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Budget And Premium Motherboards At The Crossroads

Making The Budget Choice: 915PL Neo-V

MSI's 915PL Neo-V is one of the most affordable Socket 775 motherboards available for Intel's Pentium 4 family. It uses the 915P chipset, which can still be called up-to-date in the context of a budget motherboard. The memory interface supports DDR400 memory in dual channel mode, but you should make sure you insert an adequate amount of memory - there are only two slots available, so an upgrade requires to you replace the existing DIMMs.

The board is designed to use a PCI Express graphics card, but also provides what looks like an AGP slot. It uses the same physical interface as an AGP card, but actually runs at PCI speed. Thus you won't be able to see high 3D performance at all, but at least you can keep using an AGP graphics card until your favorite model becomes affordable.

The board has two 32-bit PCI slots and one x1 PCI Express slot. This will definitely limit the enthusiast user, but should be sufficient for rather simple systems used in offices or small businesses. A Gigabit Ethernet chip from Broadcom enables adequate network connectivity, while an AC97 2.3 sound system takes care of audio. A total of four SATA-150 ports can be found, and one UltraATA/100 channel will allow two devices to be connected. Obviously this limits you to a total of UltraATA devices if you choose to upgrade, which may be an issue if you want to keep your optical and hard drives.

The three-phase voltage regulator is good enough for all current Pentium 4 series CPUs up to the Pentium 4 670; we used a Pentium 4 560 at 3.6 GHz for our tests. However, the chipset does not support Intel's dual core Pentium D processor. Thus, if you want an upgrade path to dual and future multi core processors, this motherboard is not a good choice.

At a retail price of only $69 this motherboard definitely comes with everything a basic computer requires. You will have to go without digital audio inputs or outputs and a total of only four USB 2.0 ports. Still, we recommend a close look at the benchmark charts: The 915PL Neo-V performs basically as fast as the P4N Diamond, which is $150 more expensive and, of course, has a more sophisticated feature set.

There are only four USB 2.0 ports, with no upgrade options on the motherboard. Audio has analog connectors only, but for the average user this is enough.

Intel's ICH6 south bridge supports four Serial ATA ports at 150 MB/s.

MSI only provides the basic cables.