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MSI P35 Neo Combo

Pipe Dreams: Six P35-DDR3 Motherboards Compared

The second DDR3-DDR2 cross-compatible motherboard we received was MSI's P35 Neo Combo. Unlike Gigabyte's entry, the Neo Combo hides fewer upscale-market surprises and is truly designed as a high-value path towards postponed DDR3 upgrades.

Features Overview

The only board in today's review to feature Intel's lower-cost ICH9 Southbridge, the P35 Neo Combo also does away with expensive solid capacitors for "non-critical" areas. The "mainstream" Southbridge has the added effect of reducing SATA support to four drives, but MSI adds a fifth port through its selection of Ultra ATA plus Serial ATA add-in controller.

The fifth SATA port becomes useless when super-sized graphics cards are used, but this is one of only three design deficits MSI employs: The other two are a floppy connector that seems nearly impossible to reach beneath the lowest PCI slot, and a Front Panel Audio connector in the lower rear corner, far away from any upper-bay front panel ports. The floppy drive connector might not be too much of a concern since this non-RAID chipset doesn't require adding a RAID driver during a Windows installation.

MSI provides only six of a possible seven slots on its P35 Neo Combo, but this is still more than adequate for most builds since the board only supports one PCI-Express x16 graphics card. Three of the remaining slots are PCI-Express x1 and only two are PCI, where an extra PCI slot might be more useful for upgraders.

Four-pin ATX12V, 24-pin ATX, and Ultra ATA connectors are all located in near-perfect positions for systems that have the power supply and optical drive(s) at the top.

MSI P35 Neo Combo (Revision 1.0)
Northbridge Intel P35 GMCH
Southbridge Intel ICH9
Voltage Regulator Three Phases
BIOS 1.1B2 (5/28/2007)
266.7 MHz (FSB1066) 266.9 MHz (+0.1%)
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard 1x PCIe x16
3x PCIe x1
2x PCI
4x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)
1x IEEE-1394 FireWire
1x Floppy
1x Ultra ATA
5x 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 (System)
IO panel 2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)
1x Serial COM Port
1x Parallel Port
1x RJ-45 Network
1x IEEE-1394 FireWire Port
4x USB 2.0
6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)
Mass Storage Controllers
Intel ICH9 4x SATA 3.0Gb/s (RAID 0,1,5,10 capable)
Marvell 88SE6111 1x Ultra ATA-100 (2-drives)
1x SATA 3.0Gb/s
Realtek RTL8111B 1x Gigabit LAN Connection
HDA (Azalia) Controller Interface Realtek ALC888 8-Channel Codec
VIA VT6308P 2x IEEE-1394 FireWire

The big upgrades for MSI's P35 Neo Combo are a 2-port FireWire controller and upper-mainstream Realtek ALC888 8-channel audio codec.

An upgrade board needs to contain many legacy features to reach the widest possible market, and MSI obliges with PS/2 keyboard and mouse plus parallel and serial ports. An IEEE-1394 FireWire controller and the inclusion of all six required analog audio connectors put value in this low-cost board, while a single Network and four USB 2.0 ports address remaining connectivity needs.

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