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MSI P43 Neo3-F

Roundup: Six Core 2 Motherboards Under $100
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As the largest motherboard in today’s comparison, the MSI P43 Neo3-F is also the most ornate. Competing with traditional ATX designs such as the Biostar TP43D2-A7 and the Jetway BI-500, the P43 Neo3-F gets attention with its simple northbridge-to-VRM heat pipe cooling system. Yet, a $85 Web price lets MSI undercut those competitors

The standard ATX P43 Neo3-F is better-supported by ATX cases because it’s wide enough to reach the third column of standoffs on a motherboard tray. Competing products typically come up about an inch short. By making its P43 Neo3-F a full-sized part, MSI is able to reduce motherboard flex during memory installation compared to the competition.

Buyers looking for a great layout might be in for a small surprise, as this is an instance where skill is more important than size. For example, the no-longer-required Ultra ATA connector is located conveniently along the front edge, while the rarely used floppy header is pushed under the bottom PCI slot. Also, while the 24-pin ATX/EPS main connector is conveniently placed at the motherboard’s front edge, the ATX12V connector is pushed between the chipset northbridge and rear panel ports. Builders must run the ATX12V around the CPU cooler when using traditional tower cases or around the graphics card when using cases that have the power supply at the bottom.

The P43 Neo3-F has enough room above its single PCIe x16 slot so that MSI might have considered putting an x1 slot there. Instead, engineers put other circuitry in this location, making the board a six-slot design. For many users, the P43 Neo3-F won’t hold as many cards as the competing six-slot TP43D2-A7 from Biostar, because Biostar eliminated the slot beneath the graphics card rather than the one above it. The P43 Neo3-F’s sole PCIe x1 slot is in a position that builders often leave empty to aid single-slot graphics cooling or cover with a double-slot graphics cooler.

Then there’s the matter of the front-panel audio header located in the P43 Neo3-F’s bottom rear corner. This has certainly been the standard location for many years, but for almost as many years, people have had trouble running a cable there from upper-bay or top-panel audio jacks. The rear-bottom-corner location didn’t even make sense when it first debuted, because Windows 95 required a CD-Audio cable to be stretched over a similar path.

A feature present on the P43 Neo3-F that we don’t usually see on modern motherboards is the pair of FSB jumpers located between the PCIe x16 and uppermost PCI slot. Set to automatically detect bus speeds by default, a small chart next to the memory slots details the selection of every possible bus-speed increase.

MSI P43 Neo3-F (Revision 1.0)

Northbridge

Intel P43 Express

Southbridge

Intel ICH10

Voltage Regulator

Four Phases

BIOS

V1.5 (09/11/2008)

333.3MHz (FSB1333)

334.2 MHz (+0.26%)

Clock Generator

ICS 9LPRS113AKLF

Connectors and Interfaces

Onboard

1x PCIe 2.0 x16

1x PCIe x1

4x PCI

4x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)

1x Floppy

1x Ultra ATA (2-drives)

8x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s

1x Front Panel Audio

1x CD-Audio In

1x S/P-DIF Out

1x Fan 4 pins (CPU)

2x Fan 3 pins (Chassis)

IO panel

2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)

6x USB 2.0

1x RJ-45 Network

6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)

Mass Storage Controllers

Intel ICH10

6x SATA 3.0 Gb/s

JMicron JMB363

1x Ultra ATA-133 (2-drives)

2x SATA 3.0Gb/s

Network

Realtek RTL8111C PCI-E

Gigabit LAN Controller

Audio

Realtek ALC888 HDA

7.1 + 2 channel Multi-Streaming Output


While it doesn’t have high-end features such as CrossFire or FireWire, the MSI P43 Neo3-F still carries enough features to fool some buyers into thinking that it could be a mid-priced part. Examples include solid capacitors in all locations and a middle-market audio controller, which are both unmatched by rival products from Biostar and Jetway.

Realtek’s ALC888 offers an impressive 97.1 db signal-to-noise ratio and multi-streaming independent front-panel and rear-panel outputs.

Realtek’s RTL8111C uses a PCIe interface to provide full bandwidth to a single Gigabit Ethernet port.

Last and possibly least is the ATA controller from JMicron. The JMB363 supports up to two Ultra ATA drives from a single cable at speeds up to 133 MB/s, plus two SATA devices.

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