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MSI P55-GD80 LGA1156 Motherboard Review‏

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MAC

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MSI P55-GD80
LGA1156 Motherboard Review‏




Manufacturer's Part Number: P55-GD80
Price: $216CDN+ Price Comparison
Manufacturer's Product Page: Micro-Star Int'l Co.,Ltd.
Warranty: 3 year limited warranty.



Back in July we reviewed our very first MSI motherboard, the 790FX-GD70, and we were quite impressed with it. That motherboard represented a new direction for MSI. No more gaudy bright red PCB, pink memory slots, or acid-trip inspired chipset coolers (*cough* P45 Platinum). Instead we had a conservative black & blue theme, a low-key but capable cooling system, terrific features, and solid overclocking capabilities. MSI had finally figured how to tug at our enthusiast heart strings.

Thankfully, that same philosophy applies to the motherboard that we are reviewing today, except they have kicked things up a few notches. As the Top of the Line model in MSI's LGA1156 roster, the P55-GD80 has been designed to surpass the best that the competition has to offer, and it's got one heck of specs list. It supports all current Lynnfield LGA1156 processors, has an advanced DrMOS 8+2 phase power design, four DDR3 memory slots with frequency support up to DDR3-2133 (O.C), three mechanical PCI-E x16 slots, CrossFire and SLI support, dual Gigabit LAN ports and a host of other features. It also comes with MSI's new OC Genie real-time overclocking processor with accompanying OC Genie & DirectOC buttons and even touch-sensitive onboard power/reset switches. For that bit of added "bling" MSI uses phase LEDs for every major component, a post code debug display and quite a bit more. Our Canuck readers will also be glad to know that all Canadian RMAs are processed through MSI's facility in Ontario, which should mean quick replacements and no customs worries.

Even though the P55 lineup was only brought into the limelight a few short months ago, manufacturers have been extremely quick to jump onto the bandwagon and release full board lineups. Even though the P55-GD80 represents the pinnacle of their current offerings, MSI has priced this board extremely well considering the current market climate. It caters to enthusiasts with a bucket load of features and some great overclocking potential but retails for far under that of Gigabyte's flagship P55-UD6 or ASUS' own P7P55D Premium and Maximus III. Indeed, its primary competition is the ASUS P7P55D Deluxe and the Gigabyte P55-UD5 which are in the same price bracket and offer similar features.

Now it's time to see whether the P55-GD80 lives up to its promise, and surprise us the way the 790FX-GD70 did. Let's find out!

 
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MAC

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Specifications

Specifications



Intel's new P55 Express 'Ibex Peak' chipset is a true break from their traditional chipset design. Unlike all previous Intel chipsets which featured both a northbridge and a southbridge (eg. X58 Express + ICH10R), the P55 is a one-chip solution. As such, it has been given the new designation of Platform Controller Hub (PCH). When it comes to PCI-Express 2.0 connectivity things get a little complicated with this chipset since in the past, the northbridge supplied the graphics-related PCI-E lanes. However, Lynnfield processors feature an industry-first: an integrated PCI-E controller that supports 16 PCI-E 2.0 lanes supplying two mechanical PCI-E x16 slots. If only one graphics card is installed, it will operate at the full electrical x16 speed and if two graphics cards are installed, the PCI-E lanes are divided between both PCI-E x16 slots and they will operate at x8 each. On motherboards with three mechanical PCI-E x16 slots, the first two slots will each operate at x8 while the third slot will operate at x4. How is this possible if we have already established that the integrated PCI-E controller only supports 16 PCI-E lanes? The additional 4 PCI-E lanes come from the P55 PCH itself, which can supply up to 8 PCI-E 1.0 lanes in total.

On the connectivity front, the P55 supports 14 USB 2.0 ports and 6 SATA II ports with Matrix Storage Technology. It also features one Gigabit LAN port and HD Audio Technology. It does not feature support for Intel's Trusted Execution Technology (TXT), formerly known as LaGrande, which provides hardware-level protection against malicious software.

The P55 PCH communicates to the processor via the Direct Media Interface (DMI), which is a 2 GB/s point-to-point connection, which is roughly equivalent to a PCI-E x4 1.0 link. By the way, the DMI is by no means new, it has long been used as the link between the northbridge and southbridge.

