The motherboard itself is built on a 6 layer full ATX PCB measuring 30x24cm which is pretty standard for boards of this price and performance range. A good ATX case will be needed to install them in, as space can be tight.
MSI's placement of the connectors on the P35 Diamond is reasonable with only two real complaints. The 24-pin power connector is placed behind the four DDR3 memory slots. The placement of the 4/8 pin connector is stuck between the Circu-pipe cooler making it quite a pain to install as well as unplug; being put further down the board means the power cable gets routed across the CPU reducing the effectiveness of air cooling. Water cooling will have no worries though. The floppy connector is our next complaint at the bottom of the board below the last PCI slot as it makes routing the FDD cable a nightmare.
The IDE connector is located below the 24-pin power connector on the right hand side of the board and is rotated 90 degrees to keep the cable from interfering with any of the onboard components or peripheral card installs. The five SATA ports are located behind the IDE connector; the four purple ones are controlled by the ICH9R Southbridge as well as another two being routed to the external e.SATA ports. The last blue one is controlled by the additional Marvel PCI Express chip that also runs the IDE port. Personally we would've liked to have seen the Marvel SATA routed to the e.SATA system and all six of the ICH9R ports for internal use, this allowing for a much larger overall RAID setup if that is your preference.
The CPU area is reasonably clear of any large components; the only large obstacle is the Circu-pipe, but looking at it closely, most if not all large coolers will be fine with this board and water cooling will be even better. The CPU is powered by a 4-phase voltage system, three phases are placed alongside the Circu-pipe heatsink and another can be seen above the CPU socket. While this is enough for Conroe and Penryn CPUs, older Pentium D and Celeron D CPUs for overclocking purposes may find it somewhat restrictive. The Mosfets along with the Northbridge and Southbridge are cooled by the interconnected Circu-pipe setup.
MSI's rear I/O port arrangement on the P35 Diamond is almost identical to the X48 board we tested, only with a few missing ports which means it uses the same I/O shield. The most noticeable features are two e.SATA ports along with a Toslink digital audio out port for connecting to a digital receiver.
Lastly on the board we take a look at the expansion slots. Being a P35 based chipset Crossfire is supported, and MSI has taken advantage of this. There are two PCI Express x16 slots on the board, a white and yellow one. The white one is controlled by the P35 Northbridge and all 16 lanes from it are routed to this slot.
The yellow slot is routed from the four extra PCI Express lanes that the Southbridge has. If you want to use this slot at full x4 speeds you can't use any two extra PCI Express slots that the board incorporates. If you want to use one for the X-Fi card, you can only have the yellow slot at x1 speeds reducing the overall effective speed of the Crossfire setup. We would've liked to have seen MSI use the IDT PCI expander to route the single PCI Express x16 lane from the Northbridge into two PCI Express x8 slots like what ASUS does on its Blitz series of board.
Two PCI legacy slots are included, and if you wish to use the Skytel card one of them are used to hold the card; it doesn't use any of the PCI bandwidth, just simply for holding it.