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MSI P55-GD80 Lynnfield Motherboard Preview‏

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MAC

Associate Review Editor
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MSI P55-GD80
Lynnfield Motherboard Preview‏




As we mentioned in our preview of the ASUS P7P55D and EVGA P55 FTW motherboards, the official launch date for the Lynnfield series is quickly approaching and with them a veritable swarm of P55 motherboards is going to hit the market. The sheer scope of new models available at launch is going to surprise and shock many consumers. That is why smart manufacturers like MSI have wisely chosen to preview their new P55 models to help their motherboards stand out from the crowd as early as possible. Today, we will be showing off MSI's most fully-featured new model: the P55-GD80.

As the Top of the Line model in MSI's roster, the P55-GD80 has been designed to surpass the best that the competition has to offer. It supports all upcoming Lynnfield LGA1156 processors, has a formidable 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, CrossFireX and SLI support, dual Gigabit LAN ports, an 8-channel HD audio CODEC, 8 SATA II ports, 9 USB 2.0 ports, 1 FireWire port, 3 eSATA ports, a new OC Genie real-time overclocking processor with accompanying OC Genie & DirectOC buttons, touch-sensitive onboard power/reset switches, phase LEDs for every major component, a post code debug display and quite a bit more.

In this our third P55 motherboard preview, we will give you a quick rundown of all the features this model has to offer in order to whet your appetite until the actual review hits our front page. Unfortunately, due to NDAs we can't show you performance or BIOS screens but don't worry, you won't have to wait too long before we put this board through our torture tests.


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MAC

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Specifications

Specifications


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Waiting to be Exposed - P55 PCH

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 such as the P55-GD80, 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, we can tell you that 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 High Definition Audio. Now we would love nothing more but to give you all the additional juicy details about this new chipset, but that information is under wraps so you will just have to check out our future Lynnfield/P55 review.

While that is all we can tell you about the chipset itself, here is some of the MSI P55-GD80's specifications:

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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 features listed in the right-hand features list.
 
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MAC

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Features

Features


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A Closer Look at the MSI P55-GD80 pt.1

A Closer Look at the MSI P55-GD80 pt.1


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

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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!

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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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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 motherboard 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Associate Review Editor
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Messages
1,086
Location
Montreal
A Closer Look at the MSI P55-GD80 pt.2

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


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The bottom right-hand corner of this motherboard is chalk 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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 wimpy plastic push-pins.


That about it for today's preview, but the launch date is quickly approaching so check back for the official review. While we can't comment on performance or overclocking at this point, but this might just be the most impressive motherboard that we have seen from MSI. As such, we can't wait to compare it to the competition.



 
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