Much like the P45 Express and X58 Express chipsets, the P55 PCH is manufactured on the venerable 65nm process, and it has a low default voltage of 1.0V. As a result of this low voltage, and the simple fact that the P55 does not actually do much, it does run quite cool. Did we mention that it is also quite tiny? The P55's package size is just 27mm x 27mm, and the actual die is a minuscule 8mm x 8mm.


That's about all there is to know about the chipset itself, so let's move on to the motherboard itself. Despite being a mainstream platform, higher-end P55 motherboards like this MSI model are definitely outfitted with just about anything you could want on a motherboard.


The P55-GD80 is MSI's high-end P55 model, and the specifications list certainly reflects this. What immediately stands out are the 8+2 phase DrMOS power design, the three PCI-E x16 slots, the 8 SATA II ports, the powered eSATA port, and the interesting touch-based easy buttons.

Next up let's take a closer look at some of the brand new features that MSI have infused the P55-GD80 with.
 
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MAC

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Features

Features



For their new P55 series, MSI have unveiled a new design philosophy called Xtreme Speed, which consists of DrMOS, SuperPipe, and OC Genie. We'll briefly explain those three design elements, and go over a few of interesting new overclocking-oriented features that have been outfitted to the P55-GD80.


The P55-GD80 has been designed with MSI's unique DrMOS (Driver-MOSFET) power component, which differs from standard MOSFETs in that it is a 3-in-1 design with the Driver IC, top MOSFET, and bottom MOSFET all in one package. Because of this 3-in-1 design, the transmission distance between components is shorter, electrical noise is reduced and there is also less power waste. DrMOS also has a 1000kHz switching frequency (ie: frequency at which the MOSFETs are switched on & off), which is roughly 4 times faster than traditional MOSFETs. The faster the transient response, the more stable the power supplied to the CPU is, which is obviously ideal when overclocking.


The Superpipe is a 8mm thick heatpipe, which MSI claims is on average 60% thicker than traditional heatpipes and also the thickest heatpipe used on motherboards. MSI asserts that the Superpipe lowers this motherboard's temperature by up to 50C.


OC Genie feature is a combination of the OC Genie auto-overclocking hardware processor and the OC Genie button, which allows for a minimum 20% overclock in one second flat. In that time, OC Genie manipulates the CPU clock, system voltages, memory clock, and memory timings. From that point, you can keep overclocking with the Direct OC buttons until you achieve whatever overclock your cooling and components will allow.


As mentioned above, the Direct OC buttons allow you to manually adjust the base clock (BLCK). Want to raise the BLCK by 10Mhz? Simply push the + button ten times and bingo, overclock achieved.


If something goes wrong with your overclock, you will be able to see what is wrong via the post code debug display, and you will be able to reboot the system via the touch-sensitive power/reset buttons.


Last, but certainly not least, MSI have boldly included a voltage read point module, which is a design feature that true enthusiasts will undoubtedly rejoice over. Those enthusiasts that really want to push their systems will able to enable the overvoltage options via a handy dipswitch module so there will be no more fussing with jumpers.


What we have see here is just the tip of the iceberg on the MSI P55-GD80, but there are simply too many features to list in this preview. Now without further ado, let's take a look at the motherboard itself.
 
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MAC

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Package & Accessories

Package & Accessories


Enough with the paper specs, time to check out the product itself starting with a brief look at the package and accessories.



Click on image to enlarge

This packaging features the same reserved design that we have seen on previous MSI motherboards, such as the 790FX-GD70 that we have recently reviewed. As you will see below, there really is no correlation between the design of the box and the appearance of the motherboard but that has never been a prerequisite in our book. Most of the key features are mentioned on the front of the box, but a much more detailed overview can be found on the back.

As you can see, once we open the box, it is literally bursting with accessories!



Click on image to enlarge

The accessories bundle that MSI have given this high-end model is mighty impressive. First and foremost, there is a heck of a lot of documentation. There are six SATA cables with locking mechanisms, three SATA-to-Molex power cables, the customary IDE cable, a USB PCI bracket, an eSATA PCI bracket, eSATA cables, eSATA power cables and the back I/O shield.

