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MSI P55-GD80

P55 On Boost: Five LGA 1156 Boards Between $200 And $250
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The top dog in MSI’s LGA 1156 fight, the $210 P55-GD80 is also a contender for best value with a $30 instant rebate at one of our favorite sellers that puts it well below this comparison’s $200 lower limit.

The P55-GD80 includes all the features we expect in a $200+ enthusiast motherboard, such as dual-network ports, eSATA, additional internal SATA connections, and three x16-length PCIe slots with automatic mode switching from x16/x1/x4 to x8/x8/x4 pathways.

MSI also sticks with its improved-value philosophy concerning CPU voltage regulation, with 10 high-current phases competing against up to 24 mid-capacity phases its competitors offer. A row of plugs at the front edge of the board allows tuners to keep an eye on its voltage levels using their own voltmeters.

MSI includes the on-board power and reset feature of its competitors, but makes its own version unique by using touch-sensitive film rather than mechanical buttons. Buttons are supplied for the CLR_CMOS and OC-Genie controls, the later competing with Asus’ external TurboV remote.

Similarities to Asus motherboard don’t end there, as MSI is the only other board in today’s roundup to use a single 2.5 Gb/s PCIe pathway to supply up to three 3.0 Gb/s SATA and two Ultra ATA 133 drives via a combination of JMicron’s JMB363 controller and JMB322 port multiplier. The port multiplier is able to set RAID 0, 1, or JBOD modes for its two drives and present these as a single drive to the JMB363 controller, requiring no additional OS drivers.

Yet the P55-GD80 isn’t a knock-off of an Asus product, and its slot arrangement is identical to that of its rival Gigabyte. By placing its uppermost PCIe x16 slot in the second position but still providing additional space between it and the second x16-length slot for added graphics cooling, MSI forces its third x16-length slot to the bottom of the board. That excludes the third long slot from supporting double-slot graphics cards in most cases but, due to chipset limitations, the third slot’s four 2.5 Gb/s lanes are only adequate for supplying tertiary graphics or medium-bandwidth expansion cards anyway.

Also like Gigabyte's offering is the length restriction for PCIe cards in the top x1 slot, only MSI’s limit is a somewhat more forgiving 3.75.”

With no serious issues concerning the overall layout and features of the P55-GD80, we might consider a few less-significant items, such as the front-panel audio and IEEE-1394 connections that MSI stuffed into its bottom-rear corner. Installing the associated cables in tower cases that have top-mounted or upper-bay jacks can be difficult or impossible, depending on cable length.

BIOS

MSI packs its cell menu with enough controls to consume nearly three pages of scrolling. These include several CPU features its competitors have moved to submenus, most clock speed and ratio controls, basic voltage controls, and DRAM reference-voltage settings.

One must scroll through three more pages to cover the complete set of DRAM timings, since MSI places separate controls for both channels on the same Advanced DRAM Configuration submenu. There is no method to set both channels simultaneously, so users who do want to change a few basic settings are required to remember to do so twice. However, automatically detected values that are retained as base values when switching to manual configuration ease the process.

With so many items on the main menu, we question why MSI moved only its CPU and PCIe amplitude controls to the ClockGen Tuner submenu.

The P55-GD80 supports saving up to six custom-BIOS configurations as user profiles.

Accessories

An instant rebate at one major seller might have made the P55-GD80 the least expensive product of today’s competitors, but that doesn’t mean MSI has to go cheap on the installation kit. Six SATA cables, three SLI bridges, and a single CrossFire bridge top all of today’s competitors.

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