MSI 945GT Speedster-A4R supporting Core Duo Mobile

MSI sent us their 945GT Speedster motherboard with support for Core Duo mobile processors. We compare against Pentium M.

@TweakTown
Published Tue, Aug 1 2006 11:00 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:04 PM CST
Rating: 85%Manufacturer: MSI Computer

Introduction






It certainly has been an exciting quarter for Intel Corp. First we saw the release of the first major change in architecture for Intel in about 5 years with Core Architecture hitting the laptop sector, and then shortly after, Core headed to the desktop in the form of Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme.

Core Duo is designed for the power conscious market, such as portable market, but it also has been given a place in Intel's vision of the Digital Home. Core Duo and Core Solo are both part of the VIIV platform that Intel has put forward for the Digital Home platform. Core Duo and Core Solo are still the most energy efficient of the Intel processors on the market - even beating out the Core 2 series. After all, they are designed to fill a performance niche and not a power saving market.

Digital Home has never looked as good as it does these days, with Intel's power efficient processors leading the way. Companies like ASUS have already put their foot forward in releasing a board complying with the VIIV standard and today MSI has jumped into the deep end with another Mobile on Desktop solution.

Our last Mobile on Desktop board we looked at from MSI was the 915GM Speedster, designed to take the Pentium M and Celeron M series of processors. Today we have been given the latest sample to fit into the VIIV market, the 945GT Speedster.

After taking a close look at the motherboard we'll sit down and compare it against the older 915GM board.

Specifications


Specifications of the MSI 945GT Speedster

CPU
Supports Core Duo Series CPU (MPGA-478)
Supports Core Solo Series CPU (MPGA-478)
Supports Intel Celeron M Series CPU (MPGA-478)

Chipset
Intel i945GT
i945GT Northbridge
i82801FB Southbridge
DMI @ 2GB/s

System Memory
2 DDR-2 SDRAM 240pin DIMM Sockets
Supports DDR2-400, 533, 667
64/128Bit Dual Channel
Supports up to 2GB Total Memory (2x 1GB)

Bus Frequency
133/166MHz Internal
533/667MHz External
Core Architecture

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

Connectivity
1 Parallel ATA port supporting 2 IDE Drives
4 Serial ATA ports
2 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 CRT Port
1 DVI-I Port
1 RCA Video Out
1 S-Video Out
5 Stereo Audio Ports
1 SPDIF Optical Out.
2 Firewire Ports (1 Rear accessible, 1 via expansion bracket)

Inside The Box


Package and Contents



First up is the packaging that MSI puts the board in. While this board is for Mobile on Desktop, and is under the Socket 478 Mobile section in the MSI Global Website, MSI markets this as a server/workstation board. This is very confusion when looking online for user manuals, BIOS updates and drivers. Despite this the box is rather large.



On the back of the box, MSI does a good job of explaining the features as well as giving you a photo of the board's layout and a rather good explanation of the hardware that the board supports and comes with.



MSI provides two PCI riser bracket modules. One of them contains two USB 2.0 ports, the other supports a single 6-pin Firewire port. If you are using a HTPC case with front USB and Firewire ports, you won't need these brackets.



Next are the supplied cables and brackets. You get a single rounded IDE and FDD cable as well as an I/O shield for ATX cases.



MSI specifies this board as Micro ATX with ATX extensions, this card is the extension and it plugs into a slot at the bottom of the board and adds two extra PCI slots.



Lastly we have the provided low profile heatsink that MSI recommends you use.

The Motherboard






Now we start to see what MSI has put into the board. The layout is designed around a Micro ATX format.

Located at the top of the board is a 24-pin ATX power supply connector and the FDD connector, well away from the CPU. Below the ATX power connector is a 4-pin CPU voltage connector behind the single IDE port. The DDR-2 memory module slots are located below the FDD connector and just above the CPU section. This is not your typical Micro ATX layout.



The CPU socket is a much better layout then what we saw on the ASUS N4L board. ASUS required a special heatsink and fan combo that was a proprietary mount. MSI uses the same Socket 478 mounting mechanism that Pentium 4 processors in typical Socket 478 based motherboards use - so it's simple to replace the heatsink with any Socket 478 cooler on the market.

Voltage is supplied to the CPU through a 3 phase voltage regulation system. While 2 phases is only needed for such an energy efficient core, it's nice to see the extra phase added to provide a cooler mosfet profile. After all, the less heat generated in a Micro ATX case the better.



Now we take a look at the rear I/O panel - and I must say it is a very clean and efficient panel. You have your standard two PS2 ports for keyboard and mouse. Next you have a 15-pin CRT port and a DVI-I port for your monitors - with the onboard graphics supporting Dual Monitors, there nothing holding you back. Next up is a single RCA and S-Video port, which are used to connect the PC to a TV for video out functions in media centre environments. Beside that is a single Firewire-400 port. Next are two RJ-45 ports for Dual Gigabit LAN, which is another requirement of the Intel VIIV platform. Next to this is a 4 port USB stack and lastly there is Analogue audio and one digital optical audio out port.



