DFI vs. MSI - Conroe 975X Motherboards Tested

Today we look at two 975X motherboards from DFI and MSI. We'll overclock them and work out which is your best choice.

@TweakTown
Published Mon, Sep 18 2006 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:04 PM CST
Manufacturer: none

Introduction




Intel's Core 2 family of processors are now starting to expand. At release there were only a few models released, the high-end Extreme and the 4MB cache Core 2 Duo. We now are starting to see the lower-end 2MB cache series hitting the streets and Quad Core is coming in a couple of months. While the CPU line up is starting to spread, so are the boards supporting Core 2.

Intel announced that their 975X chipset would support Core 2 but current motherboard before the release of Conroe based on the same chipset wouldn't because of the required VRM 2.2 voltage system that the Core 2 uses. No 975X motherboards were built to handle this, until now.

Since Intel aren't intending on releasing a new enthusiast level chipset for their processors for sometime, we are starting to see new revisions of older motherboards released like the ASUS P5W-DH - which is simply a P5WD2-E Premium with Core 2 support. Today we are looking at two new motherboards from MSI and DFI which are designed for Core 2 and Core 2 Extreme processors.

From DFI we are looking at the Infinity 975X/G motherboard to support the Pentium 4, Pentium D and Core 2 families. From MSI we are looking at the 975X Platinum PowerUp Edition which is a revision of the MSI 975X Platinum that was released earlier on in the year for the Pentium D and Pentium Extreme.

So come all ye faithful and see just who had the features and overclocking to be the king of the hill - will MSI murder DFI or will DFI devastate MSI? Let's take a look and find out!

Specifications - DFI


Specifications of the DFI Infinity 975X/G

CPU
Supports Intel Pentium 4 LGA775 800FSB Series
Supports Intel Pentium D 8xx and 9xx Series
Supports Intel Core 2 Extreme Series
Supports Intel Core 2 Duo Series
Supports Intel Celeron D series

Chipset
Intel i975X
i975x Northbridge
i82801FR (ICH7R) Southbridge
DMI @ 2GB/s

System Memory
4 DDR-2 SDRAM 1240pin DIMM Sockets
Supports DDR2-400/533/667Mhz
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 4GB Total Memory (4x 1GB)

Bus Frequency
133/200/266MHz Internal
533/800/1066MHz External

Expansion Slots
2 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
1 PCI Express x4
2 PCI

Connectivity
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
4 Serial ATA ports
1 Gigabit Ethernet Port

Expansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port
1 PS2 Mouse Port
8 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)
1 e.SATA Port
1 Firewire Port
1 Parallel Port
1 RCA SPDIF out Port
1 Toslink SPDIF out Port
6 Stereo Audio Ports

Specifications - MSI


Specifications of the MSI 975X Platinum PowerUp

CPU
Supports Intel Pentium 4 LGA775 800FSB Series
Supports Intel Pentium D 8xx and 9xx Series
Supports Intel Core 2 Extreme Series
Supports Intel Core 2 Duo Series
Supports Intel Celeron D series

Chipset
Intel i975X
i975x Northbridge
i82801FBH (ICH7DH) Southbridge
DMI @ 2GB/s

System Memory
4 DDR-2 SDRAM 1240pin DIMM Sockets
Supports DDR2-400/533/667Mhz
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 4GB Total Memory (4x 1GB)

Bus Frequency
133/200/266MHz Internal
533/800/1066MHz External

Expansion Slots
2 PCI Express x16
2 PCI Express x1
2 PCI

Connectivity
2 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
5 Serial ATA ports
1 Gigabit Ethernet Port

Expansion Ports
1 PS2 Keyboard Port
1 PS2 Mouse Port
8 USB 2.0 Ports (4 rear accessible, 4 via expansion bracket)
1 Firewire Port
1 Parallel Port
1 RCA SPDIF out Port
6 Stereo Audio Ports

The Boards - DFI


The Boards - DFI Infinity 975X/G





DFI's layout is extremely clean and tidy - after all, this board is intended to be a high-powered overclocking monster for the Core 2 family. The PCB is a green colour with a 30x30cm profile, which is full ATX size. The power connectors are located on the left side of the board behind the Stereo audio ports. While this is a little annoying, you can route the cables along the top of the case to avoid the CPU area. The single IDE and FDD connectors are on the right side of the board behind the DIMM sockets.

The CPU layout is also clear of large components, making it easier to install larger than stock default heatsinks. 6 phases are used to deliver power to the CPU which is more than adequate to provide power to the CPU.



