MSI 875P Neo Review

Author: Corry S
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Friday, July 18th, 2003
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/875p_neo/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Introduction

Since its release last quarter, Intel's 875P "Canterwood" Chipset has been lighting up the benchmarks. Last week we had chance see some of those impressive benchmarks with Gigabytes 875P offering, the Gigabyte 8KNXP Ultra. If you recall, we looked at the architectures of both the 875P and 865PE and were hard pressed to find much difference. As we pointed out, Intel incorporates their PAT (Performance Acceleration Technology) with their 875P, which is really a pretty fancy term for chip binning of the (MCH) Memory Controller Hubs. The better MCH chips go to the 875P and the lesser performance rated ones go to the 865PE. Due to the release order of the chipsets (the 875P being first out), we have yet to benchmark the 865PE; We do However, have two 865PE boards warming up the bench and early indicators do show that there are in fact significant performance differences due to PAT. In the coming motherboard series, we'll look at the 865PE chipsets and how they stack up against the 875P. However, this week we're going to have another look at the 875P platform.

The subject of today's review comes from the MSI 875P Neo line. This series comes in a few flavors depending on the included features; the board we are going to look at is the full featured version the MSI 875P NEO-FIS2R.

We're going to see some interesting overclocking features from MSI; such as CoreCell technology, and another lesser, but very interesting addition to the board that I'll keep under wraps until later in the article. Also for mod fans there is an interesting twist for the Northbridge cooling system. All in all I think you'll find this an interesting read so lets move on and see what's "under the hood"

Bundle and Specifications

Upon opening the box we see quite a large bundle of goodies indicating that this board shouldn't disappoint us feature wise. A few things bundled that notably stand out are; two SATA/Molex power adaptors (since most SATA drives don't come with these we're glad to see board manufactures including these, though usually you only get one), also often you get one or two SATA cables with a new board, here you get four SATA cables and a SPDIF out bracket that is often an option with some manufactures. Also MSI includes a USB bracket with a D LED for board diagnostics. We like seeing these little extras, not only does it give you a sense of price value, it also keeps you from having to run to the store to get an another cable, power adaptor etc.

Here's exactly what's inside:

  • The MSI 875P Neo motherboard
  • 1 Floppy drive cable
  • 1 ATA 133 rounded cable
  • MSI Super Pack CD Bundle
  • I/O shield
  • 4 Serial ATA cables
  • Driver & software CD
  • 2 dual Molex/Serial ATA power cable
  • SPDIF out bracket
  • Three port 1394 FireWire bracket
  • Two port USB 2.0 bracket with D LED
  • Serial ATA RAID manual
  • User's manual

  • Let's have a look at the detailed specs.

    CPU

    -Supports Socket 478 for Intel® Pentium 4 processor
    -Supports up 3GHz/800MHz and higher speed

    Chipset

    ntel® 875P Chipset
    - Supports FSB 800/533MHz.
    - Supports AGP 8X interface.
    - Supports ECC memory.
    - Supports Single/Dual Channel DDR 400/333/266 memory up to 4GB.
    • Intel® ICH5R Chipset
    - Hi-Speed USB (USB2.0) controller, 480Mb/sec, 8 ports.
    - 2 Serial ATA/150 ports.
    - 2 channel Ultra ATA 100 bus Master IDE controller.
    - PCI Master v2.3.
    - I/O APIC.
    - Supports both ACPI and legacy APM power management.
    - Serial ATA/150 RAID 0

    Memory

    • Supports four unbuffered DIMM of 2.5V DDR SDRAM.
    • Supports up to 4GB memory size with ECC.
    • Supports Dual channel DDR266/333/400MHz and up.

    Slots

    • One AGP slot supports 8x/4x at 0.8V (AGP 3.0) or 4x at 1.5V
    (3.3V is not supported).
    • Five 32-bit v2.3 Master PCI bus slots (support 3.3v/5v PCI bus interface).

