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Platform: MSI P45D3 Neo-F (P45)

Overclocking Core 2 Duo: Power Versus Performance
By

The main focus for this product seems to be Europe, as we found more shops carrying this board there than in North America. The product is labeled as being a “Classic Series” motherboard, which you can tell by the simple box design and reasonable number of add-ons. The box is a simple, brown cardboard box and simply has a few stickers instead of an expensive, glossy print. We perceive not being drowned in marketing promises on product boxes as a good thing, especially for a reasonable mainstream motherboard.

Simplicity dominates the design of the PCB. There are heat sinks for the P45 northbridge and the ICH10 southbridge, but no heat pipes and no coolers for the voltage regulators. Traditionally, MSI has been conservative in deploying multiple phases for the voltage regulators, meaning that they might run hotter on overclocked quad-core processors, but they’ll also operate at higher efficiency than six-phase or more complex configurations.

Capacitors in all high-current circuits are solid, although those on secondary circuits are not. Four DDR3 sockets accept DIMMs in dual-channel configurations. The board has a single x16 PCI Express 2.0 slot for graphics and two more x1 PCI Express slots. However, it also has three 32-bit PCI 2.3 slots, which is beneficial if you need to run legacy cards. This board does not support RAID, but it does have a special switch for easy overclocking.

Overclocking Switches

While most motherboard manufacturers have been focusing on extensive BIOS options to facilitate overclocking for the beginner—or complicate overclocking in case you’re an enthusiast—MSI took steps to simplify the process. The P45D3 Neo-F offers a block of DIP switches that you can use to manually switch the board to overclocked settings without having to do any BIOS modifications. While this isn’t suitable for enthusiasts, it is actually a powerful tool for beginners. Imagine installing a Core 2 Duo E7300 2.66 GHz processor, for example; you can easily overclock this one by switching from FSB1066 to FSB1333 speed. The result is 3.33 GHz, which is reliable on all of these CPUs.

Although PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse are all but dead, MSI decided to keep these, as well as a conventional serial port. Both allow upgrade users to keep their input devices, and the COM port doesn’t hurt either, unless you'd prefer lots of USB 2.0 ports. The chipset supports a total of 12 USB ports, but only six are available on the I/O panel. Gigabit networking and HD audio are mandatory these days and are present, but it would still have been nice to find a digital audio output as well. MSI was thorough in adding legacy components such as the IDE controller, which provides a single UltraATA/133 connector.

The ICH10 southbridge supports six AHCI Serial ATA/300 ports with Native Command Queuing (NCQ). This feature is important for hard drives, as it allows them to line up pending commands, analyze them, and execute them in the order that causes the least amount of head movement. More and more, solid state drives (flash SSDs) also utilize NCQ together with on-board cache memory. In these cases, NCQ and caching are used to optimize access to the flash memory matrix for the sake of maximizing write performance while maintaining optimal flash wear leveling.

The P45D3 Neo-F also has front panel connectors for the power and reset switch, and LEDs.

Three voltage regulator phases are sufficient to reliably run Core 2 Quad processors, and more than enough for our Core 2 Duo overclocking.

Unfortunately, a long graphics card will interfere with three of the six SATA ports if you use a dual-slot graphics card such as the Geforce GTX 260 Core 216 we chose for this project. This should probably be looked into, as the board provides a reasonable basis for creating a decent system at a fair price, while offering sufficient overclocking support.

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  • -2 Hide
    SpadeM , June 6, 2009 6:43 AM
    Please fix the article, it's full of:
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  • 1 Hide
    anamaniac , June 6, 2009 7:36 AM
    Nice to see the C2Ds aren't forgotten.

    Personally it seems like I'm going from Pentium D to i7/i5 though.

    The C2Ds are cheap, reliable, fast. Not everyone needs 4 cores. A C2D is possible for a backup rig for me in the future.

    nice to see something I was going bogus trying to get 6 months ago is considered a backup option to me now... damn i7 and your awesomeness.
  • 6 Hide
    doomtomb , June 6, 2009 8:33 AM
    I still got my E6600 lying around. It was a great little processor. Dual-cores are highly efficient, most tasks can be completed on two cores and they overclock well.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 6, 2009 9:30 AM
    Wow, that's the worst E8600 E0 I've ever seen !
    Even my very average E8400 at 4400mhz need less voltage than your E8600 @ 4.26ghz... I'm also stable at 4ghz with 1.28V .
    I've seen stable E8600 E0 @ 4300mhz with 1.325v.

    So I would like to warn overclockers that they are likely to get far more better results that Tom's in this article.

  • 2 Hide
    JeanLuc , June 6, 2009 9:53 AM
    gouroulubrikWow, that's the worst E8600 E0 I've ever seen !Even my very average E8400 at 4400mhz need less voltage than your E8600 @ 4.26ghz... I'm also stable at 4ghz with 1.28V .I've seen stable E8600 E0 @ 4300mhz with 1.325v. So I would like to warn overclockers that they are likely to get far more better results that Tom's in this article.


    I don't know about the worst I've ever seen but the choice of motherboard is........interesting. I that because according to CustomPC the best P45 overclocking motherboard is the Biostar i45.

    Still 4.26Ghz is a good return on what appears to be motherboard priced at the lower of the p45 range. However I don't understand what you beef is with MSI inculding PS2 connections for keyboards and mice, have you guys ever tried to run a text based version of Linux on a USB keyboard only to discover that it doesn't work? PS2 components still have their uses.
  • 0 Hide
    inmytaxi , June 6, 2009 10:07 AM
    Wow, that's a poor overclock.

