MSI 975X Platinum V.2 PowerUp Ed.

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Product: MSI 975X Platinum V.2
Provided By: MemoryExpress
Price: $229.95 - MemoryExpress

Introduction:

The Intel 975X chipset has been around for quite a while.  It was launched by Intel back in October/November of last year.  As far as a chipset goes, it's getting a little long in the tooth.  Still, many enthusiast oriented motherboards for the Intel processors use the 975X chipset.  Today we are looking at a board from MSI that uses the 975X chipset that is tuned for Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad processors as well as Crossfire graphics.  This board is the 975X Platinum V.2 (aka. PowerUp Edition).  We will be comparing this boards performance to a couple of boards based on the newer 965P chipset to see if older is better, or if improvements have been made in newer chipsets, leaving the 975X behind.  Is the only reason to go with a 975X for Crossfire?  Keep on reading.

First Look:

This board ships in a much fancier box than MSI's Neo series of motherboards.  The box is very attractive and boasts the features and specs of this board.  The bottom of the box is littered with logos, features and proudly boasts the board's VIIV features.

MSI 975X Platinum - Box
MSI 975X Platinum - Box

MSI throws in a pretty decent bundle for the price range.  Many other 975X boards cost $30-$50 more, so any accessories are welcome.  They throw in a couple of single Molex to SATA power leads, a CPU insertion bracket thingy, an I/O shield, an 80-pin IDE cable, a Floppy cable, 4 SATA cables, a PCI slot Firewire bracket, as well as a PCI slot USB bracket with diagnostic LEDs.  As far as paper and software go, they include a nicely written manual, a quick install guide, some warranty information and a CD with drivers and software.  Not a bad bundle for a mainstream board.  If they wanted to load things up, they could have included an extra PCI slot USB bracket, as there is another header on the motherboard.  To fill up the drive connectors they'd need to include an extra SATA cable as well as an extra IDE cable.  Most people won't be running 9 drives in their system though, and MSI includes enough cables for six.

MSI 975X Platinum - Bundle
MSI 975X Platinum - Bundle


 

Overall the board has a nice clean layout and isn't too crowded.  The memory slots are right close together which makes cooling the RAM a little tougher when you are running 4 modules.

MSI 975X Platinum Motherboard
MSI 975X Platinum Motherboard

The board supports LGA775 Processors with 1066FSB including Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad CPUs.  It also supports 8GB of memory, 2 IDE Channels that support 4 IDE devices, and 5 SATA drives as well.  There are 2 PCIe 16x slots (run at 8x when both are used), 2 PCIe 1x slots, and two regular PCI slots.  It also supports a total of 3 Firewire ports and 8 USB2.0.  The BIOS is socketed so if you screw up a flash, you'll be able to drop in a new chip or use a BIOS Savior.  As you can see above, MSI uses passive cooling to keep everything quiet.  It will be interesting to see if this affects overclocking performance later on.

Carry on to the next page as we take a closer look at this board.


Up Close:

MSI certainly puts a lot more effort into the appearance of their Platinum series motherboards than their Neo series.  This board looks good, has decent cooling and a good layout.  Click on any of the image below for full-sized pictures.

MSI 975X Platinum - Back I/O
 MSI 975X Platinum - Back I/O

MSI 975X Platinum - Chipset Cooling
 MSI 975X Platinum - Chipset Cooling

RAM, Power & IDE
 RAM, Power & IDE

     

Auxilary 8-pin Power
 Auxiliary 8-pin Power

MSI 975X Platinum - Crossfire!
 MSI 975X Platinum - Crossfire!

MSI 975X Platinum - 5x SATA
 MSI 975X Platinum - 5x SATA

As you can see, the layout is pretty good.  There is enough room around the CPU socket to fit larger aftermarket coolers.  The main power connector is kept out of the way beside the IDE connectors but the 8-pin auxiliary power connector is located between the Northbridge and the Rear I/O.  Not the handiest place, but not too bad.

A couple of features that make this board succeed are the Dual Core Cell feature as well as the JMicron controller that adds extra SATA and IDE to the mix.  Below are a couple pictures of the chips that bring us the goodness.

