When we manually set the CPU and RAM voltages in the BIOS we saw the same sort of difference in power draw for the two types of memory. When we overclocked the CPU the gap closed slightly but it remained the case that the DDR3 set up was drawing more power than DDR2 which is little short of weird.
Another oddity was the range of memory speeds that were available in the BIOS. By default our Corsair XMS2 1142MHz DDR2 was happy to run at 800MHz but refused to ‘overclock’ to 1,066MHz, despite feeding it the necessary 2.1V, so we settled for 1,001MHz which is the next notch down. By contrast our OCZ DDR3-1333 Platinum behaved impeccably and ran at the correct 1,333MHz speed and 7-7-7-20 timings without any input from ourselves. Unfortunately the extra memory speed didn’t yield any significant increase in performance and there was still that pesky rise in power draw to consider.
This was all rather disappointing so we took a turn around the block and checked out the other features on offer. We have already mentioned the single PCI Express 2.0 x16 graphics slot which has a 1x slot on either side. In addition you get three PCI slots so there is plenty of scope for upgrades. Below the bottom PCI slot there is a floppy connector and running across the bottom of the board there’s a Firewire header and three headers that support up to six USB 2.0 ports. However you don’t get any brackets in the box that make use of the headers.
The six SATA connectors are slightly unusual as four of the connectors are laid down to keep the cables out of the way of even the beefiest graphics card while the fifth and sixth connectors stand vertically. The layout works perfectly well but it’s a puzzle that MSI didn’t lay down all six connectors.
The two power connectors are a doddle to reach and the CPU fan header is positioned at the top of the board however the two case fan headers are located between the IDE connector and the outermost memory slot. If you have an IDE optical drive you may well find that connecting up a fan is a fiddly job.
And so we come to the I/O panel. The two legacy PS/2 ports are fine as are the six USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire, Gigabit LAN and six audio mini jacks. We are left cold by the sight of a legacy Serial port as it has no obvious role to play in a Core 2 PC. We know that some industrial plants still use Serial to connect to production equipment but it seems unlikely that these people will be fussed about the choice of DDR2 or DDR3 memory. The space would surely be better filled with a digital connector for the integrated audio or perhaps two more USB ports.
You pay MSI a £5 premium over the price of the DDR2 P45 Neo-F or Neo3-FR for the privilege of using either DDR2 or DDR3 on this hybrid motherboard. The problem is that DDR2 runs at a non-standard speed and DDR3 draws more power when it should in fact save juice.