    I reached 4.4 GHz (9 x 489 fsb) with a e8400 EO on air -- didn't try to go higher as the temps and voltages reached close to 70C under load/1.4 V idle (v goes down a little under load).

    I now have my e8400 E0 at 4.5 GHz (9 x 500) on cheap water (tt bigwater 735 refurb fifty bucks at their site), and plan to try to take it higher as temps are still ~66C. (29/39 C idle on core 0/1).

    I use the auto voltage setting on my Gigabyte GA P45 UD3LR(?), which sets it at 1.4 on boot, 1.392 idle and 1.36x load.
  • 0 Hide
    inmytaxi , June 6, 2009 10:08 AM
    btw my Gigabyte was 104 minus 20 rebate at MC, so that's pretty cheap too.
  • 1 Hide
    eddieroolz , June 6, 2009 10:30 AM
    For guys talking about the poor overclock:

    Remember, boosting your volts to 1.4v to get 4.4GHz is fine, but the article is about efficiency - not outright overclock.
  • -1 Hide
    gouroulubrik , June 6, 2009 11:22 AM
    Remember that power usage of an overclocked cpu is linear with the frequency, and ² with the fréquency !

    with the power supply calculator, you'll find out that a E8600 :
    4000mhz w/ 1.42v = 109w
    4400mhz w/ 1.35v = 109w !!
    It's all about this bad CPU that need way more voltage than usuals CPUs to get a descent frequency !

  • -1 Hide
    chovav , June 6, 2009 2:20 PM
    So it seems, like your core i7 overclock/efficiency comparison, that users should overclock their processors without turning the voltage up for highest efficiency.

    One thing to remember though, is that some motherboards increase voltage automatically when overclocking, which could result in different figures than shown here.

    Nice article!
  • 0 Hide
    Caffeinecarl , June 6, 2009 2:27 PM
    Very good article indeed! My Core2 Duo E8400 has made it up to roughly 3.8 GHz on stock voltage and 3.9 GHz after bumping it up to 1.2875v using just an Intel air cooler. For what it's worth, I didn't use the paper thin all aluminum stock cooler. I have a Pentium D that was laying around doing nothing after I bought the Core2 and the cooler had a copper core, so I used that instead. Better than the stock cooler, but definitely not the best. If anybody has a recommendation for a good quality, semi-affordable air cooler, drop a message.
  • 1 Hide
    Caffeinecarl , June 6, 2009 2:29 PM
    chovavSo it seems, like your core i7 overclock/efficiency comparison, that users should overclock their processors without turning the voltage up for highest efficiency. One thing to remember though, is that some motherboards increase voltage automatically when overclocking, which could result in different figures than shown here.Nice article!

    Some you can go automatic, or you can specify a voltage. Mine can go either way, but the automatic option I've heard in general is a definite NO. It builds up heat way too quickly to the point even small overclocks are a pain in the ass.
  • 1 Hide
    h83 , June 6, 2009 2:42 PM

    CaffeineCarl i can recommend you the Artic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro.
    It cost me 20 euros (in Portugal) and enabled me to push my E6400 from 2.13Ghz to 3.5Ghz with 1.55v.
    It´s easy to mount (just like the stock coolers from Intel), silent and does a very good job.

    Nice article, nice to see that the Core2 is still rocking!
    Hoping to upgrad soon to an E8400/8500 or Q9400/9550
  • 0 Hide
    h83 , June 6, 2009 3:41 PM

    By the way, does anyone knows if and when are intel to slash the prices of the Core2duo/quads???

    Any information would be apreciated!!!

    Thanks.
  • 0 Hide
    Oakley707 , June 6, 2009 4:06 PM
    Maybe it's just me, but I don't see exactly what voltage you were running when @ 4.26 Ghz. I apologize in advance if I missed it in the graphs or in the article.

    Just curious.
  • -3 Hide
    brendano257 , June 6, 2009 4:11 PM
    Oh quit whinning about how much voltage it takes you with your E0's. Try using a C0 E8400...takes about 1.4 to get to 4.05 Ghz. And why would you "warn" readers that they would see better performance. It's not dangerous or anything.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 6, 2009 4:44 PM
    It would be a nice setting to give your CPU the slight boost it needs to get a few bit of higher framerates. But in most cases 3,33Ghz will be enough. In fact, in most games or programs, you might even benefit more from downclocking the processor, to a level just above being responsive enough not to cause too many delays (eg: don't let a menu appear,or action be done after longer than 10ms after the command was given), or that you still have fluid gameplay; but also downclocked far enough to save some $$$ in powersaving, and run the PC cooler.
    If a certain game runs fine with an 800Mhz processor, then why run it on 3Ghz? To get 150FPS? Instead run it on 1Ghz, and downclock the videocard too, as long as you won't see detail or quality reduced, that might be the thing to do.

    Electricity will start to cost more as soon as electric cars and vehicles become commercial. I believe we might see a time where standard light bulbs will no longer be sold (only energy saving ones), and rules will be set limiting TV's in power draw.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 6, 2009 5:07 PM
    grreat write up, nice one toms :) 
  • -1 Hide
    chaohsiangchen , June 6, 2009 5:35 PM
    Which cooooler did you guys used in the test? 70W more total power consumption at load in 4.26GHz. That must be very good cooooooler. I'm interested in getting one of those.
  • 0 Hide
    ufo_warviper , June 6, 2009 7:15 PM
    While not, the fastest processors anymore, these seem to give you a decent percentage actual performance boost on most benchmarks when overclocked to 3.9 or 4.26 GHz. The Crysis results were unimpressive, but that was to be expected since Crysis is more of a GPU hog.
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