MSI P67A-C43 Motherboard Review

Posted May 29, 2011
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MSI (Micro Star International) is a well known Taiwanese brand. It makes all sorts of computer gadgetry. It is well known for its motherboards and graphics card among other products. Its twin forzr series of GPU cooling solutions and After Burner (customized version of Riva Tuner) software over clocking utility have gained a wide spread following. Today we’ll be looking at a mid range motherboard solution for Intel 2xxx series of processors.

Allow me to introduce to you a wondrous little board that goes by the name of P67A-C43. I’ll tell you right now this is one hell of a board. It costs around 100 dollars, over clocks a 2600k to 4.4 GHz and offers USB 3.0, military grade components, active phase switching (APS) and menu driven, icon based EFI.

So what makes this board so great? Read on to find out

 

Motherboard Features

Processor

Support

All current LGA 1155 processors

Segment

Mainstream

Size

ATX

Memory

DDR3 (up to 2133 OC) 4 Slots / 32GB

Features

Military Grade Components, Active Phase Switching

Slots

PCI-e x16 (1)

PCI-e x1 (3)

PCI (3)

Over-clocking

Yes (Processor Core)

I/O

USB 2.0 & USB 3.0 (back panel only)

SATA 6Gbps

Realtek LAN

MSI Special Features

One would not expect too many glitzy features on a budget (mainstream) solution, but MSI have out done its competitors by offering some high-end features.

1. Military Class Components
Once a stable of high end (read: high priced) boards, MSI has included super ferrite chokes (SFC) and solid caps on this motherboard. These components allow for higher operating temperatures and longer life cycles.

2. Active Phase Switching
This technology automatically enables or disables CPU power regulation circuitry depending on its load. The board features 4 phase CPU power regulation. If APS is enabled the board will automatically enable as many phases as needed

3. USB 3.0
The board features 2 USB 3.0 ports at the rear panel of the board. This is powered by a single Renasas manufactured controller. It is pertinent to mention here that the p67 PCH does not have native USB 3.0 support.

4. Click BIOS
This is MSI’s implementation of EFI. It is menu driven and includes some nifty extras like games (requires motherboard disk), hard disk backup and a very useful memory tester.

5. M-Flash
M-flash makes your average flash drive an ‘extended’ bios. In case of a bad flash you can use a backup of image of EFI to boot the motherboard.

6. THX Tru-sound and lossless audio
Those who are not tone deaf would definitely find these features useful. Though it must be mentioned that the audio codec on the board is a software solution (based on Realtek audio codec).

7. Back panel rest button
This is the first time that I have seen a reset switch on a mainstream (budget) board. MSI must be serious about the over clocking potential of this board!

Motherboard Specs

CPU (Max Support)

i3/i5/i7

FSB / Hyper Transport Bus

100MHz

Chipset

Intel® P67 (B3)

DDR3 Memory

DDR3 2133(OC)

Memory Channel

Dual

DIMM Slots

4

Max Memory (GB)

32

PCI-Ex16

1

PCI-E Gen

Gen2 (1×16)

PCI-Ex1

2

PCI

2

SATAII/III

4/2

RAID

0/1/5/10

LAN

10/100/1000*1

TPM

1

USB 2.0/ 3.0 ports (Rear)

8/2

Audio ports (Rear)

6+SPDIF*2

APS

Y

APS LED

Y

Form Factor

ATX

INTEL P67 Platform Controller HUB

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The P67 is not exactly a chipset. It is no longer the north bridge as the memory controller is now on the processor. In its new role it acts as the platform controller hub (PCH). It provides USB 2.0 connectivity. It provides SATA 2nd and 3rd generation ports as well gigabit LAN connectivity.

As you can see the P67 PCH does not support the GPU of the 2nd generation core processors. For that you’ll need to buy a board with a H6x or Z68 PCH. The former does not support processor over clocking, while the latter supports over-clocking the processor as well as the graphics core.

The Dreaded SATA Bug!

All motherboards that initially shipped with the 2nd generation Core processor launch had a buggy P67 PCH. Intel says that it expects a 5% failure rate over 3 years. All existing boards with the buggy revision (B2) of the P67 will be replaced free of cost by all manufacturers. This is true for Pakistan as well as other countries. Until these boards are replaced it is recommended that end users utilize SATA 3rd generation ports which provide 6 gbps of bandwidth. This, however is a B3 version and thus does not have this problem.

Note: The local distributor of MSI (Astron) has already swapped faulty B2 boards with new B3 boards.

