We received two late entries into our P965 roundup, the MSI P965 Platinum and ECS PX1 Extreme motherboards. Both of these motherboards are touted by their manufacturers as offering high-end performance features and options not found on their P965 value boards. We took one look at their features lists, glanced at the motherboards, checked their pricing, and did a double take when we realized both boards were going to be offered for under $150. Based upon these feature sets that include everything from CrossFire compatibility to extended SATA drive options, we felt like the boards belonged in our high-end grouping with the ASUS P5B-Deluxe and Gigabyte GA-P965-DQ6 motherboards. After all, both boards had the looks, came with an impressive resume of features, and were touted for their performance.

Our tests proved otherwise as you will find out shortly. We really were disappointed at first with our board's performance numbers. Although one board scored extremely well at stock speeds and the other one performed decently, we could not shake our let down with the results. However, before we get into the actual performance numbers let's see why we're disappointed. Was it truly with the performance of the boards or were we merely disappointed with ourselves?

Our analogy will be of going to the prom with a blind date. We had listened to the buildup of our date from friends and family for so long that we were convinced this person would be the one. Our vision was obscured to the point of imagining fireworks ablaze, running together with hands locked together down the beach, and knowing that love at first sight was indeed possible. The hype was there in abundance, our expectations were set to unbelievably high levels, giddiness abounded, and our palms were sweating as we opened the door to meet the perfect one. We stood there in total amazement, and then shock and disbelief set in as we realized our blind date was none other than our sibling.


As we pondered our predicament at the front door we become fully aware that we had completely bought into the hype without first asking some direct questions. Sure, all of the statements from our friends and family were true, but we had bought into their marketing spin without looking at the facts. Once we came to our senses we began to look at the situation in an entirely different way. Sure our sibling had great qualities that could not be denied but there was no way we were going to the prom with her (or him as the case may be). If we had concentrated and focused on the facts in the beginning then we would have known the situation we were in before we opened that door.

Once we tested our two motherboards we realized we had also bought into the hype without first reviewing the facts. While the feature sets on these two motherboards clearly put them in the same category as the upper-end P965 boards there were clear indicators these boards belonged in the midrange sector at best. Let's take the ECS PX1 Extreme as an example.

ECS has been touting their Extreme lineup for the past year as a value based performance alternative to other suppliers. While they have made some significant strides in this area, the last ECS Extreme motherboard we reviewed was anything but extreme in the performance area. We looked at the PX1 board's specifications, the Extreme moniker, and figured ECS had a P965 motherboard that would complete with the best of them by offering very good performance and overclocking capabilities of at least 450FSB as an example. We were wrong in the last assumption. The ECS BIOS limits overclocking to 366FSB as it turns out and we were still south of even that if we wanted stability.

This ECS PX1 really could not be considered an "Extreme" performance based P965 based motherboard without very good overclocking and performance at the high-end, so why market it as such? We dug a little deeper and found ECS designed this board for digital home purposes as it is ViiV approved and even utilizes the new Intel ICH8DH Southbridge. As we delved over the specifications of the motherboard and its test results we realized its capabilities might be extreme for an Intel ViiV based system but certainly not in the same class as the ASUS P5B-Deluxe. While it's marketed as an Extreme series motherboard it is really a Windows Media Center 2005 centric motherboard, and if viewed as such it does a good job. As we've said in the past, calling a motherboard "Extreme" does not make it so, a point ECS continues to prove. However, not everyone needs extreme overclocking.

In MSI's case, their P965 motherboard carries the Platinum name and is expected to be one of the best performing and fully featured motherboards on the market. The P965 Platinum is actually one of the fastest stock P965 motherboards you can purchase and it has an incredible amount of features for its $134.99 price (actually $119.99 with a year end rebate promotion). After being spoiled by the overclocking performance of the Biostar 965PT for around $110 we expected a similar performance from the MSI board. This did not happen and at first it disappointed us until we realized this board comes with excellent stock performance, a complete set of features, great support, and an incredible price with the rebate. We had to ask ourselves if 400FSB overclocking is good enough when considering the remaining attributes of this motherboard.