Dual Core Cell
 Dual Core Cell

JMicron SATA & IDE Controller
 JMicron SATA & IDE Controller

Before we jump into the BIOS, we'll take a look at the specs and features from MSI.


 

Features & Specs:

  • Based on Intel® 975X Express Chipset
  • Support LGA775 Intel Core™ 2 Processors
  • Support 1066/800/533 MHz FSB
  • Support DDR2-1066/800/667/533
  • 2 PCI Express x16& 2 PCI Express x1 slots
  • Support ATi CrossFire Technology
  • 4+1 SATA2 3Gb/s Support RAID
  • Support 7.1 Channel Dolby MS HD Audio
  • Support Intel® PRO Gigabit LAN
  • Communication Slot
  • Dual CoreCell on Board

Specifications 

  • 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 FSB 533/800/1066 MHz
  • Supports Intel 05B/05A and 04B/04A processors
  • Supports EIST Technology
  • Supports Intel Hyper-Threading (HT) Technology
  • Supports Intel Dual Core Technology to 1066MHz and up
  • Support FSB 533 MHz, 800MHz & 1066MHz

  • Chipset - Intel® 975X Chipset
  • Supports FSB 533MHz, 800MHz & 1066MHz
  • Support Dual channel DDR2 533/667/800 memory interface up to 8GB
  • Support Dual PCI Express 16X interface with either 1x16 or 2x8 operation.

  • Intel® ICH7DH Chipset
  • Integrated Hi-Speed USB 2.0 controller, 480Mb/sec, 8 ports
  • 4 Serial ATAII ports w/ transfer rate up to 3Gb/s and support RAID (0,1, 0+1)
  • 1 channel Ultra ATA 100 bus Master IDE controller
  • PCI Master v 2.3, I/O ACPI 2.0 Compliant
  • Integrated AHCI controller

  • Main Memory
  • Supports 4 unbuffered DIMM of 1.8 Volt DDR2 SDRAM
  • Supports up to 8GB memory size
  • Support Dual Channel DDR2 533/677/800MHz and up
    Due to the High Performance Memory design, motherboards or system configurations may or may not operate smoothly at the JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council) standard settings (BIOS Default on the motherboard) such as DDR2 voltage, memory speeds and memory timing. Please confirm and adjust your memory setting in the BIOS accordingly for better system stability.
    Example: Kingston HyperX DDR2-800 PC6400 operates at 2.0V, 4-4-4-12.
    For more information about specification of high performance memory modules, please check with your Memory Manufactures for more details.

  • Slots - Two PCI Express 16X slots (PCI Express Bus SPEC V1.0a compliant)(When running Cross-Fire technology, dual 16X slots run at dual 8X speed)
  • Two PCI Express 1X slot
  • Two PCI 2.3 32-bit Master PCI Bus slots. (support 3.3v/5v PCI bus interface)

  • On-Board IDE - One Ultra DMA 66/100 IDE controller integrated in ICH7DH and JMicron JMB361
  • Supports PIO, Bus Master operation modes
  • Can connect up to 2 Ultra ATA 100 drives on IDE1 & 2 Ultra ATA133 drives on IDE2 (powered by JMicron JMB361 controller)

  • Serial ATAII controller integrated in ICH7DH
  • Up to 300MB/s transfer speed
  • Can connect up to 4 Serial ATA II drives
  • Supports ACHI controller with SATAII RAID 0, 1, and 0+1
  • Supports SATAII hot plug

  • JMicron JMB361 chipset - Supports RAID 0, 1 and JBOD (onboard SATA5 & IDE2 connector)
  • Can connect up to 2 Ultra ATA 133 drives on IDE2 & 2 SATA drives on SATA5

  • On-Board Peripherals - 1 floppy port supports 1 FDD with 360K, 720K, 1.2M, 1.44M and 2.88Mbytes
  • 1 Serial port (COM A)
  • 1 parallel port supports SPP/EPP/ECP mode
  • 8 USB 2.0 ports (Rear x 4/** Front x 4)(** Front USB ports are supported by pin-out)
  • 1 6-in-1 audio jack (S/SPDIF out)
  • 2 PS/2 connectors
  • 2 IEEE 1394 (Rear x 1/ **Front x 1) (** Front 1394 port supported by pin-out)
  • 1 LAN RJ45 connector

