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High-End P67 Express: Five $200-250 Motherboards

MSI’s P67A-GD80 has the same slot arrangement as every other board in today’s $200-250 P67 roundup, yet nearly everything else is at least somewhat different. For example, the P67A-GD80 has an incredible six I/O panel and four front-panel USB 3.0 headers.

MSI goes one-better than its competitors in the eSATA department by adding RAID support via Marvell’s 9128 SATA 6Gb/s controller. Conspicuously missing, however, are any third-party internal port controllers, as MSI figured out that even enthusiasts rarely use more than six internal drives.

Less conspicuous is the lack of any PCIe-expanding bridge. The P67A-GD80 has the same limitations as Asus’ P8P67 EVO, where enabling x4 mode on its third x16 slot disables front-panel USB 3.0, eSATA, and the PCIe-to-PCI bridge. Not mentioned in MSI’s documentation is that its FireWire controller is also PCI-based, so disabling the PCIe-to-PCI bridge means losing FireWire.

The GD80’s second PCIe x1 slot shares a single lane with the top PCIe x1 slot, so builders can only use one of these at a time. As we said of the competing Asus model, a layout with fewer compromises would have eliminated the second x1 slot altogether, since it’s always tied to another slot (unusable) and blocked by the graphics coolers of most performance-oriented graphics cards anyway (inaccessible).

With those marks against it, we might not have even bothered to mention that the remaining USB 3.0 ports all share a single 5 Gb/s PCIe lane through a single NEC D720200F1 controller and VIA Labs VL810 hub, except that this restriction stands even when the last graphics slot is empty.

The P67A-GD80 includes a mid-market installation kit with four SATA cables, a slot adapter for two of its front-panel USB 3.0 ports, and a flexible SLI bridge. MSI adds some quick connectors to help builders bundle the ends of loose front-panel cables, along with four probe wires for its voltage check-point feature.

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