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Back in May, Intel released its highly anticipated new mainstream chipset, the P35. Codenamed 'Bearlake', it's a direct replacement for its previous mid-priced part, the P965, and brings with it support for DDR3 memory, new 45nm processors, and Intel Turbo Memory.
Retail boards based on the new chipset are now widely available and there are still many boards based on P965 around so we thought it would be a good time to compare these two platforms and find out whether there's any performance increase to go along with the new features of P35.
The board I'm looking at today is the P35 Platinum from MSI. It sits slap bang in the middle of current pricing for P35 boards, having a very sound feature set but without the fancy extras of the more expensive boards. For comparison I've chosen the P965 based Asus Commando, which is more of an enthusiast's board with a price tag to match. Currently the MSI board can be found for as little as £111 while the Commando board is still demanding a hefty £135. This is testament to just how successful the P965 chipset has been but as P965 begins to be phased out you should see the Commando's price drop. As both boards support DDR2 memory we can eliminate as many variables as possible in our testing. Later on in the month I'll have a look at the possible performance advantage of moving to DDR3.
Before I get onto the specifics of the board though, let's talk a bit more in-depth about the new features that P35 has or, in some cases, doesn't have.
As mentioned, P35 supports both DDR2 and DDR3 with speeds topping out at 1,066MHz and 1,333MHz respectively. Some boards are supporting both memory types so you can stagger your upgrading by buying a new board now and upgrading your memory later. However, it is likely these boards won't quite perform as well as their single type brothers, as it's easier to optimise a BIOS for one memory standard rather than both - especially when it comes to overclocking.
Though the CPU socket stays as LGA 775, the new chipset has dropped support for old Pentium 4 CPUs and has been completely optimised for the Core CPU architecture. This should hopefully translate to improved performance and lower power usage.
Even though P35 has seen a move to PCI-Express 2.0, you are still limited to just one full speed PCI-E x16 slot. However, just like with P965, Crossfire is supported with the same throttled x16 and x4 configuration. Some reports have suggested there is little performance impact when using this throttled version of Crossfire so don't let this put you off. That said, if I were using Crossfire, I'd still prefer to go for a 975x based board, which uses two x8 slots, or wait for X38 which has two x16 slots.
Turbo Memory is the name given to a portion of NAND flash memory that will be incorporated onto new motherboards or available as an add-in PCI-E board. The memory will be split 50/50 for use in Windows Vista ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive. Flash memory is much faster than a hard drive so ReadyBoost uses this flash memory to boost performance - just like adding more RAM. ReadyDrive uses this flash memory to store important and often used files so boot times are reduced and the hard disk is used less.
Unfortunately, Turbo Memory modules are not going to be available for sometime yet - some reports even suggest we'll be waiting until next year - so this isn't something we can test. This was one of the most anticipated features of the new chipset, at least for the TR staff, so it's a shame we won't be seeing it for a while. However, it is Intel who are delaying the availability so no blame can be aimed at MSI.