  • Audio - High Definition link controller integrated in Intel ICH7DH chip
  • Audio codec Realtek 882M
  • Compliance with Azalia 1.0 spec
  • Support Universal Audio Jack (only Front Audio Jack)

  • LAN - Intel PC82573 PCI-Express Gb LAN Controller

  • IEEE 1394 - VIA 6308P chipset
  • Supports up to two 1394 ports (Rear panel x1, front x1)
  • Transfer rate is up to 400Mbps

On the next page we'll take a look at the BIOS before we jump into testing.


BIOS:

The BIOS is pretty straightforward and we'll be touching on a few basics, then heading over to the Core Center section where all the magic happens. Feel free to click any of the thumbnails to view the images full-size.

Main BIOS
 Main BIOS

CPU Feature
 CPU Feature

   

SATA Configuration
 SATA Configuration

Memory Settings
 Memory Settings

By default the board runs your memory by SPD, but you have the ability to tweak the "big four" memory settings.  The only settings that you can tweak are the typical 3-3-3-12 type settings for your memory.  Unless you're a hardcore tweaker, this is really enough.  Because the board supports ECC memory as well as regular non-ECC memory, you have the ability to enable this feature in the BIOS as well.

Hardware Monitor
Hardware Monitor

The hardware monitor section shows basic hardware info and reports the CPU and System temp.  Basic voltages and fan speeds are also displayed.

As I mention previously, the Cell Menu is where the magic happens.  Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of magic in this BIOS.  There are really very few tweaking options, voltage and ratio adjustments.  After playing with the Gigabyte 965P-DQ6, I was quite disappointed with the limited BIOS adjustments available.

Cell Menu - CPU Ratio
 Cell Menu - CPU Ratio

Cell Menu - FSB Frequency
 Cell Menu - FSB Frequency

Cell Menu - Memory Ratio
 Cell Menu - Memory Ratio

     

Cell Menu - CPU Voltage
 Cell Menu - CPU Voltage

Cell Menu - Memory Voltage
 Cell Menu - Memory Voltage

Cell Menu - PCIe Voltage
 Cell Menu - PCIe Voltage

One complaint I have with the BIOS on this board is that when you choose Memory Ratios, they don't always work when you boot Windows.  The ratio is sometimes different than what is selected in the BIOS.  This depends on how fast your FSB is running.  At stock speeds the memory ratios work fine, but at higher speeds you don't always get what you ask for.  At times the ratio is higher than what it should be and this can cause the system to hang if the memory is running faster than it can handle.  Other than that, the Cell Menu provides basic tweaking and voltage adjustment.  With so little adjustments available and no ability to adjust FSB and MCH voltage, I didn't expect much out of this board in terms of overclocking.

On the next page we'll take a look at our test system, overclocking and more!


Test Setup:

Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors, we've got a pretty decent test system.  Take a look at the hardware below.

We used the following applications and games to benchmark the 975X Platinum board against the MSI 965P Neo-F and the Gigabyte 965P-DQ6 board.

BCCHardware Testing Information
   
CPU: Intel E6600 Core 2 Duo @ 2.4GHz
   
Motherboards:

MSI 965P Neo-F
Stock Clock - 9x 266MHz - Memory DDR2-800 @ 4-4-4-12
OverClock - 9x 296MHz = 2.66GHz - Memory DDR2-880 @ 5-5-5-15

Gigabyte 965P-DQ6
Stock Clock - 9x 266MHz - Memory DDR2-800 @ 4-4-4-12
OverClock - 7x 445MHz = 3.11GHz - Memory DDR2-890 @ 5-5-5-15

MSI 975X Platinum v.2 PowerUp Edition
Stock Clock - 9x 266MHz - Memory DDR2-800 @ 4-4-4-12
OverClock - 9x 356MHz = 3.20GHz - Memory DDR2-892 @ 5-5-5-15

