two PCI-E 16x slots, there are really only 16 PCI-E 2.0 lanes: plug in a single card and it’ll communicate at full speed, but plug in a second card and each slot will only get 8x bandwidth.

The P45 Platinum does emulate one nice feature of its bigger brother: a CMOS reset button on the backplate, so if your BIOS tinkering goes wrong you can easily get up and running again without having to open the case. There are power and reset buttons mounted on the board too.

And for all that the Platinum isn’t real top-of-the-range material, it’s still sufficiently feature-packed for most uses, with six rear-mounted USB 2.0 sockets (plus another two on an optional bracket), onboard FireWire, eight SATA channels and a brace of both PCI and PCI-E 1x slots. It’s worth remembering too that current graphics hardware can’t sensibly make use of any more bandwidth than PCI-E 2.0 8x provides.

On the BIOS side, MSI offers its versatile Cell Menu, so you can tinker with the speed of your processor and various buses. Of more interest to the lazy will be the Dynamic Overclocking Technology (or D.O.T.) system, which intelligently clocks the processor up when it’s under load, to improve performance, and down when it’s idle, to reduce heat and power consumption. And the Windows-based Dual CoreCenter application lets you monitor and control not only CPU speed but also fan speeds, voltages and various internal settings of MSI-branded graphics cards, should you happen to have one.

Like all the major motherboard manufacturers, MSI is also pushing its green credentials, claiming that its integrated driver MOSFET technology delivers power efficiency of “up to” 93.1%. The “circu-pipe” heatsink is also supposed to lower operating temperatures by 70, improving reliability and reducing the need for coolers. As always, these claims are impossible to fully test, but the GreenPower Center Windows application lets you keep track of internal power consumption.

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