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Intel P965 Shootout Part 1 - ASUS, MSI and Foxconn

In part 1 of our Intel P965 roundup we check our motherboards from ASUS, Foxconn and MSI - which is best for you?

@TweakTown
Published Mon, Oct 9 2006 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:04 PM CST
Manufacturer: none

Introduction




It is now clear how powerful and popular Intel's Core 2 Duo architecture is to the general public. Since its introduction less than two months ago, Intel has already shipped millions of Core 2 based processors and more are ramping out of their fab's to keep up with demand from OEM's like HP, Dell, IBM and Compaq.

Core 2 is definitely the cash card that Intel needed to put down. No more of this Megahertz is better crap which we have had forced down our throats with the Pentium 4 line - it may have worked for the first six months, but it was clear Pentium 4 was not going to save Intel from the mean green machine called AMD.

Now that Core 2 has established itself as the dominant architecture for now, motherboard manufacturers are scrambling to get boards out that will support Intel's Core 2 processors, especially ones based on the new mainstream chipset, the Intel P965 Express chipset.

While it may be classified as mainstream, P965 simply is the more attractive chipset to support Core 2. With DDR2-800 memory support, higher FSB overclocking potential than 975X and yes even ATI Crossfire support now (which we were roasted on when we released our P965 preview - while it didn't have it then, it does now...) We were just waiting for the folks at ATI to approve the chipset and now ATI's Catalyst 6.9 drivers and above support Crossfire on P965 motherboards.


Today we are taking a look at three motherboards in Part 1 of our P965 Roundup with Part 2 scheduled for release later this month as long as everything goes to plan. In our labs we have the MSI P965 Neo, ASUS P5B Deluxe and the Foxconn P9657AA.

Who will be our victor today? It will all boil down to price, performance, features and overclocking - let's go and find a winner!

Motherboards - ASUS P5B Deluxe


ASUS P5B Deluxe





Our first board on the chopping block is the ASUS P5B Deluxe which sits at the top of the list of boards in the ASUS P965 range of boards. While P965 is a mainstream chipset, ASUS has gone all out and fitted this board up to the performance level of things. The board is a black full ATX sized PCB, which is what ASUS uses for its performance boards; they all come in the black/brown colour. Connector placement, ASUS has gone all out here and done a fantastic job.

ASUS has a clean CPU socket with an 8 phase power distribution system which should aid CPU overclocking quite nicely. The Mosfets on the left side of the board are cooled by a heat pipe that also cools the Northbridge chip; all this goes a long way to keeping the system as quiet as possible. The Southbridge has only a heat sink on it and is cooled passively again aiding in quiet computing.



The rear I/O for ASUS has slightly changed. There is the inclusion of a COM port above 2 SPDIF ports, the e.SATA port now has a Firewire port above it and at the end there is the new WiFi module that ASUS is now shipping with its deluxe models. This module is actually a USB controlled system that plugs onto a header on the board, so it doesn't take up any PCI or PCIE buses.



Now we hit the last stop on our ASUS tour, the expansion slots and additional features the ASUS board provides. There are 2 PCI Express x16 slots which are used for Crossfire support or multiple monitors if you want to use nVidia graphics cards. There is a single PCI Express x1 slot and 3 PCI slots.

For additional features there are 2 Marvell PCI Express Gigabit LAN controllers. A JMicron Controller that runs the e.SATA port and the IDE channel on the board and a Texas Instruments Firewire controller chip which rounds out the extensive features list.

Motherboards - Foxconn P9657AA


Foxconn P9657AA





Foxconn is more of a company we think of for connectors - in fact, Foxconn has made all of the CPU interface connectors, PCI and PCI Express connectors and AGP connectors that have been placed on our boards for some time.

Now they are into building their own boards and this one we have with us here today is definitely a good contender. Placement of the 24-pin power, IDE and FDD are all on the right hand side of the board behind the DIMM sockets, only the 8 pin power is in a slightly off beat spot between the CPU socket and rear I/O.

The CPU is powered by a 3 phase voltage regulation system. There are no bells or whistles to the cooling of these, as there is none. The layout though is very clean so installing large heatsinks is not going to be a problem.



The rear I/O has all the ports you would expect including Parallel and Serial. Foxconn is also on the e.SATA bandwagon and while we haven't seen any enclosures that support e.SATA, it's nice to know these boards support it for when they eventually arrive on shop shelves.



Foxconn equips its board with a single PCI Express x16 slot for graphics (unfortunately skipping out ATI Crossfire support in the process), a PCI Express x1 slot, PCI Express x4 slot and 3 PCI slots. For add-ons there is the VIA Firewire controller and JMicron chip to control the IDE port.

As far as features go, it is quite a modest motherboard but let's see how it goes when it comes to performance and overclocking a little later.

Motherboards - MSI P965 Neo


MSI P965 Neo





Now it's to our last board for this roundup, the MSI P965 Neo which is MSI's cheaper board in their P965 range. The board is actually smaller than the rest of the group measuring a standard ATX layout size. This board will fit into the more compact ATX cases on the market. The PCB is a red colour that MSI uses for its mainstream products.