   
3DMark Series:

3DMark 2003 - Default Resolution of 1024x768 No AA or AF
3DMark 2005 - Default Resolution of 1024x768 No AA or AF
3DMark 2006 - Default Resolution of 1280x1024 No AA or AF

   
Battlefield 2142: Med. Detail - 1280x960 - Med Quality Texture - 2x AA, 8x AF
   
F.E.A.R. Med. Detail - 1280x960 - Med Quality Texture - 2x AA, 8x AF
   
G.R.A.W.
(no soft shadows)
Med. Detail - 1280x960 - Med Quality Texture - 2x AA, 8x AF
   
Oblivion: Low Detail - 1024x768 - HDR, Distant All - No AA or AF
   
Prey: High Quality - 1600x1200 - High Quality Texture - 4x AA, 16x AF
   
SiSoft Sandra 2007: CPU Arithmetic, CPU Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth
   
CovertX to DVD: Ver. 2.0.15.136 - 97 Minute DivX
   
dbPowerAMP: WAV - MP3 = 196kbit CBR, MP3 - OGG = SSE2 Quality 10, OGG - WAV
   
DivX 6.2.1 Home Theatre Profile, no resize or filter.
   
Quicktime Pro 7: H.264, no resize, Best Quality, Double Pass, Keyframe = 24
   
PhotoShop CS2: PS CS2 v. 9.0.2 - DriverHeaven Benchmark
   
Ultima Online: Custom Server Script Requires .NET 2.0


 

Network & Audio:

We used RightMark Audio Analyzer to see how good the High Definition Audio is on this board.  The results are pretty normal for an integrated audio solution.  The quality on this board is slightly better than on the Gigabyte 965P-DQ6, but no so much as you'd even notice with subjective listening tests.

RightMark Audio Analyser
 RightMark Audio Analyser

As far as networking performance goes, the 975X Plantinum's Gigabit network is once again, pretty average.  It manages decent throughput, but not as good as the MSI K9N Platinum board.  Below is a chart showing the throughput and CPU usage when running iPerf.

Net Speed
Throughput
Efficiency
CPU Load
100Mb/Sec
94.5
94.5%
8%
1000Mb/Sec
391
39.1%
13%

On the next page we'll take a look at overclocking, and some software before we jump into benchmarking.


Overclocking:

I wasn't that impressed with the limited overclocking and tweaking features in the BIOS, so I really didn't expect much from this board.  The BIOS looked very similar to the MSI 965P Neo-F motherboard that we'd looked at previously and the overclocking results were dismal.  When I initially approached this board, I didn't have my hopes up.

I started with a decent jump from 266MHz FSB to 275MHz, and rebooted to see if there was any hope at all, and everything booted up fine.  Leaving the multiplier at 9x, I increased the FSB by 5MHz increments all the way up to 335MHz.  Here I bumped up the CPU voltage to 1.4 to keep things stable on my quest to find the limit of this board.  I continued with 5MHz increases until I hit 365MHz FSB.  When we use a 9x Multiplier we reach a sweet 3.28GHz clock speed on this 2.4GHz processor.  At this speed, things weren't stable however, and we had weird issues in Windows.  I backed the FSB down to 356MHz for a CPU speed of 3.2GHz.  That's not bad for a preproduction CPU and a motherboard that doesn't have hardly any voltage tweaks.

CPU-Z Overclocked - Main
 CPU-Z Overclocked - Main

CPU-Z Overclocked - Memory
 CPU-Z Overclocked - Memory

It just goes to show that even if a motherboard doesn't have a bunch of tweaks, it still can overclock well if it's put together right.  At the end of the day we are able to run our CPU faster on this board that we did with the Gigabyte 965P-DQ6.  When we left the CPU multiplier at 9x on that board, we weren't able to reach 360FSB.  However, that board was able to give us faster bus speeds when we lowered the multiplier.  We'll see how that compares in the benchmarks.