Now to the rear I/O and your expansion possibilities. 2 PSI ports are standard with 1 Toslink SPDIF out, 1 RCA SPDIF out, 1 Parallel, 1 e.SATA, 4 USB, 1 Firewire, 1 Gigabit RJ-45 and 6 stereo audio ports.



Expansion slots are extremely important. Two PCI Express x16 slots are provided for ATI Crossfire compatibility. When two Crossfire cards are inserted, the PCI Express x16 slots transform into x8 slots. A single PCI Express x1 slots resided above the primary PCI Express x16 slot and a PCI Express x4 slot sits between the PCI Express x16 slots. Two PCI legacy slots are included to give your older PCI cards some room.

As for additional extras, a VIA VT6307 Firewire controller gives you a couple Firewire ports - one on the rear I/O panel and one header on the board. The e.SATA is controlled by a JMicron PCI Express controller chip. Lastly is a Realtek PCI Express x1 Gigabit LAN controller.

The Boards - MSI


The Boards - MSI 975X Platinum PowerUp





Now it's onto our next contender, MSI and their Platinum PowerUp Edition. MSI also uses the full size ATX 30x30cm but uses its black PCB that MSI tends to use for their high-end boards - in fact, this board is almost identical to the 975X Platinum standard in terms of layout. The 24-pin power connector, 2 IDE and FDD connectors are located behind the DIMM sockets. The new 8-pin EPS12V connector is located between the CPU socket and the rear I/O panel. Not the best place for it.

MSI falls behind DFI in the power features for the CPU; DFI gives you 6 phase but MSI only uses a 4 phase. While 4 is enough, more is better for a stable CPU when overclocking.



The rear I/O panel of the MSI board is identical to all the latest MSI power boards out there, so not really worth going through it all again.



Lastly here we have the expansion slots and the extra features not native to the chipset. There are a couple PCI Express x16 slots for Crossfire, 2 PCI Express x1 and 2 PCI slot. Extra features include an extra IDE slot thanks to the JMicron PCI Express RAID controller. This controller also runs an extra blue SATA port at the bottom of the board. VIA's Firewire chip also makes a return to this board and Intel's Tacoma network controller also make its appearance.

BIOS and Overclocking




Now we get onto the overclocking features of the motherboards. First off we will look at the DFI motherboard. This time we aren't doing any images of the BIOS to streamline this review as much as possible.


- DFI Overclocking

DFI uses the same setup as we saw in our nForce 5 review; Genie BIOS is the location for the overclocking features.

CPU ratio can be controlled on unlocked processors and Core 2 Extreme. FSB options range from 133MHz up to 533MHz in 1MHz increments. CPU voltage ranges from default to +787.5mV in 12.5mV steps.

DRAM voltage also has a good rage from 1.8V to a max of 2.65V in 0.05v increments. CPU VTT or the voltage for the FSB can be adjusted from 1.2V to 1.35v in 0.05V increments. Lastly Northbridge voltage can be adjusted from 1.6v to 1.7v in 0.05v increments.

Using one of the latest BIOSes directly from the engineers at DFI, we managed to get 378MHz FSB with DRAM 1:1, CPU at +100mV, DRAM at 2.2V, VTT at 1.3v and chipset voltage at 1.65V - a very impressive result for the Intel 975X chipset which is known to not overclock as far as P965.


- MSI Overclocking

Now we move onto the MSI motherboard where you will find the entire clock options under the Core Cell Menu again.

MSI's board doesn't have as many overclocking options as the DFI board. First off CPU ratio can be adjusted but only shows up if you have an unlocked CPU like a Pentium Extreme or a Core 2 Extreme. CPU FSB goes from 100MHz up to 550MHz in 1MHz increments and CPU voltage goes from 1.2v up to 1.5V in 0.025v increments.

DRAM voltage goes from 1.8v to 2.35v in 0.05v increments. Lastly is PCI Express voltage which goes from 1.5v to 1.8v in 0.05V increments.

