With the recent introduction of the Intel Pentium Dual-Core processor, both Intel and NVIDIA have released feature-laden chipsets to accommodate this affordable processor range while still catering to the full Socket LGA775 lineup.

In catering to the enthusiast and potential workstation client, both MSI and Gigabyte have released their flagship boards based upon the nForce4 SLI Intel Edition and Intel 955x chipsets respectively. Unfortunately, both companies have also tried to cater to every possible market segment in the design and implementation of features on each board.

In a testament to the strength of each chipset, the respective manufacturers are trying to differentiate and market the boards based upon auxiliary feature sets. These feature sets include additional connectivity and storage ports, improved audio capabilities, unique software sets to control various aspects of the board, extensive documentation, and complete cable/PCI back plate installation kits.

Today, we will compare the features, performance, and capabilities of the MSI P4N Diamond and Gigabyte GA-8I955X Royal motherboards. This review will not cover in depth the differences between the core logic chipsets or address processor architectures. This information was covered in the Dual Core Intel Platform Shootout - NVIDIA nForce4 vs. Intel 955X and Intel Dual Core Performance Preview Part I: First Encounter. Let's see if these boards can be considered the jack-of-all-trades or is one of them holding an ace up their sleeve that will allow it to win?

Basic Features: MSI P4N Diamond & Gigabyte GA-8I955X Royal

Both boards have impressive feature sets with the MSI P4N having a slight advantage due to the integrated drive options, SLI, and networking support present in the nForce4 SLI Intel Edition Chipset.

Specification Gigabyte GA-8I955X Royal MSI P4N Diamond
CPU Interface LGA775-based Pentium 4, Pentium XE, Celeron D, and Pentium D processors LGA775-based Pentium 4, Pentium XE, Celeron D, and Pentium D processors
Chipset North bridge- Intel 955x
South bridge- Intel ICH7R
North bridge- NVIDIA nForce4 SLI Intel Edition SPP
South bridge- NVIDIA nForce4 SLI Intel Edition MCP
Pentium D Support
(Dual-Core)
Full Support Limited Support
(Pentium D 820 in single-core mode only as of this writing)
TM2 (Thermal Monitor 2) Support Full Support Not Supported
BUS Speeds 100-600MHz (in 1MHz increments) 400-1400 MHz (in 1MHz increments)
CPU Ratios Unlock Supported, Adjustable down depending on CPU Unlock Supported, Adjustable down depending on CPU
Memory Speeds Auto- 400, 533, 667, 888, plus predefined multipliers 400-1200 (Asynchronous)
PCI/AGP Speeds Asynchronous (Fixed) Asynchronous (Fixed)
PCI Express 90MHz to 150MHz in 1MHz increments 100MHz to 150MHz in 1MHz increments
Dynamic Overclocking C.I.A.2, (4) unique settings, dynamic increase from 5 to 19% D.O.T. Express, (6) unique settings, increase from 1 to 15%
Core Voltage Auto, 0.8375V-1.60V in 0.0125V increments Auto, 0.8375V-1.60V in 0.0125V increments
DRAM Voltage Auto, 1.80V to 2.3V in 0.1V increments Auto, 1.80V to 2.4V in 0.05V increments
Other Voltage PCI-E - +0.05V to +.035V in .05V steps,
FSB - +0.05V to +.035V in .05V steps
North Bridge - 1.475V - 1.525V in .025V steps, 1.55V - 1.70V in .5V steps
LDT (Hyper Transport) Ratios NA 1x, 2x, 3x, 3.5x, 4x, 5x
Memory Command Rate NA Auto, 1T, 2T
Memory Slots Four 240-pin DDR2 Slots
Dual-Channel Unbuffered Memory to 8GB
Four 240-pin DDR2 Slots
Dual-Channel Unbuffered Memory to 16GB
Expansion Slots 1x16 PCIe Slots
2 x1 PCIe
3 PCI Slots
2 x16 PCIe Slots (configured as 1 x16 or 2 x8)
1x1 PCIe
2 PCI Slots
SLI Not supported NVIDIA (x8 + x8) SLI
Onboard SATA 4-Drive SATA 2 RAID by ICH7R
2-Drive SATA 2 RAID by Sil3132
4-Drive SATA 2 RAID by nF4 PLUS
2-Drive SATA 2 RAID by Sil3132
Onboard IDE (1) INTEL ATA 100/66/33 port, (2) drive support
(2) ITE IT8212F ATA 133/100/66 ports, (4) drive support
(2) NVIDIA ATA 133/100/66 ports, (4) drive support
SATA/IDE RAID 4-Drive SATA 2 RAID by ICH7R
RAID 0, 1, 5, 10 Intel Matrix
2-Drive SATA 2 RAID by Sil3132
2-Drive PATA GigaRAID by IT8212F
4-Drive SATA 2 RAID by nF4 PLUS
4-Drive IDE RAID (8) drive support
Can be combined in RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5, and JBOD (8 drives total)
(2) SATA 2 Drives by Sil3132 as RAID 0, 1
Onboard USB 2.0/IEEE-1394 (8) USB 2.0 ports supported by ICH7R
(3) 1394A/B FireWire ports supported by TI 1394b
(10) USB 2.0 ports supported by nF4
(3) 1394A FireWire ports supported by VIA VT6306
Onboard LAN Dual Gigabit Ethernet
PCIe Gigabit LAN
by (2) Broadcom 5751
Dual Gigabit Ethernet
NVIDIA PCIe LAN by Marvel 88E1111 PHY
PCIe Gigabit LAN by Marvell 88E8053
Onboard Audio Azalia HD 8-channel audio, Realtek ALC882M codec featuring Dolby Digital Live!,
(1) Coaxial & (1) Optical S/PDIF output port and (1) S/PDIF input
Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24bit 8-channel audio, Creative DSP controller (CA0106-DAT), (1) Coaxial S/PDIF & (1) TOS-Link Digital output port
Power Connectors ATX 24-pin, 1 or 2 x4-pin 12V ATX 24-pin, 1 x4-pin 12V, 1 x4-pin GPU
Other Features USB adapter for Bluetooth 1.2 devices, USB extension cord, Gigabyte EasyTune 5 software for real time detection and adjustment of various hardware settings Core Cell Chip for dynamic system tuning, MSI CoreCenter software for real time detection and adjustment of various hardware settings
BIOS AWARD F7 AMI 1.3