As you can see in the bottom left image, MSI have thrown in a surprising number of CrossFire and SLI bridges. Why three SLI bridges when the Lynnfield/P55 chipset doesn't run tri-SLI without an NVIDIA NF200 chip (which this model doesn't have)? Does MSI know something that we do not? We'll have to wait and see.

The other interesting addition is the v-check cables, which can be used to secure your test leads to the aforementioned v-check points. Overall, this is one of the better motherboard accessories bundles that we have seen lately.
 
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MAC

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A Closer Look at the MSI P55-GD80

A Closer Look at the MSI P55-GD80



Although we would have liked to see the 8-pin CPU power connector and 24-pin ATX power connector placed right on the edge of the motherboard, all the other connectors and headers are ideally located on the edges. We definitely like the sleek black and blue theme that MSI have recently adopted on most of their motherboards which is a huge step up from the horrible red PCB that was their trademark for oh so many years. Frankly, our only criticism of this layout design is that we would have liked to see the bottom PCI-E x16 slot in another colour to highlight the fact that it is supplied by the P55 PCH and always operates at x4. If we are being really nitpicky, we would have also liked to see the 2nd and 3rd PCI-E x16 slots to be where the PCI slots are, since that would have prevented a dual-slot graphics card in the 3rd PCI-E x16 slot from overhanging the motherboard. Very, very few users will ever encounter this issue though.



Click on image to enlarge

Obviously, the centerpiece of the CPU socket area is the new LGA1156 socket and the retention module design. The other eye-catching feature is DrMOS 8+2 phase power design, as evidence by the 10 sealed ferrite core chokes. There are 8 phases for the CPU and 2 phases for the VTT (aka: Uncore/L3 Cache/Integrated Controllers). The MOSFETs are cooled by reasonably low profile heatsinks and connected to each other by the 8mm Superpipe. We don't anticipate any interference problems with any popular CPU coolers. Once again, we are not too impressed with the numerous capacitors surrounding CPU socket, but that's an issue that will only affect those attempting to insulate the socket for sub-zero cooling runs.



Click on image to enlarge

The dual-channel DDR3 memory slots support overclocked memory frequencies up to DDR3-2133 and benefit from a 2-phase DrMOS power design. For the curious among you, those RENESAS components are the 3-in-1 DrMOS MOSFETs. The v-switch and v-check points are located right beside the memory slots and right on the edge of the motherboard for easy access.

Above the memory slots, MSI have outfitted two pairs of LEDs that reveal how many phases are in use for both VTT and the memory.



Click on image to enlarge

The P55-GD80 features six right-angle SATA II (3Gb/s) ports which are supplied by the P55 chipset and they support AHCI and RAID 0/1/5/10. The blue SATA ports are provided by the popular JMicron JMB322 controller and they support RAID 0/1 and JBOD. A JMicron JMB363 controller supplies the IDE port and the eSATA/USB combo port on the I/O panel.


Click on image to enlarge

The P55 PCH is cooled by a slim, low profile finned heatsink. As with the memory, the chipset benefits from a 2-phase Dr.MOS power design and MSI have also fitted this model with LEDs displaying how many PCH phases are in use.
 
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MAC

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A Closer Look at the MSI P55-GD80 pt.2

A Closer Look at the MSI P55-GD80 pt.2




Click on image to enlarge

The bottom right-hand corner of this motherboard is cholk-full of interesting features. There is the onboard clear CMOS button, the OC Genie auto-overclocking button, the post code debug display, the Direct OC base clock (BLCK) adjustment button and lastly the touch-sensitive button panel with power, reset and green power buttons.


Click on image to enlarge

The overall expansion slot layout and assortment is excellent. There are three full-sized PCI-E 2.0 x16 slots, two PCI-E x1 slots and two legacy PCI slots. In a single graphics card configuration, the top PCI-E x16 slot will operate at the full x16 speed while the bottom slot will run at x4. When two graphics cards are installed in the top and middle x16 slots, they will operate at x8 each with the bottom slot once again operating at x4. This motherboard does support Quad-GPU CrossFireX and Quad-GPU SLI with two dual-GPU graphics cards. Attempting to run three graphics cards would be pointless for gaming purposes since the third card would run at x4 and thus be a huge bottleneck. However, if you partake in [email protected] or would like a card to run PhysX, you could feasibly run three graphics cards on this motherboard without issue.

