Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:

  • MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) ver.2.1 mainboard (LGA1155, Intel P67 Express, BIOS version V10.1);
  • Intel Core i5-2500K CPU (3.3 GHz, Sandy Bridge, LGA1155);
  • 2 x 2048 MB DDR3 SDRAM Patriot Extreme Performance Viper II Sector 5 Series PC3-16000, PVV34G2000LLKB (2000 MHz, 8-8-8-24 timings, 1.65 V voltage);
  • MSI N570GTX-M2D12D5/OC graphics card (Nvidia GeForce GTX 570, GF110, 40 nm, 786/4200 MHz, 320-bit GDDR5 1280 MB);
  • Kingston SSD Now V+ Series (SNVP325-S2, 128 GB);
  • Scythe Mugen 2 Revision B (SCMG-2100) CPU cooler and an additional 80x80 mm fan for cooling of the area around the CPU socket during overclocking experiments;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • CoolerMaster RealPower M850 PSU (RS-850-ESBA);
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version, Nvidia GeForce/ION Driver 266.58 graphics card driver.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

We usually write that system assembly went smoothly, but in fact this isn’t quite the case. We always have a little issue with the installation of our CPU cooler. The thing is that Scythe Mugen 2 has a pretty large backplate. It inevitably pushes against the capacitor pins on the reverse side of the PCB around the CPU socket. This is a metal plate with a shock-absorbing pad, which prevents any possible shorting, but the cooler sits at a small angle. Therefore, I am especially pleased to say that there were no pins interfering with our cooler on MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) mainboard and it fit perfectly into the designated spot. Of course, this is a particular case, but it is the first mainboard for a very long time, which accommodates our Scythe Mugen 2 cooler ideally.

Overall, the mainboard worked fine in nominal mode except for the strange behavior of the APS (Active Phase Switching) technology. When it turned on for the first time, the number of active CPU phases in the voltage regulator stopped changing, depending on the current processor utilization, which was indicated by the CPU Phase LEDs. We enabled it the second time in the BIOS when we wanted to take correct screenshots of the “MSI Control Center” utility. Only when this technology is on, you get access to energy-saving modes in the “Green Power” tab. This time the number of active phases kept changing, but the processor Vcore stopped lowering in idle mode. So, if you do not enable this function in the BIOS and leave “CPU Phase Control” parameter at its default “Intel SVID Mode” value, then everything will work just fine: the number of active phases as well as the CPU Vcore in idle mode will change.

Unfortunately, all this is true only for the nominal mode. As soon as you start changing the processor core voltage, dynamic adjustment of the active processor phases in the voltage regulator shuts down. Moreover, Micro-Star mainboards still do not know how to increase the CPU Vcore by adding the desired value to the nominal. The Vcore will simply be locked at a fixed value and won’t go down in idle mode any more. Keeping in mind that overclocking approach has become simpler and easier and that the CPU cooler is finally installed perfectly, we decided to push our system to 4.9 GHz CPU clock. Unlike other Intel P67 Express based mainboards, which failed the stability tests in this mode or passed them but at extreme CPU temperatures, Micro-Star mainboard didn’t even boot the OS. However, the 4.8 GHz CPU clock was an easy one for it.

In this case it had to raise the CPU core voltage a little over 1.4 V, just like on other mainboards. However, in all other cases the power-saving technologies continue to be up and running and the CPU core voltage in idle mode drops down to almost 1 V, while on MSI mainboards it remains raised and only the processor clock multiplier lowers.

We have known about Micro-Star mainboards’ inability to overclock and at the same time retain all power-saving technologies intact for a long time, and MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) once again disappointed us. However, it turned out that overclocking with MSI mainboards may be also quite rewarding. Check out the memory frequency in the previous screenshots: 1867 MHz. It is for the first time that we managed to achieve a result like that on an LGA1155 mainboard, although all mainboards support this frequency setting and our memory can theoretically work at frequencies up to 2000 MHz. However, all our previous attempts to get our memory to work at 1867 MHz didn’t succeed: all systems failed the Prime95 test. Ironically, it was another Micro-Star mainboard that failed this test most miserably. In fact, it completely lost its mind: after we raised the memory clock the mainboard failed to boot and decided that the BIOS chip was corrupt, so it reflashed the BIOS from a reserve chip. However, it has never recovered ever since: the LED indicating a BIOS chip failure keeps blinking no matter what we do.

Keeping in mind our numerous failed attempts to get our system memory to work at 1867 MHz, we decided to stop wasting our time and stopped at 1600 MHz during the last couple LGA1155 mainboard reviews. It was the automatic overclocking option – OC Genie – that encouraged us to go back to memory tests on our new MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) mainboard. Like all other similar technologies, this utility is still imperfect and manual overclocking can provide way better results. For example, in our tests the CPU was automatically overclocked to 4.2 GHz with the Vcore increased substantially to 1.355 V and CPU VTT – to 1.25 V. It automatically shuts down processor power-saving technologies. However, all that was a complete waste because our processor could easily work at 4.5 GHz even without any voltage adjustments. However, at the same time the board increased the memory clock to 1867 MHz and, surprisingly, passed the stability tests with the CPU in nominal as well as overclocked mode. So, from now on we will continue our attempts to increase the memory clock on LGA1155 mainboards, and in the meanwhile let’s see how MSI P67A-GD80 (B3) mainboard can actually benefit from it in practical terms.

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