Motherboard Guide

MSI P35 Platinum review

MSI P35 Platinum (Intel P35)

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Bearlake

Intel P35 MCH

One of the strangest things about the whole Bearlake series is that Intel doesn't seem to care at all. We're past the NDA dates for the P35 chipset and with boards already on retail shelves, you still won't find any information in Intel's own product lists on their website (at press time). While we have our own theories on this, there is no big conspiracy to take over the world, so we'll leave you to think of it what you will. Instead, we'll just go right into what makes the P35 tick.

The P35 chipset is supposed to be the mainstream successor to the current P965, but will still be based on the LGA775 socket. The P35 will not only support the whole range of LGA775 socket processors, dual and quad-core, but also natively optimized for the upcoming Wolfdale (dual-core) and Yorkfield (quad-core) 45nm CPUs with up to 12MB L2 cache access.

The P35 will also now support a 1333MHz FSB, up from 1066MHz over the past generation. While this is Intel's next official FSB speed bump, almost all P965 motherboards released over the past year have been able to support the same unofficially and it is something that enthusiasts already enjoy through the generous overclockability of the P965 chipset and Core 2 Duo processors. Thus, we'd have to say that the shine is somewhat lost on the minor improvement. However, since the chipset natively supports the 1333MHz FSB setting now, your average Joe can readily reap its benefits by simply setting it in the BIOS. If you're already running on a Core 2 Duo processor, chances are you'd have no problems running at 1333MHz FSB.

There is actually only major improvement to the P35, the largely hyped move towards DDR3 memory support, which the current chipset specifications allow up to DDR3-1333 speeds. In order to facilitate a smooth transition, Intel designed the P35 to have dual memory controllers supporting both DDR2 and DDR3, allowing manufacturers to dictate the take up rate. As DDR3 has yet to become mainstream, expect many of the early batches of P35 boards to be DDR2 only. The MSI P35 Platinum in this review is one such board.

At the time of launch, only the P35 is available now, but Intel plans to finally replace the veteran 975X Express with the high-end X38* by next quarter. The X38 will be Intel's first dual full-speed PCIe x16 chipset, but whether full support for CrossFire or SLI is available is still anyone's guess. At the moment though, CrossFire making a comeback is likely since existing P35 boards support it. Other variants of the Bearlake family include the G33 (DX9 IGP) and G35 (DX10 IGP).


ICH9 Southbridge

With a new chipset, there is also a new Southbridge so should be no surprise that Intel is introducing the ICH9 family. However, the new ICH9 isn't so much of an improvement over the ICH8. Looking at their specifications, both chipset have almost identical features. There are no changes to the amount of PCI Express lanes, SATA connectors, LAN or HD Audio component. The only visible difference when one looks at the table below is the increased USB 2.0 ports from ten in the ICH8 to twelve in the ICH9.

ICH Southbridge Comparison Table.
  ICH9 ICH8
PCI Express
  • 6 x PCI Express Lanes
  • PCI Express 1.1
  • 6 x PCI Express Lanes
  • PCI Express 1.1
PCI Masters
  • 6 x PCI Masters
  • 6 x PCI Masters
Storage Technology
  • 6 x SATA 3.0Gbps
  • Intel Matrix Storage Technology (ICH9R)
  • AHCI, NCQ, RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 (ICH9R)
  • 6 x SATA 3.0Gbps
  • Intel Matrix Storage Technology �(ICH8R)
  • AHCI, NCQ, RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 (ICH8R)
USB Ports
  • 12 USB 2.0
  • 10 USB 2.0
Audio
  • Intel HD Audio (Azalia)
  • Intel HD Audio (Azalia)
LAN
  • 10/100/1000Mbps MAC
  • 10/100/1000Mbps MAC

There are also some new terms Intel has been throwing around such as "Intel Turbo Memory with RAID". We suspect that there might be a desktop variant for the Turbo Memory introduced with the notebook Santa Rosa platform and a connection with the new storage controller, but there's not much information regarding this capability. The ICH9R will also directly support eSATA routing with port-multiplier. As usual, one can expect the typical vanilla ICH9, ICH9R (RAID), ICH9DH (Digital Home w/ Viiv technologies) and ICH9DO (Digital Office w/ vPro technologies) variants of the Southbridge.


*Update - 12th June 2007 - With the proper launching of the Intel 3-Series chipset during the recent Computex Taipei 2007, Intel has finally disclosed most of their Bearlake specifications and technical documents (Yes, even their website has finally been updated). From the official whitepapers now available, it has come to our attention that PCI Express 2.0 support will only be available on the X38 chipset, and even then only on the X38 MCH itself (Northbridge) as part of its enhanced PCIe x16 graphics subsystem. The ICH9 Southbridge family does not in fact support PCI Express 2.0 standards at all and will continue as a PCIe 1.1 component.