Articles: Mainboards

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PCB Design and Functionality

MSI P45 Platinum PCB layout looks very smart and well thought through. It features a number of interesting peculiarities and uses several unique technologies.

However, we are going to start our discussion of MSI P45 Platinum features with its futuristic looking Circu-Pipe 2 chipset cooling system that makes an unforgettable impression when you see it for the first time:

The chipset cooling system of MSI P45 Platinum consists of four heatsinks and five heatpipes. The central heatsink turned out pretty big that is why they use screws to fasten it. All other heatsinks use traditional plastic retention clips. Thanks to large heat dissipating surface of the heatsinks and efficient heat transfer by the heatpipes, no additional cooling is necessary and the system is absolutely noiseless.

Two heatpipes come out of the small heatsink on top of the chipset South Bridge. They go to the chipset North Bridge heatsink with a massive trapezoid-shaped base plate. These heatpipes bent in a very sophisticated manner above the North Bridge heatsink and feature blocks of plates on the ends. Three other heatpipes start with the same plate blocks above the chipset North Bridge. Two of them then go to the large heatsink on half of MOSFET transistors, which also has an additional section on the back of the board. The fifth heatpipe goes through this heatsink and ends at the fourth heatsink covering the remaining MOSFET. Although there are a lot of heatsinks around the processor socket, there is enough room for any large processor coolers.

I have to say that transistors of the five-phase processor voltage regulator are MSI’s special pride. They are made with DrMOS technology, i.e. each chip is a combination of three micro-chips: two MOSFET transistors and an Integrated Driver-MOSFET – DrMOS. This technology has a lot of advantages: longer MTBF, more efficient power usage, lower heat dissipation. MSI pays a lot of attention to power-saving technologies and functions combined into GreenPower Features group. The number of active phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry may vary dynamically depending on the workload. The memory and chipset North Bridge have dual-phase circuitry however they may also switch into single-phase mode when necessary.

We only have to mention that 8-pin and 24-pin power connectors as well as the FDD connector are very conveniently located. So now we can move on to the lower part of the mainboard PCB.

Intel ICH10R South Bridge provides a block of six Serial ATA connectors on the right side of the PCB. An IDE connector in front of them and two more SATA connectors nearby are implemented via JMicron JMB363 controller. Numerous USB connectors, front panel button and indicator connectors and IEEE1394 connectors have lined up along the lower side of the PCB. It is interesting that they used a JMicron JMB381 and not a traditional chip from VIA or Texas Instruments as a FireWire controller.

Like most other mainboards on Intel P45 Express chipset, MSI P45 Platinum is equipped with two PCI Express 2.0 x16 graphics card slots. They are spaced out quite significantly. However, there are only two PCI slots, so you should keep it in mind especially when you intend to use two graphics cards at the same time. Between the PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots there is a Clear CMOS jumper and a couple of jumpers switching the FSB frequency to 200, 266, 333 or 400MHz. These jumpers are part of RapidBoost Features group that ensure maximum system performance. Namely, they claim that it may be hard to overclock a processor with 200MHz nominal FSB speed to 400MHz FSB, because it means you will increase the FSB frequency by 100%. However, if you increase the startup frequency in advance, you may be able to achieve the desired goal. It could be true, however, our previous tests of MSI P35 Platinum and MSI P35 Platinum Combo mainboards featuring the same jumpers revealed a FSB Strap, i.e. recurring performance drop with 66MHz increment. Luckily, this time we didn’t detect anything like that.

Clear CMOS jumper function is duplicated by the same button o the mainboard rear panel. Besides, this button, there are also PS/2 connectors for keyboard and mouse, six USB 2.0 ports, one IEEE1394 port, a network RJ45 (Gigabit network is implemented by Realtek RTL8111C controller), eSATA (an additional JMicron JMB362 controller) and optical S/PDIF and six audio-jacks (8-channel sound is provided by Realtek ALC888 codec).

MSI P45 Platinum has 29 LEDs all over the PCB, most of which are blue. Luckily, they do not light up all at once. There are five LEDs along the top edge of the PCB (LED 21-25) that indicate how many phases in the processor voltage regulator circuitry are active. LED 26-27 and LED 28-29 have pretty similar role: they indicate how many voltage regulator phases are active in the memory and chipset North Bridge circuitries respectively. LED 3 indicator lights up when the mainboard receives power, and LED 16 – when the mainboard starts. An LED group a little below the South Bridge replaces the POST indicator. The combinations of green and red lights tell you at what stage the booting stopped. Finally, there is a special personal LED next to each expansion slot that lights up when there is a card installed in it.

The scheme below will give you a better idea of the components location:

Among the indisputable advantages we have to point out six fan connectors (one of them is a four-pin processor connector), Power On and Reset buttons. As for the drawbacks, we have to remind you that the installed graphics card will block the DIMM slot locks and stress once again that there are only two PCI connectors onboard.

All in all, MSI P45 Platinum makes a very good impression.

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