Box Art

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The motherboard comes in a very colorful cardboard box which is typical of current MSI boards. Majority of the top flap is taken up by the large ‘Military Class II’ logo which means that the board uses rugged components meant to last longer and work at higher temperatures. Other prominent logos are those of OC genie software and click bios. The all important B3 sticker is also placed on the front flap.

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The back of the board goes into some detail to describe the features mentioned on the front. It also lists some of the other features of the board including Winki3 (Linux based OS), THX sound and USB 3.0/ SATA 6 Gbps support.

Accessories

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The board is bundled with a decent set of accessories. There is the all important back-plate together with the software disk. Two SATA cables are also included in the box. Both of these are ‘white’ in color and compatible with 6Gbps standard. Obviously they offer full backward support for older SATA devices.

There is a USB 2.0 dongle on the board. This is necessary to convert the USB 3.0 based internal connector which only supports USB 2.0 devices. In order to reduce costs, MSI uses a ‘standard’ design across several motherboards. The ‘-C45’ variant of this board offer 4 USB 3.0 ports, two of which are internal header based. The ‘-C43’ maintains this design and to make the header compatible with standard USB 2.0 case connectors a dongle is included with the board. I am sure MSI is saving money by making the dongle rather than changing the header on the board.

There are 3 sets of internal wiring, speaker and USB connectors. These are Asus ‘Q’ connector equalents and are very handy indeed!

A user’s manual (in several languages), applications manual and a quick start guide completes the list. The manual is well written and illustrated though at times it might get a little confusing as it is aimed at more than one product.

Again MSI has bundled one high end motherboard accessory with this boar –the handy internal connectors. Other than that the accessory list is very typical of a board of this class.

Tour of the Motherboard

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The motherboard is based on a black PCB with a mix of black and blue components. This is something that is seen on almost every x67 board I have used. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the black PCB is quickly becoming the old ‘green’ (i.e. ubiquitous!).

Backpanel I/O

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The back panel of the motherboard offers a varied set of I/O connectivity options. There are 8 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, a hybrid PS/2 mouse/ keyboard port, the traditional audio ports as well as both co-axial and digital SP/DIF ports. What is missing is E-SATA and fire wire ports. I would not count these are great omissions because of the presence of USB 3.0 ports. It is possible to get E-SATA connectivity by using a chassis which supports it, if it is really a requirement.

Socket Area

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The socket (manufactured by Lottes on this board) is what you would expect form a P67 based board. The LGA 1155 socket is surrounded by power regulation circuitry which is all bare. The power regulation circuitry consists of solids capacitors and super ferrite chokes which form a part of MSI’s military grade components.

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There is enough clearance around the socket area for the largest of heat-sinks. However the first memory slot might not be able to take a memory stick with an extra tall heat sink if an extra large heat-sink fan is used.

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To the right of the socket area are the Active Phase Switching (APS) LEDs. They visually display the number of active phases providing power to the CPU. The fewer the phases active, the greater the energy conservation. For any over-clocking it is recommended that all phases be always kept active

Platform Controller Hub

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The platform controller hub is located in front of the two PCI-e 1x slots, next to the PCI-e x16 slot. It is covered by a diminutive heatsink. The heat sink is flat and thus will not interfere with double slot video card plugged into the x16 slot. The heatsink seems almost decorative in appearance.

Memory Slots

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The board comes equipped with 4 DDR3 memory slots. Each can accept up to 4GB memory for a maximum total of 32GB system memory. The board works with 1333MHz as dictated by the Sandy-bridge processor specification, but will also accept memory of up to 2133MHz. The memory slots are color coded to indicate dual channel setup.

Expansion Slots

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There are 7 expansion slots in total. A standard x16 PCI-e slot for discrete graphics. Three PCI-e x1 slots and three PCI slots. The x16 slot is PCI-e 2.0 compliant. The controller lanes for the x16 slot come from within the processor core itself, while the rest are located in the PCH (platform controller hub).
I like the layout of the slots on the motherboard. There is an x1 slot to the right of the x16 slot which allows for some room between the processor area and the x16 slot. Even if a dual slot video card is used, it will still leave two viable x1 slots. The SATA ports in front of the x16 slot is right angled and thus will still be usable if a long video card is used.

Storage Connectivity

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Two right-angled SATA ports allow 4 devices to be connected. The white ports accept SATA 6 Gbps devices. The right-angled ports are a welcome sight. Again boards catering to this segment, usually, do not offer these ‘luxuries’. There are two vertically oriented SATA 3 Gbps ports as well. All storage connectivity is based on the abilities of the PCH. No ‘external’ controllers are used to provide additional capabilities.

