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Anyone looking for a motherboard to support their Penryn Core 2 processor should have an Intel chipset at the top of their shopping list. Well OK, you might want to use SLI graphics in which case it's Nvidia silicon all the way but most of us will be very happy with Intel's new P40 series of chipsets. At the high end there's not much to separate X48 and P45 apart from the number of lanes of PCI Express 2.0 that are fed to the two graphics slots. X48 gives you 16 lanes per slot while P45 only manages eight lanes per slot when using two graphics cards. That sounds significantly worse - indeed it sounds like half - but it doesn't really matter because we're talking about PCI Express 2.0 which has oodles of bandwidth.
You can buy P45 models such as the Asus P5Q for £80 that have a single graphics slot but we had to wonder, if you don't want dual graphics slots do you need a P45 at all?
We decided to investigate the junior members of the P40 family as they haven't received much attention. Apart from CrossFire graphics the P45 chipset also supports DDR2-1333 memory or you can have P43 that supports DDR2-1066 or a P41 that limits you to DDR2-800. There are other differences so a P43 is unlikely to support SATA RAID and a P41 will only have four SATA ports instead of six.
Be honest, does that sound like much of a limitation? We don't think so either so we rustled up an MSI P43 Neo, which is so similar to a P45 that when we peeled the ‘P43 Neo' sticker off the board we could see the PCB is printed with a ‘P45 Neo' legend. Now that's what we call cost cutting.
You can buy an MSI P45 Neo-F for £76 from Overclockers but we struggled to find the P43 Neo on sale in the UK as it is such a new model. The only outlet that had it listed was komplett.co.uk at £59 but that use of the past tense is significant as it has just shut most of its European websites so we're working with an MSI SRP of £61.24. That's a clear saving of £15 over the P45 Neo so let's take a look at what you get for your money.
You can see practically everything that the P43 Neo has to offer at a single glance. The chipset coolers are small, passive aluminium items that leave the power regulation hardware uncovered. There's a single PCI Express 2.0 graphics slot that sits above two PCI Express x1 slots and three PCI slots. The floppy connector sits at the foot of the board in an inconvenient location which rather suggests that no-one will want to use it.
That's fine as we all use USB memory keys these days so have little use for archaic storage devices. However, the modern theme isn't one that continues throughout the rest of the board - the I/O panel is a right throwback to the dark ages.