With the latest BIOS on the MSI website, we managed 362MHz FSB stable with DRAM 1:1, DRAM voltage at 2.3v, CPU voltage at 1.4v and PCI Express voltage at 1.6V. In all we had to raise the CPU voltage and RAM voltage higher than DFI and still the results weren't as impressive as the DFI motherboard.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and Sandra


Test System Setup

Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Supplied by Intel)
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair running at 1:1 (Supplied by Corsair)
Hard Disk: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 (Supplied by Seagate)
Graphics Card: nVidia GeForce 7800GT
Cooling: Gigabyte Neon775 (Supplied by Gigabyte)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2
Drivers: Intel INF 8.1.1.1002, nVidia ForceWare 91.31 and DX9c


Our test systems were kept as close to 2.93GHz (266MHz x 11 - default speed of the X6800 Conroe) as possible when overclocked.

We used an 8x multiplier on the DFI motherboard to get 3.02GHz (378MHz x 8) and on the MSI motherboard we used the same 8x multiplier which gave us a clock speed of 2.89GHz (362MHz x 8). The processors will likely be able to obtain a higher overall clock speed but we are only interested in the maximum FSB obtainable in our tests.

In all of our tests, the memory was running at 1:1 ratio with the CPU FSB. This will give an advantage to the motherboards which are able to overclock further.


SiSoft Sandra

Version and / or Patch Used: 2007
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.uk
Product Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=en
Buy It Here




SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.




At stock speeds we see all boards equal but when the OC factor kicks in, the DFI board goes slightly ahead due to a higher FSB.

Benchmarks - PCMark05


PCMark

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark04/
Buy It Here




PCMark is a multipurpose benchmark, suited for benchmarking all kinds of PCs, from laptops to workstations, as well as across multiple Windows operating systems. This easy-to-use benchmark makes professional strength benchmarking software available even to novice users. PCMark consists of a series of tests that represent common tasks in home and office programs. PCMark also covers many additional areas outside the scope of other MadOnion.com benchmarks.








Clock for clock, all boards equal each other out. When OC values are recorded, DFI pulls out just in front.

Benchmarks - 3DMark05


3DMark05

Version and / or Patch Used: Build 102
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark05/
Buy It Here




3DMark05 is now the second latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and above.

For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here.




3DMark05 puts the DFI board on a high when its OC kicks in.

Benchmarks - 3DMark06


3DMark06

Version and / or Patch Used: Build 102
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmark06/
Buy It Here




3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.

3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and Dual Core processors.




3DMark06 shows the gap even larger.

Benchmarks - Doom 3


Doom 3

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.doom3.com
Buy It Here




Doom 3 is still one of the most popular games at the moment and is quite intensive in the 3D department, even though it is starting to age. With our own custom time demo we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.

For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here.




Clock for clock all are equal, it's not till clock speeds increase we see a winner.

Benchmarks - Quake 4


Quake 4

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.idsoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.quake4game.com
Buy It Here




Quake 4 is one of the latest new games to be added to our benchmark suite. It is based off the popular Doom 3 engine and as a result uses many of the features seen in Doom. However, Quake 4 graphics are more intensive than Doom 3 and should put more strain on different parts of the system.




Quake 4 shows the same trend as Doom 3.

Benchmarks - F.E.A.R.


F.E.A.R.

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage: http://www.vugames.com
Product Homepage: http://www.whatisfear.com/us/
Buy It Here




F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) is an intense combat experience with rich atmosphere and a deeply intense paranormal storyline presented entirely in first person. Be the hero in your own spine-tingling epic of action, tension, and terror...and discover the true meaning of F.E.A.R.




Lastly we see that F.E.A.R. favours the DFI boards but only just.

Final Thoughts




We said it before and we will say it again - Intel Core 2 rocks - and now with new motherboards coming out from the Taiwanese folk, we are starting to see extra features and good overclocking options.

In fact, if you don't have good overclocking Core 2 motherboard, you aren't going to last since Conroe is very overclockable and loves the extra speed boost.

DFI has done a fantastic job on their 975X Infinity product - its features, layout and more importantly overclocking are some of the best we have seen from any 975x motherboard so far and its price is extremely competitive coming in cheaper than other Conroe supporting boards.



Rating - 9 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Best Performance Award




MSI on the other hand, while putting out a flashy board with plenty of good features, its overclocking wasn't as good as DFI and required more voltages which resulted in fewer MHz. It just doesn't seem as robust or overclocker friendly as the DFI motherboard - sure, upcoming BIOSes maybe result in higher overclocking but we can only test with what is available to us at the time.

MSI pricing is also competitive coming in at around the same price as the DFI motherboard (which does help keep its rating high) but in our books, since overclocking is the key ingredient of any good Conroe motherboard these days, the DFI motherboard is the better buy in our opinion.

Rating - 8 out of 10


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