Eight P35-DDR2 Motherboards Compared

MSI P35 Neo

MSI's Neo series contains the brand's most mainstream parts, so the P35 Neo should be expected to perform well but without adding a bunch of features that the typical user probably doesn't want. The payoff is a lower production cost that translates directly into a lower retail price.

Features Overview

Lower-priced boards typically don't support two PCI Express x16 graphics cards, and the P35 Neo is no exception. This shouldn't be a huge deciding factor for budget performance enthusiasts, since the second slot found on higher-priced boards features a pathetic x4 bandwidth anyway. The one x16 slot found on the P35 Neo has all 16 pathways, and the board is filled out with three x1 and two legacy PCI slots for a total of six cards. ATX supports a maximum seven slots, and the P35 Neo's uppermost "missing" slot position is filled instead with a fan header.

The P35 Neo features a three-phase voltage regulator, typically found only on the lowest-cost boards, with none of its VRM components covered with a cooling sink. The two existing sinks cool the Northbridge and Southbridge adequately, as long as a downdraft-style CPU cooler is used.

Power and ATA connectors are ideally positioned for traditional case designs, with the four-pin ATX12V connector near the back of the top edge, the 24-pin ATX connector near the front edge, and the UltraATA connector at the upper portion of the front edge. Users of UltraATA optical drives will be pleased to find easy cable routing from this location to the upper bays of their cases.

The four SATA ports supported by Intel's low-cost ICH9 Southbridge are also positioned almost perfectly for routing cables to lower hard drive bays, but that's where the compliments end. The fifth SATA port, supported by the add-in Ultra+Serial ATA controller, will be blocked off by the heatsink of long graphics cards. The front panel audio connector is also inconveniently located in the dreaded bottom-rear corner, far away from the upper-position front panel ports of many modern cases. Finally, the floppy connector is inconveniently located below the lowest PCI slot - fortunately, users won't be "required" to install a floppy drive to load RAID drivers during Windows XP installation on this non-RAID-supporting Southbridge.

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MSI P35 Neo (Revision 1.0)
NorthbridgeIntel P35 GMCH
SouthbridgeIntel ICH9
Voltage RegulatorThree Phases
BIOS1.1B7 (5/18/2007)
266.7 MHz (FSB1066)266.9 MHz (+0.1%)
Connectors and Interfaces
Onboard1x PCIe x163x PCIe x12x PCI4x USB 2.0 (2 ports per connector)1x IEEE-1394 FireWire1x Floppy1x Ultra ATA5x Serial ATA 3.0Gb/s1x Front Panel Audio1x CD Audio In1x S/P-DIF Out1x Fan 4 pins (CPU)2x Fan 3 pins (System)
IO panel2x PS2 (keyboard + mouse)1x Serial COM Port1x Parallel Port1x RJ-45 Network1x IEEE-1394 FireWire Port4x USB 2.06x Analog Audio (7.1 Channel + Mic-In + Line-In)
Mass Storage Controllers
Intel ICH94x SATA 3.0 Gb/s (RAID 0,1,5,10 capable)
Marvell 88SE61111x Ultra ATA-100 (2-drives)1x SATA 3.0 Gb/s
Realtek RTL8111B PCI-E1x Gigabit LAN Connection
HDA (Azalia) Controller InterfaceRealtek ALC888 8-Channel Codec
VIA VT6308P2x IEEE-1394 FireWire

Added value for the low-cost motherboard market comes by way of an IEEE-1394 FireWire controller.

The P35 Neo port panel relies mostly on traditional interfaces, including legacy PS/2 keyboard and mouse, parallel and serial communications ports. Six analog audio jacks allow full 8-channel output without substituting the microphone or line-level inputs, four USB 2.0 and one IEEE-1394 FireWire port support higher speed peripherals, and a single Gigabit Ethernet network port handles networking needs.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.