The heatsink in the usual northbridge location is more for show and heat distribution then anything else, since there are only a few small electrical components under it.



Click on image to enlarge

Starting clockwise from the top-left, we see the venerable Realtek ALC889 8-channel High Definition Audio CODEC. Meanwhile, the VIA VT6315N is a FireWire/IEEE 1394a controller that runs on the PCI-Express bus.

The Realtek RTL8111DL is Gigabit LAN controller that also runs on the PCI-E bus and there are two of these chips on this motherboard to supply the two GbE LAN ports. Once again, we aren't sure why motherboard manufacturers are not making use of the P55's native Intel Gigabit LAN support. Lastly, we have MSI's OC Genie hardware overclocking processor which we have elaborated upon in the features section.


Click on image to enlarge

Here we have a close-up of the 8mm Superpipe which gives you a general idea of just how thick it really is. Another interesting feature that MSI has packed onto this high-end model is an onboard display that shows how many CPU phases are in use in real-time. Useful for most users? Probably not, but neat nonetheless.


Starting from left to right, the rear I/O panel features a PS/2 mouse port, PS2/ keyboard port, coaxial and optical S/PDIF connectors, a FireWire port, two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 2.0 and one powered eSATA port, a Gigabit LAN port, two USB 2.0 ports, another Gigabite LAN port, two USB 2.0 ports and finally six audio jacks on the audio module. All in all, this is everything we could possibly want other than a Clear CMOS button for overclockers.


Click on image to enlarge

The back of the motherboard is interesting due to what it lacks, which is MOSFETs. This is a testament to the aforementioned 3-in-1 DrMOS components. We are glad to see that the MOSFET and chipset heatsinks are held in place with proper mounting screws, not frail plastic push-pins.
 
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MAC

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Hardware Installation

Hardware Installation


In the Hardware Installation section we examine how major components fit on the motherboard, and whether there are any serious issues that may affect installation and general functionality. Specifically, we are interested in determining whether there is adequate clearance in all critical areas.


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When installed in the traditional North-South orientation, our Thermalright MUX-120 (ie: updated Ultra-120) cooler had no clearance issues on this motherboard, easily clearing the MOSFET heatsinks and with a fair bit of room between the 120MM fan and the first DIMM slot.


Click on image to enlarge

However, when we rotated the cooler to the East-West orientation things got a little more tricky. As you can see, in this orientation the MUX-120 slightly overhangs the first DIMM slot, which means that you can't use memory modules with tall heatspreaders. Thankfully, the second DIMM slot was fully accessible, although with very tall heatspreaders you may have to install the fan clip after installing the memory modules. On the other hand, if you have low-profile memory modules, then there are no clearance problems whatsoever.


Click on image to enlarge

The 8-pin CPU power connector and the 24-pin ATX power connector are both placed in very good locations, there are no installation issues to report.


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Thanks to the expansion slot layout, there is a nice gap between the memory clips and the back of the graphics card.


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No matter what orientation the CPU cooler is installed in, there is plenty of clearance between it and the back of the graphics card, which means easy access to the PCI-E x16 slot clip.


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Thanks to a well thoughtout expansion slot layout, when you install two dual-slot graphics cards on this motherboard you will not lose access to the precious PCI slot. However, you do lose access to the two upward facing blue SATA ports and the Direct OC buttons.


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What if you're a Folder and you want to make use of the third PCI-E x16 slot? Well you definitely can, but you will lose acess to the Direct OC and Genie OC buttons, as well as the LED display, not to mention the touch sensitive easy buttons. You will also lose access to the all the USB and FireWire headers at the bottom of the motherboard. More importantly though, if you install a dual-slot graphics card in the third PCI-E x16 slot, it will overhang the motherboard, so keep that in mind if you have a shorter case.



The six 90-degree SATA ports are obviously accessible no matter how many graphics cards are installed, as is the IDE port.