Placement of connectors is really a mixed affair - the 24-pin power and 4-pin CPU port are between the Northbridge heatsink and the I/O ports, not the best place for them at all. The IDE port is located near the SATA ports at the bottom right of the board, which is not too bad. The FDD connector is really in the worst place at the bottom middle of the board which is just a horrible place to put it.

Layout around the CPU is reasonably clean. The board features a 4 phase power system for the CPU and is not cooled by any external means.



The rear I/O is setup to MSI's mainstream standards. There are no e.SATA ports, SPDIF ports or any extra features here.



Lastly we are onto expansion slots. MSI goes for a single PCI Express x16 slot (like the Foxconn motherboard, ATI Crossfire support is not possible), 2 PCI Express x1 slots and 3 PCI slots. For additional controllers there is only a single JMicron chip for the IDE controller.

As far as features go, out of all the motherboards in this roundup the MSI has the least amount but that should make pricing more affordable and that's something we will look into later.

BIOS and Overclocking - ASUS


ASUS BIOS and Overclocking

Now we get into the Overclocking and BIOS sections, first up is ASUS.



The ASUS BIOS is the Award BIOS that has been used for nearly 2 years now, ever since the P3B-F motherboard came into service. This BIOS has been the benchmark for ASUS - it is simple to use and navigate with good options.

To get the Overclocking setup you need to navigate to the Advanced Tab at the top and open the Jumperfree sub menu. Once there to access any of the Overclocking options you need to set the AI Tuning option to Manual.



Now you get to see all the Overclocking features in their glory, we won't go into explaining all the features but we will give you the goodies. First off is the FSB which can be adjusted from your CPU default MHz Rate (266MHz for our Core 2 Extreme) up to a maximum of 500MHz in 1MHz increments.

PCI Express frequency can be adjusted from 90MHz up to 150MHz in 1MHz increments. It is best to leave the PCI Express frequency at 100MHz at this also runs the SATA clock and you don't want to toast your RAID array with all your important data.

CPU voltage ranges from 1.1v to 1.7v in 0.025v increments. DRAM voltage from 1.8v to 2.45 in 0.05v increments. FSB voltages from 1.2v to 1.45v in 0.05v increments, Northbridge voltage from 1.25v to 1.55v in 0.05v increments. PCIE-SATA voltage from 1.5v to 1.8v in 0.1v increments and lastly southbridge voltage at either 1.015 or 1.215v.

With all these setting we managed to hit an FSB of 443MHz (443 x 7 = 3101MHz) with DRAM at 1:1, CPU voltage at 1.385v, DRAM at 2.0v, FSB voltage 1.4v, and the rest of the voltages at stock. It looks like the 8 phase CPU power system is starting to pay off.


Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we don't have enough time to tweak the motherboard to the maximum and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days to properly find.

We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released or "burn in" time might come into play if you believe in that.

BIOS and Overclocking - Foxconn


Foxconn BIOS and Overclocking

Our second board in the BIOS setup and Overclocking is Foxconn and I must say for a company we haven't had much to do with in the Overclocking realm, the BIOS looks very good.



Foxconn uses the same blue background BIOS that we are accustomed to from Award. However, a nice touch is the scrolling colours at the top and bottom of the screen in BIOS and while it doesn't come out in the pictures, it does catch the eye when you enter. To get access to Overclocking features you need to open up the FOX Central Control unit.



Foxconn gives a very good variety of clocking options. First you have access to the FSB. You have options from 200MHz up to 600MHz in 1MHz increments. PCI-E clock according to manual is locked at 100MHz at all times which is a good idea anyway in our opinion.

Voltages are plentiful. CPU voltage goes from default of your CPU to +0.300V above standard in +0.025v increments. This in theory gives you on a Core 2 CPU 1.6v to play with. DRAM voltage also has a reasonable range which goes from default to +0.6v, totalling out in the real world to 2.4v. The MCH and FSB voltages can be adjusted from their defaults to a max of +0.2v above default on 0.1v increments.

With these we managed to get an FSB of 432MHz (432 x 7 = 3024MHz) with DRAM at 1:1, CPU at 1.385v, RAMD at 2.0v and the rest of the voltages at stock. We consider this a very impressive result for a company which is new to the motherboard market, especially since it is only a little slower than the ASUS motherboard.


Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we don't have enough time to tweak the motherboard to the maximum and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days to properly find.

We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released or "burn in" time might come into play if you believe in that.

BIOS and Overclocking - MSI


MSI BIOS and Overclocking

Now we are onto our last board, and I must say this was the most disappointing overclocking we have ever experienced in this roundup.



MSI uses the Traditional Award BIOS layout with the blue background and side by side menus. To get access to the Overclocking features you will find the bulk of them under the Cell Menu.



Under Cell menu you have access to FSB and voltages. FSB can be adjusted from 200MHz up to 500MHz in 1MHz increments.

DRAM voltage goes from 1.8v to 2.4v in 0.05v increments. Even after using the latest 1.5v BIOS from the MSI website, there are no CPU voltage adjustments available at all which is very disappointing. To get access to the CPU multiplier you need to access the Advanced chipset features menu and access the CPU feature sub menu.

