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MSI P35 Diamond

Pipe Dreams: Six P35-DDR3 Motherboards Compared
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MSI's latest high-end Diamond series is here...or is it? The board has been complete for a while now, but its marketing department was still figuring out the accessory kit when it sent this sample. Expect retail availability soon!

Features Overview

The MSI P35 Diamond appears at first glance to be nothing more than a DDR3-supporting version of its P35 Platinum, but MSI addressed its "Diamond" features with add-in cards this time. Not that there's anything missing in the Diamond's onboard Platinum feature set, as both versions are fully configured performance parts with quality components such as solid capacitors in all locations.

Connector placement is good but not perfect. Starting with the 24-pin ATX and eight-pin ATX12V, these are both easily reached whether the chosen ATX case has its power supply at its top or bottom. However, top-mounted configurations will need to have the ATX12V cable routed around the CPU cooler while bottom-mounted configurations must rout it over or around all cards. The second situation seems unavoidable.

MSI again made a good but imperfect attempt to keep Ultra ATA and Serial ATA cables out of the "line of fire", turning its Ultra ATA connector forward to fit under the edge of long cards and moving its SATA connectors towards the bottom of the board. Unfortunately the SATA connector move wasn't enough as the one closest to the top PCI-Express x16 slot was still blocked the sink of a reference-design 8800GTX. The forward-facing Ultra ATA connector may also be blocked by a hard drive cage, but inserting the cable before installing the board should solve to this not-so-common problem. And while the fifth SATA connector was completely blocked by our extra-long graphics card, users are unlikely to put so powerful a card into a slot that has only x4 pathways.

Along the bottom edge are Floppy, an extra S/P-DIF output, a Realtek VoIP card interface, CD-Audio input, and Front Panel Audio connection. Routing a floppy cable will be an excruciating process for most users, and many need to add RAID drivers to their Windows installation this way. The rear-corner Front-Panel Audio connector is yet another cable-routing nightmare for cases that have the connectors near the top, but this location is all-too-common across the majority of boards.

Heatpipe design is another matter: Putting a sink between the CPU and RAM makes little sense when this location circumvents cooling the voltage regulator's forth phase. The Southbridge sink is also a little too tall, pushing our 8800GTX graphics card part-way out of its slot but without forcing it to lose "contact". MSI promises to fix this last issue by the time the board reaches market.

MSI P35 Diamond (Revision 1.0)
Northbridge Intel P35 GMCH
Southbridge Intel ICH9R
Voltage Regulator Four Phases
BIOS 1.0E (5/22/2007)
266.7 MHz (FSB1066) 266.9 MHz (+0.1%)
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard 2x PCIe x16 (1x x16, 1x x4 pathways)
2x PCIe x1
2x PCI
3x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)
2x IEEE-1394 FireWire
1x Serial Port Header
1x Floppy
1x Ultra ATA (2 drives)
5x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s
1x Front Panel Audio
1x CD-Audio In
1x S/P-DIF Out
1x SkyTel VoIP Card Connector
1x Fan 4 pins (CPU)
5x Fan 3 pins (System/Power)
IO panel 2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)
1x RJ-45 Network
6x USB 2.0
1x IEEE-1394 FireWire
1x Digital Audio Out (S/P-DIF Optical)
6x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)
2x eSATA (External SATA) Interface
Mass Storage Controllers
Intel ICH9R 6x SATA 3.0Gb/s (RAID 0,1,5,10)
Marvell 88SE6111 1x Ultra ATA-100 (2-drives)
1x SATA 3.0Gb/s
Network
Realtek RTL8111B 1x Gigabit LAN Connection
Audio
HDA (Azalia) Controller Interface Realtek ALC888T 8+2 Channel +VoIP Codec
FireWire
VIA VT6308P 2x IEEE-1394 FireWire

The P35 Diamond is probably the best-featured board to use only four-phases in its voltage regulator, but this won't likely cause voltage stability issues with Intel's current-crop of efficient processors. Overclocking will help to prove the validity of this design.

Six analog audio connectors provide eight channel sound plus line-in and microphone-in simultaneously, but MSI provides only an optical output for digital sound. Two separate channels on the Realtek ALC888T codec allow multi-streaming separate audio signals to the front panel from those signals going to the speaker set.

MSI wins the strangest-looking port panel award with its 4-port USB connector high above the board, where a parallel port might normally have gone. The empty spot is pinned for a VGA connector, hinting at a possible G33 chipset product from the same circuit board.

MSI provides two eSATA ports in addition to the expected PS/2, USB, Network, and IEEE-1394 FireWire ports. Both eSATA ports are tied to the Intel ICH9R controller, leaving only four of its six ports usable internally. The previously-discussed fifth internal port uses the Marvell 88SE6111 controller.

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