Click on image to enlarge

Since Thermalright has not yet released their LGA1156 bracket, we cannot properly test to see if there are any clearance issues, however there is nothing on the back of the P55-GD80 that gives us cause for concern.
 
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MAC

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BIOS Rundown

BIOS Rundown


Don't be fooled by the "1985-2005", this appears to be an American Megatrends v02.62-based BIOS, which is circa 2008-2009. Now manufacturers can tweak much of the BIOS to give it their own personalized option-rich, user-friendly feel, so let's see what MSI have done with the P55-GD80. This particular BIOS is V1.4, the latest one available at the time this article was published.


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When you first boot up the system you are presented with the above splash screen, thankfully it can be disabled for those who want to shave a few seconds off of the bootup time. Once you enter the BIOS, you find yourself in the main menu screen.


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The Standard CMOS Features section lists the date & time, as well as what storage devices are connected. The System Information sub-meny lists some rudimentary specification info, including the BIOS date & version, the type of processor and the amount of memory installed.


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The Advanced BIOS Features section is essentially where you set storage device priority and select the boot drive, set supervisor and user passwords, and also disable the full screen logo.


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As per its name, the Integrated Peripherals section is where you can enable/disable all the onboard devices like audio, LAN, FireWire, eSATA, etc.


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The Power Management Setup section contains the settings linked to the power-saving Standby States and the Wake Up options.


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The Hardware Monitor contains the temperature & voltage readings, and very decent fan control settings. We are to glad see that all three main voltage rails are present and accounted for, but we would like to see some additional system voltages. What really makes this section special though is the Dr.MOS Temperature sub-menu, which reveals a unique feature in the form of individual MOSFET temperature readouts. We have never seen this on any other motherboard thus far, and it's pretty cool.


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The Green Power menu always you to disable all the phase control settings, as well as the motherboard LEDs and the touch-based Easy Buttons.


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The Cell Menu is where all the fun happens. This is where you can tweak all the system frequencies, voltage, timings, CPU features, and more. If you want to have manual access to the static +2X multiplier that can be unlocked, simply set Intel EIST (Enhanced SpeedStep) to 'Auto'. Setting it to 'Enabled' with enable it, but you won't have manually access to it. It say 22X (for example) in the BIOS, but actually boot up at 24X.


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As you can see, the P55-GD80 has a very rich selection of memory information and settings. No complaints here.


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Both the memory and QPI frequencies have ratios that can be selected via dropdown menus.


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For those attempting to hit very high BCLK, the PCI-E frequency and CPU Amplitude Control settings will help you in your overclocking endeavours.


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This motherboard has a solid assortment of voltage options, which can be inputted manually, and an option for Load-Line Calibration (LLC). If the voltage ranges are not extreme enough for you, you can adjust the V Switch dip switches to unlock truly insane voltage levels.


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M-Flash is a built-in utility that greatly simplies the BIOS updating process. You can easily update your BIOS from a ROM file located on your hard drive(s), USB flash drive(s), or even a CD. It's quick, painless, and it takes the worry out of BIOS flashing.


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The Overclocking Profile menu gives users the option to save and switch between BIOS profiles, for example an everyday profile and a benchmarking profile, which is infinitely quicker than manually inserting every setting.


Overall, MSI have done a good job with this BIOS. It's fast, relatively user-friendly, and it's chalk full of options. The Cell Menu section in particular has nearly setting that we would expect in a motherboard of this caliber.
 
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MAC

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Included Software

Included Software


Now that we have the motherboard unpacked and installed, it is time to take a look at some of the software utilities that MSI have included with the P55-GD80.


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Here we have the familiar setup screens for the included software CD. It contains all the drivers and MSI-specific utilities that you will need to get your system up & running. However, we obviously recommend that you visit MSI's website to get the very latest drivers and software revisions, or...


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...you can use Live Update 4, which will search for and download the latest BIOS, drivers, and utilities for you.






