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MSI P55-CD53

P55 On A Budget: Five Core i5/i7 Motherboards For $100-$150
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The first thing most people will notice about MSI’s P55-CD53 is that it has a load of rear-panel USB ports--and not much else. Yet, MSI does include four handy bench-testing features on the board’s surface: a power button, an overclocking-mode enabler, and two buttons for increasing and decreasing base clock.

The P55-CD53 also provides the floppy interface that some Windows XP users still need for adding RAID or AHCI drivers to their OS installation. The interface was already present in the motherboard’s multi-I/O controller, the connector is “almost free,” and many gamers still consider Windows XP a viable solution.

Yet the first thing we noticed wasn’t the board’s lack of I/O panel features, but instead its lack of voltage-regulator phases. MSI often uses slightly higher-capacity regulators in reduced numbers to save money without sacrificing durability, but this five-phase design--complete with a four-pin ATX12V connector--makes the board’s low $120 price very believable.

With a full seven expansion slots and very few onboard connectors, there’s little for us to criticize in the P55-CD53’s layout, but we did find two slight problems: both the front-panel audio and floppy interfaces are far too distant from the devices they serve to be easily connected. In fact, the front-panel audio cables of some cases simply won’t reach this far.

Use of a circuit board that’s an inch narrower than full-size leaves DIMM slots unsupported, something builders will notice right away when adding RAM to the forward slot. This might be forgivable given the P55-CD53’s low price, so long as it overclocks and performs well.

BIOS

MSI's Cell Menu is slightly simplified for this low-cost model, but includes most of the controls we rely on for our own CPU- and DRAM-overclocking evaluations.

CPU, PCH, and DRAM voltage controls are all present and include significantly-high ranges, but we were disappointed with the lack of droop compensation or the ability to key-in the target CPU voltage.

More significant is the missing Uncore voltage setting, which is especially odd on a board that includes amplitude control.

DRAM timings are adjustable down to impressive 4-3-3-9 latencies.

Six custom profiles can be stored locally, while a retry counter determines how long a user must wait before POST failures reset current values.

Accessories

In addition to the expected drivers, cables, and documentation, the P55-CD53 includes a floppy cable and hard drive copying utility. Unfortunately, only two Serial ATA cables are present.

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