We managed an FSB of 402MHz (402 x 7 = 2814MHz) as we were able to lower our CPU multiplier to allow for overclocking. If you have a Core 2 Duo or Pentium 4 CPU, this board is going to limit your overclocking potential as you won't be able to adjust the CPU ratio since only the high-end Extreme processors allow for the multiplier to be changed.

By far this was the worst overclocking motherboard in the roundup and MSI need to do some serious thinking about the options available in the BIOS (read: CPU voltage adjustments), we can't even believe they sent it to us in this state - sure, it's not their high-end P965 board but we expect more from MSI. A new BIOS could fix this problem but we can only test what is available to us at the time of testing.


Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we don't have enough time to tweak the motherboard to the maximum and find the highest possible FSB as this could take days to properly find.

We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released or "burn in" time might come into play if you believe in that.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and Sandra


Test System Setup

Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Supplied by Intel)
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1066 Corsair (Supplied by Corsair)
Hard Disk: 500GB Seagate 7200.9 (Supplied by Seagate)
Graphics Card: nVidia GeForce 7800GT
Cooling: Gigabyte 3D Galaxy II (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 set to give the fairest results we could even when overclocked.

We used a multiplier of 7x with all the boards with DRAM set at 1:1. We are trying to see which board is better for you deepening on what you want to do - stock or overclocked but who doesn't overclock these days?

In the overclocked state, the ASUS board was running at 443 x 7 = 3101MHz, the Foxconn board was running at 432 x 7 = 3024MHz and the MSI board was running at 402 x 7 = 2814MHz.

Let's take a look at the performance of the boards!


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.




Stock clocks we see very little between the boards and it is not till we overclock we see a slight improvement and the crown here to ASUS for the higher memory bandwidth.

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.








PCMark05 shows all boards are equal at stock. When overclocking we didn't get as bigger gap as we were expecting but this could be due to the memory enhancements that Core 2 and P965 brings to the table.

Benchmarks - 3DMark05


3DMark05

Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120
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 does put some distance between the boards when overclocked.

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 puts some more stress onto the system but overclocked results don't change much from 3DMark05 really.

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.




Doom 3 puts ASUS just in the lead when overclocked, when at stock, all boards are within a FPS of each other.

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 put a bit more stress then Doom 3 on the system. This shows a similar result though 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.




F.E.A.R. is more graphic intense than system intense, though we do see the benefits of the overclocking come into play here.

Benchmarks - Far Cry


Far Cry

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.farcrygame.com
Buy It Here




While Far Cry is now one of our older benchmarking games, it is still able to put pressure on most computers systems. Utilizing PS2.0 technology with the latest versions supporting Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c and offering an exceptional visual experience, there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards get a bit of a workout.




Our last benchmark relies on the CPU and memory and here we can see that ASUS does have the clear advantage when overclocked.

Final Thoughts




While Intel is still for the time being trying to push the 975X as the better option for the enthusiast market, its clear to anyone who keeps up with the industry that the P965 is simply the chipset of choice for the Core 2 series - especially as the chipset price is cheaper and now it includes ATI Crossfire support with Catalyst 6.9 drivers and above.

The only claim that the 975X chipset has over the P965 now is that is runs its second PCI Express x16 channel through the Northbridge rather than the Southbridge and is able to offer more bandwidth, our sources tell us when it comes to Crossfire performance, P965 is 10% slower than 975x. While this may be a slight downside, the overclocking and shier performance of the P965 outweighs its small cons list.


- ASUS Motherboard Thoughts

The ASUS P5B Deluxe is one of the best P965 boards we had here in our labs, almost up there with the impressive Gigabyte DQ6 motherboard which knocked our socks off.

Its performance was remarkable, its bundle features were great and overclocking was fantastic. Layout was clean, placement of connectors was good and in all we recommend this board as our Intel Core 2 motherboard of choice in this roundup with the only drawback being that it is the most expensive of the lot by quite a large margin.



Rating - 9 out of 10 and Tweak Town's "MUST HAVE" Best Performance



- Foxconn Motherboard Thoughts

While it didn't quite reach the level of the ASUS board in overclocking, its performance and price are extremely competitive - in fact, it is one of the cheapest P965 motherboards on the market at the moment.

We criticised both the Foxconn and MSI motherboards for not supporting ATI Crossfire dual graphics but if you're buying either of these (cheap, no thrills but solid performing) motherboards, you probably aren't looking at spending the extra dollars on a Crossfire setup anyway.

Layout was good, placement of connectors was reasonable and the only thing we would have liked was more phases on the CPU voltage regulation for a more stable and lower overall power consumption.



Rating - 8.5 out of 10 and TweakTown's "MUST HAVE" Best Value Award



- MSI Motherboard Thoughts

While the board MSI sent us isn't their top of the line P965 board, we were hoping for more.

While we did manage to get some good overclocked FSB speeds out of it, those with locked processors won't be able to lower the multiplier as we did to overcome the CPU as the limiting factor.

For those who are looking at a board with locked multiplier CPU's this is good only as a stock board but its price tag is quite attractive.

Rating - 7.5 out of 10


Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon!


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