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Turning to the top half of the board we find lots of fresh air around the AM3 processor socket, and this is where we come to the crux of the 770-C45. This motherboard supports AMD's latest AM3 models of Phenom II with four DDR3 memory slots, but it does it on a shoestring budget.
The power regulation is four plus one, which looks rather basic in a world of eight and 16 phase motherboards. In fairness the 770-C45 employs some intelligence in its power regulation as it uses APS (Active Phase Switching) and has four tiny blue LEDs at the top end of the board so you can keep an eye on what the APS system is doing, should you so choose. MSI's 770-C35 model is the same as the 770-C45 except that it does not have APS.
The passive cooler on the Northbridge is rather small and maintains a steady temperature of 60 degrees, which seems rather toasty. This is vexing as there is plenty of room to install a larger cooler and it would be awkward to rig up a case fan to keep the chipset cool. If you fancy giving it a try there are two spare fan headers on the board.
The combination of a relatively old chipset with a new processor socket isn't quite as daft as it seems. We have no doubt there are people out there looking to upgrade their PC with a shiny and relatively cheap Phenom II who want to pay as little as possible for a motherboard. That's fair enough, but even so we have no idea why MSI included a legacy Serial port on the I/O panel that looks totally incongruous next to the two PS/2 ports and we feel sure that the space would be better filled with two more USB ports.
The performance of the 770-C45 with a Phenom II 810 is perfectly decent at stock speed and matches any other AMD chipset on the market. You can bump up the speed of your DDR3 from the default speed of 1,066MHz to the full speed of 1,333MHz.
When you start to overclock you rapidly find the limits of the motherboard and chipset. For one thing the BIOS isn't the most friendly example we have ever seen as it is easy to overshoot the voltage settings that you want and it is equally tricky to revert to Auto settings. We found that a base clock speed of 240MHz was the limit of the 770-C45, which is fairly feeble when the Asus M4A79T Deluxe will happily run at 260MHz and the Gigabyte GA-MA790FXT-UD5P roared along at 275MHz.
Both boards costs considerably more than the 770-C45, so if you are hoping you might pick up an overclocking champ for £53 you'd better think again. On the other hand if your overclocking ambitions are modest (or non-existent) you'll be perfectly happy with the performance of the 770-C45.
It is clear that the 770-C45 is a very cheap motherboard. Indeed, the only comparable model on the market is the Gigabyte GA-MA770T-UD3P, which costs an extra £20, although it softens the blow by including eight USB ports and two Firewire ports.
The MSI 770-C45 is the cheapest motherboard we have seen that supports Socket AM3 Phenom II processors. It is incredibly basic, but despite that it does a competent job.