On The CD:

MSI Really includes quite a bit of stuff on the included driver CD.  They have the usual drivers for all of the integrated devices and they also have a Utilities section where you can install wonderful things like DirectX 9.0c, Norton Internet Security 2005, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and the Yahoo Toolbar.  What the heck kind of utility is the Yahoo Toolbar?  Nero "gives" you that as a bonus with their updates and now MSI includes it as a "feature utility" with their motherboards.  Yahoo must pay well.

Software CD
Software CD


 

Other utilities include MSI's Live Update 3, MSI PC Alert 4, and the MSI Security Utility.  One handy piece of software is the Dual Core Center Software that we'll touch on briefly below.

Dual Core Cell Software
Dual Core Cell Software

The Dual Core Center Software gives you the ability to monitor and adjust voltages and temperatures of the CPU and System.  You can run the board in different "modes" that slow the processor down if you have SpeedStep enabled.  This allows the board and system to operate in virtual silence if you so choose.  That's part of what makes this system VIIV ready.  Of course on the other side of the coin is the ability to make this system perform faster, and thereby generate more heat and noise as well.

Dual Core Cell Software
Dual Core Cell Software

Using this utility, you can perform Windows based overclocking that will help you get the most out of your system.  You can choose custom overclocking levels or throw caution to the wind and go for broke by choosing how fast you want to push things.

On the next page we'll finally jump into some benchmarks and compare the MSI 965P Neo-F and the Gigabyte 965P-DQ6 to the older 975X Platinum V.2 board from MSI.


Synthetic Benchmarks:

We start things off with a look at SiSoft Sandra 2007 CPU and Memory benchmarks.  You can click any of the thumbnails below to compare performance on the MSI 965P Neo-F, Gigabyte 965P-DQ6 and the MSI 975X Platinum v.2.

SiSoft - Arithmetic
 SiSoft - Arithmetic

SiSoft - Mutlimedia
 SiSoft - Mutlimedia

SiSoft - Memory
 SiSoft - Memory

In the CPU Arithmetic test the Gigabyte 965P-DQ6 edges out the 975X board from MSI, and the 965P Neo-F trails a wee bit behind that.  At stock speed the results are fairly close in this test.  Overclocked performance favors the 975X board as we were able to clock it higher than the other boards.  Bus speed was slower than the Gigabyte board, but it's raw CPU MHz that make the difference here.

In the CPU Multimedia Benchmark the 965P MSI board takes the lead on the Float test, but the Gigabyte board wins in the Integer test.  The MSI 975X board scores last in the Float and second in the Integer test at stock speed.  When overclocked the MSI 975X Platinum wins hands down however.

As far as memory bandwidth goes, the Gigabyte board takes the cake at stock speed and once again the 975X board from MSI takes the lead when overclocked.

SuperPi

In SuperPi, the MSI 975X board edges out the Gigabyte board by a mere 0.180 of a second, and when overclocked it takes the lead finishing Pi to 1,000,000 decimal places in less than 16 seconds.  Previously we'd come close to 16 seconds, but never finished faster.  That is tremendous.

Real World Apps - Media Conversion:

Next up we jumped into some real world tests that many of you use on a daily basis.  No matter how well things score in a synthetic benchmark, it's how your system performs in day-to-day applications that really matter.  Bragging rights in SiSoft only go so far.  For Media Encoding and Conversion we used dbPowerAMP, ConvertX to DVD, DivX Pro, and Quicktime Pro.  We used all of these programs at the settings specified on Page 4.

dbPowerAMP Audio Conversion
 dbPowerAMP Audio Conversion

ConvertX to DVD
 ConvertX to DVD

   

DivX Encoding
 DivX Encoding

QuickTime Pro H.264 Encoding
 QuickTime Pro H.264 Encoding

In dbPowerAMP, stock speeds results are very close between these boards and the 975X scores right in between the other 965P motherboards.  When we apply our overclocking tests the 975X takes the lead in all but the MP3-WAV test which appears to be Hard Drive limited.  When it comes to ConvertX to DVD we only have the Gigabyte board to compare results with and I was surprised to see the 975X board win with a little over a 2:00 minute lead at stock speed.  When overclocked we see a 2:10 lead.  DivX and Quicktime encoding both belong to the 975X board.