Back of the Board

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The back of the board features the socket back plate. There are no obtrusive traces or components that might hinder the placement of an aftermarket HSF back plate.

Fan and Misc. Connectors

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There are 5 fan connectors (highlighted in red), one for the processor fan (4pin PWM controlled) and four 3pin connectors located on the board. The CPU fan connectors supports smart speed control which can either be set in the BIOS or via software (MSI control center). Two of the system fan connectors are located at the left front edge. They are strategically located to be as close as possible to front intake fans. One system fan connector is located right next to the CPU fan connector which is ideally located for a top mounted fan. Finally the rear exhaust fan has its connector located near the back of the board.

Design Impressions

I really cannot fault the design lay out of the board. MSI has used high end quality (military grade) components on the board. Right angled SATA ports are a welcome addition to a board at this price point. The only thing that MSI could have done is provide some form of passive cooling for power regulation circuitry like it does on the –C45 variant of the board. Other than that everything is well built, fan connectors are ideally located and apart from the customary loss of one expansion slot when using a dual slot video card nothing on the board becomes unusable when used with ‘exotic’ components.

EFI

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MSI employs its Click bios icon based mouse driven interface for EFI navigation. It is easy to use, though not quite as polished as the Asus solution. The main EFI screen has only 5 icons for each of the 5 main functions. Each icon then takes you to a subset of icons or control parameters.

As the name suggests Green Power takes you to the power management features of the motherboard.

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The Utilities icon gives you access to a very hand memory tester, an equally handy HD backup program, ability to update the EFI online and design your own boot screen. The last three utilities require the motherboard’s disk to be in the optical drive.

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Perhaps the most important icon is the over-clocking icon. This takes you to the various parameters that will help in your over-clocking endeavors.

As you can see that the board allows complete control over core CPU voltage, memory voltage and some control over PCH voltage. Unfortunately there is no way to manually adjust system agent or IO voltage. You can set the board to over-volt PLL, but no manual control is provided. This will hamper over-clocking to an extent. We’ll determine this extent a little later. Rudimentary Vdroop control is also provided.

You can also set the OC genie button function in the EFI. If this is activated then it is only possible (recommended) to change the various over-clocking parameters via software (MSI Control Center, discussed below).

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The settings icon takes you to another series of icons via which you can setup your board, update the bios and check the system status.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the EFI is provision of games! Yup you heard it right the EFI has games functionality. Don’t expect these to be your Call of Duty level games. They are basic games reminiscent of 80s arcade games. Good time killers, but nothing more than that.

As always it is recommended to use the latest EFI available for this board. The latest version available (1.B as of this writing) helps improve memory compatibility and allowed the use of G.Skill sniper 1.25V modules on this board.

Bundled Software

The board comes with MSI’s Control Center II application, which is one of the best software based over-clocking tools I have ever used.

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The control center has two general screens -monitoring and over clocking. The monitoring screen (green power) provides information regarding voltages and temperatures.

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It also allows setting of active phases that provide power to the CPU. I would advise you to set this to disabled (all phases always active) when you are over-clocking. It is possible to damage the board if not enough phases are active to provide adequate power to the processor during over-clocking.

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The over-clocking section is good enough to be used on its own, rather than an afterthought tweaking tool. It offers the same control as the EFI does.

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Finally for those who are not interested in fiddling with voltages and frequencies MSI’s excellent OC genie offers one touch over-clocking. This pushed our 2600k to an admirable 4.2GHz while setting the Core CPU voltage to 1.36. This setup was stable in during testing.

Those willing to tinker will be able to achieve higher over-clocks at potentially lower voltage levels (read on to find out)

Note: Download the latest version of Control center from MSI’s website for enhanced stability.

CPU-Z

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This is the B3 version of the board (sighs of relief).

Overclocking

Not satisfied with 4.2GHz achieved using the control center, we set forth to see how far can we push the board and our processor. We know that our 2600k can hit 4.8GHz easily Asus Sabertooth P67.

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By manually adjusting the multiplier and voltage settings we were able to hit 4.4GHz by using a core voltage of 1.34. At this speed the system was stable during testing. It was possible to boot up at 4.5 GHz using a voltage of 1.38, but the PCH hit a temperature of 100C (though the two components are independent of one another, the board temperature was responsible for this as there are no heat sinks on the power regulation circuitry. At which point we terminated testing. Re-applying thermal goo on the PCH brought temperatures down by 30 degrees, but we were not able to achieve 100% stability at 4.5 GHz. All of this was done using the standard Intel cooler and fan assembly. Use of an aftermarket cooler will definitely make it possible to hit higher speeds.

