As we head into this week's review of the MSI P45C Neo-FIR it is intriguing to see the way mainstream Core 2 motherboards have fallen off the radar. We still see exotic specimens such as the Zotac GeForce 9300 ITX WiFi, the Asus P5N-VM WS with integrated Quadro FX 470 workstation graphics, and the ASRock N7AD-SLI that supports dual Nvidia graphics cards in SLI. Regular P45 models, however, are thin on the ground.
It's a strange phenomenon when you consider that Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad have been the natural choice for gamers for coming up for three years. A quick look at the products on sale at your favourite on-line retailer will show some two dozen models of P45 motherboard so this family of products is clearly still very popular. The problem - as far as we reviewers are concerned - is that P45 is nearly one year old and it will not be updated by Intel. The plan is to supersede Core 2 with Core i5 later this year so the P45 chipset lives in a sort of twilight where it sells steadily with the minimum of publicity.
At first glance you may wonder why MSI sent us the P45C Neo-FIR as it looks, dare we say it, a bit boring. There's a single PCI Express 2.0 graphics slot and passive coolers on the P45/ICH10R chipset without any sign of the eye catching heatpipes that are so common. The area around the LGA775 CPU socket also looks remarkably basic as this model only has three power phases for the CPU. We have grown used to seeing as many as 16 phases, such as on the Asus P5Q Deluxe so the huge amount of fresh air around the CPU comes as something of a bolt from the blue.
For some reason MSI has seen fit to include three LEDS above the memory slots so you can see whether the P45C Neo-FIR is operating in one, two or three phase mode. It is a mystery why anyone would especially care about this one way or the other.
The memory slots, however, do have a tale to tell. There are four slots in two pairs that support dual channel mode however this is a hybrid model that has two DDR2 slots and two DDR3 slots. The lurid green slots support up to 8GB of 1,066MHz DDR2 while the two blue slots support up to 8GB of 1,333MHz DDR3. You have to choose between DDR2 and DDR3 and cannot mix and match the memory types.
The logic is that you may have some expensive DDR2 in your stack of hardware that you are loath to chuck away or you may be reluctant to make the change to DDR3 but we feel this argument is tenuous at best. Head to Crucial's website and you'll find that you can buy 2GB of DDR2-1066 or DDR3-1333 for the same £30.
Ordinarily we'd say that you would be wise to spend £30 to ditch your existing DDR2 and make the switch to DDR3 as the drop in operating voltage from 1.8V to 1.5V saves a useful amount of power and the extra clock speed offered by DDR3 is also worth having. However, during our testing we found exactly the opposite to be true with the MSI. On Auto settings in the Windows desktop the system drew 110W at the socket with DDR2 which increased to 120W on DDR3. Under load the figures were 190W and 220W respectively which is an enormous difference.