The faster SATA 6Gbit/s standard, which effectively doubles the speed of the older SATA 3.0Gbps interface, has not been embraced by Intel. It is not yet a standard fixture on Intel's chipsets and is only just beginning to turn up on AMD chipsets. While we have no doubts that it would eventually be found on Intel's chipsets, vendors have been quick off the mark to integrate the feature onto their boards, using third-party controllers from companies like Marvell. MSI's latest P55 motherboard, the P55-GD85 is one such board.
The GD-85 is almost identical to the GD-80. The key difference lies in the GD-85's support for the newer SATA interface and USB 3.0. Both are not natively found on the mainstream Intel P55 Express chipset that both boards are based on. MSI has gone with a Marvell 9128 SATA 6Gbit/s controller that has additional SATA RAID 0 and 1 support. This is similar to what Gigabyte implements on its SATA 6Gbit/s boards and superior to ASUS' usual choice of a Marvell 9123 controller that lacks RAID. Besides the improved SATA, there's also USB 3.0 support, again thanks to a third-party controller from NEC.
What's more important besides RAID support on SATA 6Gbit/s is whether there are sufficient PCIe lanes to provide the full bandwidth for the interface. On the P55 chipset, that's usually not the case, which is why other vendors like ASUS have an additional bridge chip to utilize unused PCIe lanes from empty PCIe slots for this purpose. MSI takes a similar route and we found this bridge chip present on the GD-85. It will certainly add some cost to the motherboard, but at least it's not a compromise.
As mentioned, the GD-85 is similar to the GD-80 in terms of its features. All of MSI's latest proprietary technologies make the list, from SuperPipe to DrMOS and OC Genie. There are also dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, up to seven other SATA 3.0Gbps ports, including eSATA and multi-GPU support for up to two graphics cards (ATI or NVIDIA). In short, the feature list is as comprehensive as one gets for an above average P55 motherboard.
MSI's own technologies are worth looking into too, especially the auto-overclocking OC Genie button, which works to give less experienced users a safe and quick overclock. The more advanced users may use it as a starting point and rely on the onboard buttons to increment the clock speed on-the-fly. They may also delve more into this board's other enthusiast friendly features, like voltage check points and an overclocking friendly BIOS.
We were also very pleased with the board design and layout, with a very decent arrangement that should be easy for users to install and maintain.
At US$229, the MSI P55-GD85 is not the cheapest P55 motherboard around. It is one of the more complete P55 solutions in the market and with its support for the newer interfaces, should last you for quite some time. If you are a constant upgrader, you may not require the SATA 6Gbit/s and USB 3.0 support at the moment, due to the lack of such devices in the market. In which case, the P55-GD80 will save you some cash at US$185 with an almost similar set of features. In any case, you won't go wrong with either of these boards.