Without exception, the Intel 955x fully supports all dual core Pentium D processors. The nForce4 SLI Intel Edition Chipset dual core support is limited at this time. We confirmed that both boards worked properly at stock settings with an Intel Pentium D 840 processor, and there were no problems with either board recognizing the two cores and four logical processors that are created with the Hyperthreading feature on this EE processor. However, the MSI P4N Diamond only supports the Intel Pentium D 820 processor in single core mode. NVIDIA confirmed the current chipset was not validated for dual core operation with the Intel Pentium D 820 processor. Considering the cost / performance advantage of the Intel Pentium D 820 processor, the lack of full support at this time from NVIDIA is a mistake in our opinion.

MSI P4N Diamond: Features
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  • smn198 - Friday, September 23, 2005 - link

    Welcome Gary. Look forward to seeing more from you. Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, September 23, 2005 - link

    smn198,

    Thank you. I really enjoyed doing this article, working with Wes, and having the opportunity to share my experiences with the great members and visitors here at AnandTech. I certainly hope you will be seeing more from me. ;-)

    Sincerely,
    Gary Key
    Reply
  • Evan Lieb - Friday, September 23, 2005 - link

    Welcome Gary, and have fun! Reply
  • Ecmaster76 - Friday, September 23, 2005 - link

    Looks like it went up early.

    Good read though. At first I was like "Holy $#!+" when I saw the gaming benchmarks, but then they mentioned about the Gigabyte BIOS being effed up.
    Reply
  • cryptonomicon - Thursday, September 22, 2005 - link

    DRAM Voltage Auto, 1.80V to 2.3V in 0.1V increments


    uh.. but isnt ram like 2.5-2.8v?
    Reply
  • Pete84 - Friday, September 23, 2005 - link

    DDR2 runs at much lower vdimm than DDR. Reply
  • cryptonomicon - Friday, September 23, 2005 - link

    ah yes of course..

    so much for active cooling then
    Reply
  • BlvdKing - Thursday, September 22, 2005 - link

    I can't believe the Nforce 4 for AMD supports dual core but the Intel edition only has limited support and no support for the 820. Reply
  • coomar - Wednesday, September 21, 2005 - link

    no a diamond can't beat a royal flush Reply

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