On the next page we'll continue with application benchmarks.


Real-World Apps & More: (continued)

We continue on our quest with PhotoShop CS2, Ultima Online Server and the 3DMark Series.

Photoshop CS2 Bench
__________________________________________________

Ultima Online Server Load
__________________________________________________


 

3DMark Series

As you can see in the PhotoShop CS 2 Benchmark above, the 975X scores in the middle of the pack at stock speed, but takes the lead by a very small margin when overclocked.  All of these motherboards perform very well, and the 975X only takes the lead because it clocks a bit higher than the competition.

Ultima Online Server Loading parses a lot of database information and requires fast CPU speed to get things done quickly.  The 975X Platinum board takes the lead at both stock and overclocked speeds, but only by a very small margin.  In fact, this is within margin of error, but we ran the test many times to gain an average so the results should be accurate.

As far as the 3DMark series goes, our Core 2 Duo E6600 coupled with a 7950GX2 falls short of the 10,000 point 3DMark06 barrier.  For comparison we only have data on the MSI 965P Neo-F as we didn't have the 7950GX2 when we reviewed the Gigabyte board.  In every case, the stock clocked 975X board wins out by a few points over the 965P motherboard, but not by much.  It is constantly faster though in this synthetic benchmark.

With that being said, let's head on to the last page and take a look at real game performance on these two boards.


Game On:

We used the MSI 965P Neo-F for comparison and ran a bunch of benchmarks on the following games.  For the most part, we'll let the charts speak for themselves.

Battlefield 2142
Battlefield 2142

F.E.A.R.
F.E.A.R.

   

G.R.A.W.
G.R.A.W.

Oblivion
Oblivion

Prey
Prey

As you can see above, a simple motherboard swap doesn't increase your gaming experience a whole bunch.  A couple of games exhibit a noticeable performance improvement with the 975X motherboard, but games like Prey and G.R.A.W. don't show a noticeable improvement in game.  When overclocked, this board yields greater potential, but nothing to really write home about.

Conclusion:

The 975X Platinum v.2 PowerUp Edition motherboard from MSI really surprised me.  I knew I was getting a board that supported Core 2 Duo CPU's and offered the benefit of two PCIe 16x slots (both run at 8x when Crossfire is used), but I really hadn't expected anything amazing in terms of performance.  When it came to overclocking, I expected poor results due to the lack of tweaking features in the BIOS.  I was wrong and we managed to get 356Mhz (1424Mhz Quad Pumped) FSB rock stable with this board.  In the end, this has been one of the fastest boards we've looked at to date, and will set the new standard for motherboard comparisons.  This 975X board is priced must lower that the 965P-DQ6 motherboard from Gigabyte, and offers excellent performance, quality, and stability when running your hardware far beyond spec.

Pros:

  • Excellent performance with passive cooling.
  • Overclocks well even with few tweaking options.
  • Supports Crossfire and/or two PCIe 16x Graphics Cards.
  • Solid 975X chipset is VIIV ready.
  • Two IDE Channels support 4 IDE devices (many of today's boards only support 2 IDE devices)
  • Well priced for a high-end board.

Cons:

  • Few overclocking options limit the potential of this board.
  • BIOS is a bit flaky with memory ratios.

 

BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
9/10
Performance:
9/10
Software Pack:
9/10
Stability:
9/10
Features:
10/10
Value:
9/10
Total Score 9.2

 

This board has been a pleasure to use and we've come to like the dual PCIe 16x Slots very much.  This allows you to run Crossfire or even four displays with a couple of graphics cards.  For the high-end gamer that doesn't tweak to the limit, this is an excellent board.  If you have plans to build a nice Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Quad system in the future, this board deserves a look as it offers excellent performance and features and is priced much cheaper than other high quality 975X or nForce 680i chipset based boards.

I'd like to thank MemoryExpress for cutting us a deal on this board and for supporting us with some great hardware.  I'd also like to continue to extend our thanks to Crucial for supplying our test rig with fast memory.

If you have any questions or comments, please post them in the forum at the comments link below.  Thanks!