MSI G965MDH (MS-7276)
Motherboard Revision: 1.1
BIOS Version: pre-launch
The board comes in a red color, which is typical for MSI. In contrast to the other three contenders, this one is not aimed at the digital office, but at the digital home. The main difference is the ICH8DH southbridge, which supports six instead of four Serial ATA ports. To provide at least one UltraATA/133 channel, MSI added a J-Micron controller. Still, it would be great to have an eSATA controller.
Both 32-bit PCI slots can be used, whether you use a dual-slot cooler or not. If you do so, the additional x1 PCI Express slot will not be usable. The sound system supports 7.1 channel sound in high definition quality, but it doesn't offer any digital outputs. We found four USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire port, serial/parallel ports (one each) and a Gigabit Ethernet jack together with analog audio jacks in the back panel. There is one more Firewire port and four more USB 2.0 ports available on this board.
MSI's voltage regulator uses a four-phase layout, which can provide sufficient current to even support a Core 2 Quad processor as soon as it launches in January. The northbridge heat sink seems to be the largest one of this roundup, which doesn't make a difference in practice. You will find a total of three fan headers on this motherboard, which should be sufficient to hook up fans for ventilation of your home PC. We find having a piezo PC speaker on the PCB helpful since you don't have to connect your case's speaker.
We haven't found this motherboard available in retail yet, but it should be available in the $100 price range, making this a good deal. MSI bundles an HD video playback software demo and an Intel Viiv Entertainment Pass to download digital content from the Internet. We didn't get this one with our test sample, so we cannot comment on its value.