400FSB overclocking was certainly considered leading class back in June when the P965 motherboards were released. As the manufacturers have improved their BIOS revisions over time we now expect to see 500FSB levels as the norm in a performance oriented P965 motherboard. The question is how many buyers will actually deem this FSB capability important. Certainly the enthusiast group sees 500FSB as a given for extracting the most performance from an E6300 or E6400 Core 2 Duo processor - as they should - but a large majority of buyers are really looking for solid stock performance, great features, decent overclocking capability, good support, and most of all an excellent price. The MSI P965 Platinum no longer disappoints us when viewed in this manner.

Let's get started and see how well our MSI and ECS motherboards perform today.

MSI P965 Platinum: Feature Set
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  • valnar - Friday, December 08, 2006 - link

    I believe you missed the point of the ECS PX1 completely. While I agree that the moniker "Extreme" might be misguided to an overclocking nut, it qualifies when looking at the features. For HTPC use, it might simply be the best board available. Yes, you heard me right.

    Here are the features which seperate it from the rest of the 965 chipset pack. Some other boards have these features, but none have them all.

    * Heatpipe on chipsets for cool, quiet operation
    * Intel VIIV technology for quick powerup
    * Three *usable* PCI slots for TV Tuner cards or whatever. (ie. the video card in the PCI-E slot won't render the 1st PCI slot useless)
    * Realtek ALC885 audio. This is VERY important. Not too many boards have it yet since it has HDCP support. See here: http://newsko.blogspot.com/2006/04/realtek-shows-o...">Realtek info
    * eSATA, S/PDIF and Firewire support
    * Dual gigabit LAN (not important, but one of them is the Intel 82566DC, which is one of the best currently)

    About the only board which comes close in features, while maintaining the critical three usable PCI slots, is the ASUS P5W DH Deluxe. The ASUS overclocks better for sure, but has the slightly older and non-HDCP compliant ALC882 audio.

    For the application it is intended for, heck, even for regular non-overclocking folk, it truly is a bright star in the motherboard landscape of mediocrity. About the only surface level "component" they could improve on would be to include a TI chipset for firewire instead of VIA, but that's a small complaint.

    I don't doubt for a second the major players like ASUS and Gigabyte will catch up, but for now, I'd buy this board in a heartbeat.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, December 09, 2006 - link

    "...a solid but not spectacular ECS offering that needs a name change before it can be taken seriously. ECS PX1 HTPC would be a much better description of what you're getting in the box."

    The board isn't terrible, but it is being marketed poorly. For HTPC use it would be good. For other use, it is far more questionable. HTPCs are still a limited market, and Blu-ray/HD-DVD support might be important to some people but it's not critical. I'm not entirely sure how important DRM support is audio -- it seems like HDCP support is still more a factor of having the correct video card and display rather than the motherboard. As far as I'm aware, if you have a motherboard that has an optical out connection to get one of the newer graphics cards that has an HDMI port, you can route the optical audio out over to the graphics card and it will send the audio along the HDMI cable.

    As for Intel ViiV, it doesn't really seem to do much other than put the system into a slightly lower power state, and people that need a great HTPC solution will still need to get a good TV Tuner and software first and foremost. What can this board currently do that the MSI board cannot? Put a GPU like http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">this ASUS 7600GT HDMI into both boards, and what DRM content won't work on the MSI platform but will work on the ECS? HDCP (Blu-ray content) worked fine http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2874...">on an Intel board that doesn't have a "DRM enabled" audio chipset, after all.
    Reply
  • valnar - Sunday, December 10, 2006 - link

    At the moment, DRM is not enabled for many BR/HD-DVD discs. When it is, it will need a secure audio path as well. It will still work, but won't be at full resolution. So at the moment, you can say the MSI is somewhat equal to the ECS in that respect, but the ECS still has a better sounding DAC in the ALC885 audio (better S/N ratio), has 3 PCI slots, eSATA and VIIV.

    For the non-overclocker, or mild overclocker, I can see no reason to get the MSI. :)
    Reply
  • Xcom1Cheetah - Thursday, December 07, 2006 - link

    Reading the review i feel that you are putting more efforts on the overclocking.. definitely there are some extreme overclockers but in my vicinity i see many people who like to play it safe and doesn't go too overboard and exotic with overclocking.