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Control Center is MSI's main software utility and it contains system information, overclocking & tweaking settings, and energy-saving features. To be honest though, it's not all that brilliant. It doesn't recognize the highest Turbo Boost CPU multipliers, so when our i7-870 is using 24-25-26-27X multipliers it will only show 23X max. It also crashes...a lot. Every time we would adjust the vCore and then run LinX, Control Center would have a fatal error requiring it to close. Every time we clicked on the 'Max Power Saving' setting the system would just shut down, as if someone pulled the power cord. Thankfully, the voltage and temperature monitoring section does have accurate real-time readouts. There are also a few neat gimmicks like the ability to enable/disable the motherboard LEDs from within Windows and the ability to view individual MOSFET temperatures. Overall though, this is one utility that needs some serious work. We were using build version 1.0.128, just for reference sake. (- Oct. 21 '09: This issue has been resolved, see update in the conclusion.)


Click on image to enlarge

The Drive Booster Manager is a simple utility that works in coordination with the onboard JMicron 322 SATA RAID controller to help view hard drive information, create RAID arrays (0/1/JBOD), and delete RAID arrays.
 
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MAC

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Test Setup & Methodology

Test Setup & Methodology





Click on image to enlarge

Test Setup​

Testing will occur on a Highspeed PC Standard Top Deck Tech Station and not in a traditional case. This allows easier access to the motherboard for the constant poking and prodding that is required during the reviewing process. The setup remained as pictured during the duration of the benchmarking and stability overclocking process.



Overclocking Methodology


The P55-GD80 represents the pinnacle of MSI's current P55 lineup, and as such we expect it to have some impressive overclocking capabilities. The overclocking section is definitely the part of our reviews that we take the most pride in, and we spend an excruciating numbers of hours testing, tweaking, failing, and succeeding in order to give you the best possible insight into each motherboard’s overclocking capabilities. After all, if you are anything like us, the overclocking section is the first (and often last!) part that you read when checking out a motherboard review.

For the purposes of this review, our overclocking efforts will primarily focus on three main areas: highest stable BCLK overclock, highest stable CPU overclock, and highest stable memory overclock. However, given the increasing prevalence of automatic overclocking solutions, we have also included an "auto overclocking results" section, in which we will see how good these manufacture-provided technologies really are.

In these overclocking tests we put an emphasis on stability. While the question “What is stable?” could be debated endlessly, we have devised a methodology that combines a wide range of programs that test the stability of the entire system.

Here are some of the applications that will be run in order to validate each of the overclocks:

  • Four/Eight 32MB instances of SuperPi Mod 1.5 (ran at the same time)
  • 3+ hours of dual Prime 95 v25.6 using the Stress Testing Blend
  • 1 hour of OCCT Auto 1H Medium Data Set OCCT v3.1.0
  • LinX 0.5.9 - 25 runs - use all memory
  • Multiple loops of 3DMark 06 (30 minutes of looping the full tests each)
  • 1 hour of game play in Left 4 Dead & Crysis @ 1680x1050

Altogether, the above suite should provide enough stress testing to ensure a completely stable overclock, however we are always up for new suggestions. As always, no two systems are ever alike, so your results may vary. Also, overclock at your own risk! The Lynnfield/P55 platform is brand new, and although we are somewhat conservative with our voltage estimates, there is always the possibility that you could damage any and all of your components. If you aren’t fully confident in what you are doing, feel free to stop by our forums and our helpful community will be glad to offer some assistance.


Benchmark Methodology



For this review, we have compared the MSI P55-GD80 with the ASUS P7P55D Deluxe and the Intel DP55KG "Kingsberg" motherboard, all in stock configuration and using the Core i7-870 processor with Turbo Boost enabled.


We have outlined the three setups in the sample graph above. The green results are from the P55-GD80, the blue results are from the P7P55D Deluxe, and the red results are from the Intel DP55KG.

For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Intel Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed followed by a defragment and a reboot.

C) Programs and games are then installed followed by another defragment.

D) Windows updates are then completed installing all available updates followed by a defragment.

E) Benchmarks are each ran three times after a clean reboot for every iteration of the benchmark unless otherwise stated, the results are then averaged.

We have listed the benchmark versions above each graph as results can vary between updates. That should about cover everything so let's see what kind of numbers this motherboard puts up in the overclocking section and in our chosen suite of benchmarks.
 
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