As well as all these ‘northbridge’ improvements, P35 also brings with it version nine of the Intel Controller Hub (ICH) ‘southbridge’. This new version includes everything from ICH8 plus a few extras. You still get six SATA 3Gbps ports – with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 – and six PCI-Express x1 ports, but you now also get twelve USB 2.0 ports. There will be three versions of ICH9, either vanilla ICH9, ICH9R which includes Intel Matrix RAID support, ICH9DH (Digital Home) that has RAID and Intel Viiv technology, or, ICH9DO (Digital Office) which includes RAID and Intel vPro.
Moving onto the MSI P35 Platinum itself, the first thing you notice are the rather elaborate heatpipe structures that adorn the northbridge, southbridge, and power circuitry. Now, I’ve seen plenty of these heatpipe arrangements before, but never one with loops! The reason for their being is apparently just to increase surface area, the same reason the fin section, just next to the memory slots, is there. It would seem that whatever the reason, the heatpipes do their job and suck heat away from the chips with ease – you’ll just need to make sure there is some airflow through your case to remove the hot air from around the heatsinks. Even with this great mass of copper surrounding the CPU area, I didn’t come across any problems fitting any of the coolers in our office.
The PCB is coloured in a fetching black (well it does go with everything, darling!) and a fair number of the ‘standard’ ports and connectors are finished in a contrasting white. The remainder of the ports are a whole mix of colours, the majority of which signify some sort of useful distinction. However, one exception did catch my eye. The way the memory slots are coloured would suggest if you’re using two memory sticks they should both be placed in either the green or the orange slots but this isn’t the case. There should, in fact, be one in each colour for optimal performance.
Having removed support for legacy IDE connections from their own ICH southbridge chips, Intel is relying on board partners to add in extra I/O chips to perform this function. For those of us with old IDE CD/DVD drives, thankfully MSI has chosen to add in a Marvell 88SE6111-NAA1 chip to provide support for a single IDE connector and extra 3Gbps SATA port. This extra SATA port is coloured blue and positioned away from the other SATA ports, helping to distinguish it. This is useful for making sure you don’t accidentally try and use it as part of a RAID. Though, as a result of its positioning, you may find it interferes with your second graphics card if you’re running Crossfire.
The only other concern we had with the layout was the 8-pin power connector that sits between two heatpipes. An adapter is provided to elevate the connector so you can reach it but if you forget to use it, the connector is near impossible to remove.
An octuple of LEDs is positioned just left of the CMOS battery. These are used to indicate whether the board is functioning properly – green for working, red for not working – which is very useful if you’re experimenting with overclocking.