    IDE

    • Dual Ultra DMA 66/100 IDE controllers integrated in ICH5R.
    - Supports PIO, Bus Master operation modes.
    - Can connect up to four Ultra ATA drives.
    • Serial ATA/150 controller integrated in ICH5R.
    - Up to 150MB/sec transfer speeds.
    - Can connect up to two Serial ATA drives.
    - Supports SATA RAID 0

    RAID

    • Promise 20378 On-Board -Supports Ultra ATA, Serial ATA, Ultra ATA RAID 0 or 1,Serial ATA RAID 0 or 1, Ultra/Serial ATA RAID 0+1 supported.
    -Connect up to 2 Serial ATA devices and 2 Ultra ATA 133 devices

    Onboard Peripherals

    On-Board Peripherals include:
    - 1 floppy port supports 2 FDDs with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M
    and 2.88Mbytes
    - 2 serial port (COM A & COM B)
    - 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode.
    - 1 Line-in/Line-out/MIC port
    - 8 USB 2.0 ports (Rear x 6/Front x 2 or Rear x 4 / Front x 4)
    - 1 RJ-45 LAN jack
    - 3 IEEE 1394 pinheaders

    Audio

    • 6 channels ADI 1980/1985 software audio codec
    - Compliance with AC97 v2.2 Spec (for 1980) / PC99 v2.3 Spec
    (for 1985).
    - Meet PC2001 audio performance requirement.
    - Can support SPDIF Out via SPDIF-Bracket only.

    LAN

    • Intel® Intel PRO/1000CT and Intel® 82562EZ Dual layout.
    - Integrated Fast Ethernet MAC and PHY in one chip.
    - Supports 10/100Mb/s and 1000Mb/s
    (1000Mb/s only for Intel® PRO/1000CT)
    - Compliance with PCI 2.2.
    - Supports ACPI Power Management.

    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

    30.5 cm(L) x 24.4 cm(W) ATX Form Factor

    Mounting

    9 mounting holes.

  • Features & Layout

    Integrated features

    With a closer look we see we were correct in our speculation and in fact this board doesn't disappoint feature wise. The Canterwood Northbridge supplies support for 800/533 FSB, 8 X AGP and 266/333/400 MHz DDR up to 4GB. On the 8 ICH5/ICH5R Southbridge, the Neo uses many of the the available features, including all 8 of the USB 2.0 ports allowed, 2 SATA /150 ports, 2 channel Ultra ATA 100 Bus Master IDE controller and Serial ATA RAID 0. Aside from the North and South bridge features, additional RAID support comes from the Promise 20378 which allows you to connect up to 2 Serial ATA devices and 2 Ultra ATA 133 devices. 6 channel audio comes courtesy of the ADI S/W Codec and a SPDIF standoff is included. Onboard LAN is included using Intel's 82547EI (CSA interface) which allows for 10/100/1000 MB throughput. Firewire is supported through three pin-out headers on the board.

    Here we can see some of the Neo's integrated features seen though the I/O panel. Note the 6 USB ports!

    Extra Features

    As I mentioned earlier MSI has something called CoreCell Technology. CoreCell is MSI's step forward in system monitoring hardware. Most of us are familiar with the way system monitoring hardware works; onboard systems such as Winbond and onboard or on die heat sensors and such, report system vitals back to you and then leaves the adjustments, if any, in your hands. If you indulge me and we were to consider this process as "passive", we could then call what MSI incorporates in the CoreCell chip, "active" because CoreCell measures the vitals of the system and then begins to adjust them accordingly. So when the system gets hot for instance the CoreCell kicks in and increases the fan speeds and decreases the power consumption. Conversely, when the system is cool the fan speeds are decreased and the power consumption is maintained. This can add peace of mind when overclocking or even running your system in a hot environment. "But wait, maybe I don't want to always give up that control!" Not to worry, MSI includes a nice software package called CoreCenter. At a quick glance CoreCenter might look like nothing more than an HM (Hardware Monitor) program much like we've all seen before. However, when we look closer you'll see an auto and user mode for the Core Cell, allowing you freedom of choice. To the left side of the program we see some interesting settings; Vcore, Vdimm, AGP and the FSB are all adjustable from Windows, very nice. On the right side all the typical read outs are present and one or two not so typical; there is a Northbridge temperature read out and Northbridge fan RPM, very nice additions indeed.

    An additonal feature on the Neo is a series of blinking LEDs on the Northbridge that change pattern. While this is not anything more than window dressing, we are seeing it on more boards and can assume that it's popular with people with window cases and some Moders.