When using the Micro ATX layout you get a single PCI Express x16 slot for a discrete graphics cards. Also in the PCI Express line you get a single PCI Express x4 slot along with two PCI slots. You can see at the bottom of the board there is a gold finger connector. This is where the extra two PCI slots expansion board is plugged in. When using this you get a total of four PCI slots, which all in all makes the expansion possibilities for this motherboard quite impressive considering it is Micro ATX based.



The MSI 945GT Speedster supplied two PCI Express x1 Intel Tacoma Network controllers. These chips support up to 1000Mbps throughput.



Lastly we have the PCI based VIA VT6307 Firewire controller.

BIOS and Overclocking






MSI has chosen the AWARD BIOS version 6 for their motherboard. In fact, the layout is identical to that of the MSI 915GM Speedster board which we looked at previously. For those who know the menu system that ASUS uses in their BIOS's, you will be familiar with the 945GT Speedster's BIOS.



To find the overclocking options you need to move to the advanced tab and under there you are given the CPU FSB option. You can go from 133MHz up to 400MHz in 1MHz increments. 133MHz FSB is used when running Celeron-M processors and 166MHz is used when Core Duo and Core Solo processors are installed. While 400MHz would be nice, since there are no CPU or memory voltage options, you are not going to get that far, at least with the latest version of BIOS we used from MSI - version 1.0.



To get access to DRAM timings you need to navigate to the Advanced Chipset Features sub menu under the advanced tab. Here you can manually set your DRAM speed and timings if the SPD settings are not good enough for you.

We managed to get our Core Duo T2500 (default clock speed - 166MHz FSB x 12 = 2GHz) processor up to a maximum of 2.2GHz which resulted in a FSB of 183MHz FSB using a 12x multiplier. Not too bad for a motherboard which isn't designed to be an overclocking power house.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and SiSoft Sandra


Test System Setup

Processor: Intel Core Duo T2500 @ 2GHz and 2.2GHz (Supplied by Intel)
Memory: 2x 1GB DDR2-1000 Corsair
Hard Disk: Seagate 7200.9 500GB SATA (Supplied by Seagate)
Graphics Card: nVidia GeForce 7800GT (Supplied by ASUS)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2
Drivers: nVidia ForceWare 91.31, Intel INF 8.01.1002 and DX9c


Here we will be testing the MSI 945GT Speedster against its predecessor, the MSI 915GM Speedster in both standard and overclocked speeds to see just what is worth you hard earned dollar as a media centre system.

The MSI 915GM Speedster system is using the exact same components as we used with the 945GT however it is used an older Pentium M processor clock at the same clock speeds - 2GHz and 2.2GHz.


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.







Core Duo and 945GT over the Pentium M and 915GM shows it has more raw CPU and memory power over its previous generation.

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 gives a complete win to the Core Duo and MSI 945GT platform.

Benchmarks - Media Encoding


MPEG2 to DivX Encoding with Power Director

Version and / or Patch Used: 5.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.cyberlink.com
Product Homepage: http://www.cyberlink.com/multi/products/main_4_ENU.html
Buy It Here




CyberLink Power Director produces video files for creating DVD, DivX, XviD and WMV files for use on your PC. Using the built in software we encode files from MPEG2 (DVD) format to DivX format and use the time taken, average FPS and CPU usage for our benchmarking usage.








This is where the Core Duo and 945GT shines when it comes to encoding media files. When you are building a media centre, the less time it takes to encode a video file, the better.

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.




Even in synthetic gaming we see the Core 2/MSI 945GT combo as the winner.

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 more stress on the system and shows a better result again for the Core Duo setup.

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 in our first real world gaming benchmark puts the 945GT and Core Duo ahead.

Benchmarks - Quake 4


Quake 4

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2
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 scales the system more and shows Core Duo in a good light.

Benchmarks - F.E.A.R.


F.E.A.R.

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.5
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
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. relies more on the graphics system than the CPU/Memory; however, the Core Duo does manage a slight lead.

Benchmarks - Far Cry


Far Cry

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3
Timedemo or Level Used: Benchemall Demo
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 test puts Core Duo as the platform of choice.

Final Thoughts




Intel's Core architecture is now the technology of the present and future. Intel has done a magnificent job in order to unify its CPU architecture for Server, Desktop and Mobile.

As for Mobile on Desktop, while it may be cheaper for a Core 2 Duo over a Core Duo processor for your gaming needs, as for power consumption and performance per watt, where a laptop or HTPC are concerned, Core Duo has the goods.

However, while the MSI 945GT plus Core Duo mobile offer good gaming performance, the overall platform is quite expensive and you'll be able to get yourself setup with a relatively good Intel P965 based motherboard and Core 2 Duo E6400 at slightly a better price, which should offer similar performance in most cases.

MSI has done a reasonably good job in its first Core architecture board however we would like to see a more robust overclocking setup to consider it a desktop contender.

For now, it's good as a Workstation board, but more suited to the HTPC niche with plenty of good features to satisfy most of these types of users.


- Pros
Supports all Core Duo, Solo and upcoming Core 2 Duo 478 CPU
Dual Gigabit LAN
Onboard Video
Onboard digital audio output
Plenty of expansion slots
Quiet operating
DDR-2 support
Mild overclocker
Firewire
ATX or Micro ATX compatible

- Cons
Needs better overclocking support
Overall platform not so good value for money

- Latest Pricing




Rating - 8.5 out of 10

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