    My Suggestion is that if from now on you can post the benchmark of overclocked Motherboards. In which you overclock all the motherboards to a very reasonable level like if the normal FSB is 266 then overclock it to 300 or 325 (where you don;t have to increase the voltage and lower the memory timing)... and then benchmark them to see how the performance improve with the overclocking in each board. i mean is it linear or some boards show more gains than others... So that the vast number of people who like to keep it safe in overclocking can see which one is going to bring more gains at minimal risk. ( and they should be tested on atleast three different benchmark, one normal multitasking benchmark, one game benchmark and one encoding sort of benchmark.)

    The catch here is that all board should be overclocked to same level irrespective of the fact how high they can go...

    I think it will be a very nice addition to your already very extensive and perfect review.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 07, 2006 - link

    My personal experience is that if the boards maximum overclock is around 50%, long-term you will find that you will have to decrease the overclock in order to maintain stability. I have a couple systems that ran great with a 50% (sometimes more) overclock initially, and then a few months later I had to drop the overclock down to more like 40%. I even have one system now that I can hardly overclock at all, where is it used to hit a 30% overclock without difficulty.

    Basically, if you find a board that only offers mediocre overclocking performance initially, it is very unlikely that such a configuration will maintain the maximum overclock over the long haul. If ECS is only able to 345 MHz on the bus right now, in ideal circumstances, realistically you are probably looking at 320-333 bus speed for long-term use. That would be fine with typical motherboards, but just about all of the P965 boards are reaching much higher overclocks than that, many of them with lower prices than ECS, so the board definitely is not "extreme" in any way.

    As for looking at motherboard performance had a "standardized" overclock, that sort of defeats the purpose of looking at overclocking. For people that don't care about overclocking, they can just ignore our overclocking results and look at the base performance. In our experience, once users start looking at overclocking, they would much rather have a board that easily overclocks to 333 MHz and can be pushed to much higher overclocks with a bit of effort rather than a board that can barely reach 345 MHz. In the case of the former, you are just about guaranteed to be able to overclock is much as you want (within reason), without having to pull your hair out.

    Performance should scale just about linearly with overclocking, but that's only assuming that all of the other variables stay consistent. Unfortunately, that usually doesn't happen, as you get a lot of variation between the boards in terms of what sort of memory timings and speeds they can hit with overclocking. The ECS board starts out with worst timings, and they certainly don't get better as you start overclocking.

    Just my take on the situation. Unless you need Intel ViiV support, there's really no reason to consider the ECS board. Better boards are available for less money, including the MSI board.
    Reply
  • MaxisOne - Wednesday, December 06, 2006 - link

    Ive been waiting for weeks to buy the Asus boards but i just couldnt bring myself to drop almost 200 dollars for one. I noticed the Msi board on the egg yesterday and i about died when i saw the price.I figured "something must be missing" from this board so i started to hunt for reviews last night. I never expected a review from AT so soon. The timing couldnt have been more perfect. From what im seeing the board is pretty decent for someone who has no desire or intention to pursue high overclocks. I just hope the egg doesnt jack up the prices by the time i order it tommorow.
    Hopefully with further bios updates the overclockers can get in on the price advantage but for now they may have to stick with the more expensive offerings.
    Good review ... i appreciate it
    Reply
  • Basilisk - Wednesday, December 06, 2006 - link

    Thank you for the effort made in reviewing this product. But -please- re-think you prose style and put less effort into describing your emotional traumas: facts can tell the story without recurring analogies to your prom dates, etc. Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Wednesday, December 06, 2006 - link

    I appreciate a little personality in writing, even in technology reviews. Afterall, this is not a data sheet or user manual. Like it or not, a critical review is a form of literary composition and, IMHO, ought to include some creativity. If you don't like it, then skip to the tables and graphs...all the facts with very little commentary. Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, December 07, 2006 - link

    I agree with mostlyprudent. Sure there is a bit more personality being shown than normal, but variety is always nice, and it's still a great read. Reply
  • Basilisk - Wednesday, December 06, 2006 - link

    I agree with you, but felt this article far exceeded "a little personality". This is NOT a criticism I've posted before, and maybe I'm just having a bad day? I didn't mean to damn the author, just to suggest that he spread it a bit thinner in the future. OMV.... Reply

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