    Layout

    First off, it's nice to see a feature rich board that's not overly crowed in any one area and I found the layout of the Neo to be overall very good. However; there are two bugs I had, Like a lot of boards these days the AGP is a little close to the DIMM slots and I don't personally care for the placement of the ATX connector. These really aren't major issues though and don't really warrant much concern.

    Now I alluded to something interesting being added to the board in the introduction and waited to mention it until now. Can you spot anything out of the ordinary on the board? Look by the I/O panel. What I'm referring to are the heat sinks on the mosfets. Ok I know it's not rocket science and many Overclockers and Moders (including yours truly) have been attaching heat sinks to mosfets with thermal adhesive for sometime. But to me it says something about MSI being serious about getting into the overclocking market even if the CoreCell didn't convince everyone. Very nice to see.

    Overclocking & Bios

    As you can see in our chart below, the Neo has some high overclock settings. So high that MSI was inclined to include in the BIOS a color scale ; "white" for safe, "yellow" for risky and "Red" for where angels fear to tread. In Red you really can run dangerous, 3.3 on the Vdimm and 2.3 on the Vcore!

    Overclocking Features Overview

    RAM:

    Up to 4 GB of memory supported VDIMM 2.50V to 3.30V

    FSB Settings

    100MHz to 500MHz in as little as 1Mhz steps

    PCI/AGP

    33.3/66.6 to 75.5/151MHz in 0.5/1.0MHz steps

    CPU Vcore:

    1.5500V to 1.5850V in 0.0125V steps and 1.60V to 2.30V in 0.05V steps.

    DIMM Vcore:

    2.50V to 3.30V in 0.05V steps

    AGP voltage:

    1.5, 1.55, 1.6, 1.7, 1.75, 1.8, 1.9, 2.0, 2.1V

    Here are some of the BIOS features:

    Here we see some adjustments mentioned above allowing for good potential overclocking

    The DDR clock is available in manual or auto settings

    The On-Chip IDE configuration allows for various settings including being able to turn off the IDE channels if one is using SATA drives.

    Benchmarks & Conclusions

    We ran a series of benchmarks on the following system:

    We also included benchmarks running the Neo in using 2 x 256 2700 RAM

    Office productivity:

    Memory Bandwidth

    Here the Neo takes the lead, though the Intel dual channel is close behind.

    Multimedia Benchmark

    Here things are a lot closer all around, with the Neo 400 scoring highest on the Integer but lower on the floating point.

    CPU Benchmark

    On the Dhrystone the Neo 400 steals the show, and though it lacks a little in the Whetstone it's not huge.

    PC Mark

    The Neo wins soundly in the PC Mark well above the closest contender.

    Sysmark

    Here the Neo 400 drops into second place but just barely, keeping very respectable scores.

    In Office Productivity we can conclude that the Neo 400 is excellent, scoring at the top or close to the top of all benchmarks so far. The Neo 333's scores show us that while still performing nicely, the extra boost from the 400Mhz RAM makes the Neo DDR 400 perform like a serious contender.

    Gaming Benchmarks & Conclusion

    Quake 3

    In Q3 the scores are so close between all the boards we seriously doubt anyone could tell the difference.

    Unreal Tournament

    Here the scores are close again but there is a clear winner in the Neo 400 and a close second to the Neo 333

    Comanche

    Another win for the Neo 400, albeit slight

    Intel's 875P chipset likes to game, and the Neo tops the 875P list here. Gamers should be extremely pleased with the Neo.

    I would like to mention we had some issues with the BIOS initially and had we not flashed to another version our results might not have been as favorable. This is sometimes the case with new releases and doesn't really take away from the hardware quality of the board once the BIOS bugs are worked out.

    Summary

    With the MSI 875P Neo, MSI embarks on a path toward serious overclocking. On most boards we see the sole focus on overclocking in the BIOS, with the Neo MSI adds the CoreCell chip and passive cooling on the mosfets. These "outside the BIOS" additions add a lot to the stability of the board when overclocking, something you will likely need when you have a BIOS with a lot of head room like you do on the Neo.

    But even for those not interested in overclocking this board is solid and stable and has decent onboard sound. Anyone looking to build a top quality P4 system should be pleased with this quality product.

    The price of the board is going to come in around $180-200 US so it's not on the cheaper end, but I think it's price/value is in line.

    Pros:

    Cons :

    Sorry, that's all. There really isn't much bad to say about this board, MSI has a winner.

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