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There are two PS/2 ports for the mouse and keyboard, one Serial port, one Parallel port, four USB 2.0 ports, 10/100 Ethernet and six mini jacks for audio. The inclusion of legacy Serial and Parallel ports may suit some people and you might not be fussed about the absence of eSATA and Firewire on a budget motherboard but there are still grounds for complaint. There's no digital output for the audio, there are only four USB ports and the lack of Gigabit Ethernet looks a bit strange these days. Although there are headers on the P43 Neo for eight more USB ports there are no brackets in the package so you'll be relying on case-mounted ports.
With so few components to accommodate you'd expect that MSI would do a good job with the layout and in the main you'd be right. The six SATA connectors stand vertically but there's plenty of room to connect the cables and the same is true of the power and IDE connectors which are accommodated in the top half of the board where it is easy to plug them in. The only gripe is that the graphics slot is rather close to the memory retention clips.
Although the P43 Neo is a cheap motherboard we wanted to treat it as a proper piece of hardware so we installed a Core 2 Extreme QX9650 processor with 2GB of fast Corsair DDR2 memory and an MSI GeForce 8800 GT graphics card. With the processor humming along at its standard 3.0GHz the P43 Neo delivered the same performance as its bigger brother P45 Platinum.
When you glance at the test results this similarity may not be immediately apparent as the graphics element of PCMark05 can act erratically. Our GeForce 8800 GT generally delivers 17 or 18 thousand marks but occasionally it turns in a score of 13,000 which is exactly what happened with the P43 Neo. This has an impact on the Overall PCMark05 score but doesn't affect 3DMark06 which is all very strange but the upshot is that the P43 Neo delivered the goods despite appearances.
Things were altogether murkier when it came to overclocking. We'd had no problems changing settings to turn off the BIOS splash screen, set the boot order, adjust the memory voltage up to 2.1V and to change the memory ratio to get the speed up to 1,066MHz. Although the BIOS looked much like every other MSI we had seen in recent times we were unable to adjust the front side bus and clock multiplier. Or rather we were able to make the changes and save the settings but they had no effect so the CPU remained stuck at 3.0GHz. It doesn't take a huge stretch of the imagination to blame this matter on the BIOS and to assume that it will be fixed in short order.
At a push you could build a budget Core 2 Duo or Quad PC around the MSI P43 Neo but the list of features is so short that your are unlikely to save any money in the long run. Bring it down to £50, or below, and our interest will be piqued.
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