Testing

Testing motherboards is not an easy task. No matter what types of test are done the CPU’s performance does come into play. Testing IO is basically only testing the ability of the PCH. Thus what separates motherboards these days is their ability to provide functionality you need (read over clocking potential, RAID, multi GPU setup etc). But as the saying goes; when in Rome do as Romans do; we’ll put up some numbers to prove that we did spend time testing the board to dissect the ‘quantum’ difference between it and its peers!

System Specs

Motherboard

MSI P67A-C43

Asus P8P67

Asus Sabertooth P67

Processor

Intel Core i7-2600K

Video

HIS 6950 2GB

Memory

G.Skill sniper 2×4 GB (1600MHz; CL 9; 1.25V)

Hard Disk

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB (Both Systems)

Power

Corsair HX 620

OS

Windows 7 (Service Pack 1)

Test Suite

Synthetic

Sandra 2011

X264 Benchmark (HD V3)

Cinebench

3Dmark11 –Physics Test

Real World

7-Zip

IO Performance

SATA –HD Tune

USB –Crystal Mark 3

Synthetic

Sandra 2011

X264 Benchmark (HD V3)

Cinebench

3Dmark11 –Physics Test

Real World

7-Zip

IO Performance

SATA –HD Tune

USB –Crystal Mark 3

Synthetic

Sandra 2011

X264 Benchmark (HD V3)

Cinebench

3Dmark11 –Physics Test

Legend

S67

Asus Sabertooth P67

P67

Asus P8P67

C43

MSI P67A-C43

Synthetic Testing

Sandra

Sandra is a very competent stress testing and benchmarking suite.

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Hmm, even if I were to take a magnifying glass, err even if I were to use an electron microscope to detect a difference I won’t be able to. The boards perform as if they were not even individual platforms!

X264 Benchmark HD V3

This benchmark measures the encoding performance of the processor. It offers a standardized benchmark as the clip as well as the encoder used is uniform.

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Finally we have been able to detect an entire 3 FPS difference between the 3 boards. Major accomplishment! (Add tons of sarcasm here)

Cinebench R.115 Test

Cinebench is based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D. It is used to compare graphics as well as processor performance.

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Look! Another .1 difference!

3D-Mark ’11 – Physics Test

This is the latest incarnation of one of the oldest graphics benchmarking suites. The latest incarnation supports DirectX 11. It has a physics test that emulates physics on the processor.

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Err, am I seeing triple?

Real World

Some might argue against using 7-zip’s compression and decompression benchmark as a ‘real world’ test. But if you try and think about it for a minute, the benchmark does show how fast the program will either compress or decompress, while negating the impact of disk transfers.

7-Zip Compression

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7-Zip Decompression

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Ahhh, my eyes… they burn…

I/O Tests

USB Tests

USB performance was compared between boards. Crystal Mark V3 was used in conjunction with a USB 3.0 compliant Kingston Data Traveler (Ultimate 16 GB)

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SATA Performance

HD Tune was used to assess SATA performance.

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Will anyone who can detect a significant difference between the 3 products please stand up.

Gaming

FarCry 2

Far Cry 2

1680×1050

Benchmark

Inbuilt ‘Ranch Small’ CPU

Rendering Path

DX 9 –Medium

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Crysis Warhead

Crysis -Warhead

1680×1050

Benchmark

Customized

Rendering Path

DX 9; Physics Set to Enthusiast

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It’s just more of the same. The boards perform just as if they were triplets born out of the same womb at the same time!

Result Impressions

As I said before, motherboards these days are hard to distinguish by their ability to perform tasks that are CPU dependent. Gone are the days where one manufacturer could boast higher scores in one benchmark. All boards these days are dependent on CPU (with almost every important component besides the video card inside it, and even for almost all tasks even video encoding video core of SNB processors will do).

Conclusion

I gave away the gist of the review at the very beginning. If you did read the text in between this and that, good for you! You now know what makes this board great. If you didn’t (and I am sure many of you simply skip to the conclusion like I do when I read reviews), I’ll summarize: this is a great board. It offers good over clocking (possible to score 4.5GHz with aftermarket cooling), quality board components, and latest IO connectivity at a great price.

If you are in the market for a Sandy Bridge board that is good for over-clocking and do not need extras like multi-GPU configurations, extra USB and SATA ports, this is the board is all you are looking for. Highly recommended! Just remember to download the latest version of control center and the update to the latest EFI.


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