Back to the board, as with most P55-based efforts it’s quite roomy. Layout has become much less of an issue now that Intel has eliminated the north and south-bridge configuration of older chipsets in favour of a single chip (moving the northbridge’s functionality onto the processor), yet even so MSI has done an excellent job.
There’s plenty of room around the CPU socket, and though the metal heatsinks are higher than on most boards we can’t think of a single cooler that would be impeded by them.
Our only real gripe is a floppy disk drive connector taking up the space where we’d usually find the 24-pin ATX header. There really is no need for 99 per cent of the population to still use floppy drives, and for the one per cent that do (which ironically includes myself, thanks to an old digital piano that stores recordings on 3.5in disks) external USB floppy drives are the obvious solution.
Beside this obsolete connection is a blue plastic pin bank that functions as a voltage check point – a feature die-hard overclockers will no doubt welcome though it’s a bit over the top for the rest of us. Using a multimeter this will give you real-time readouts of voltage points such as CPU, DDR, VTT and chipset.
Naturally we have the standard complement of four RAM slots, and though we miss Asus’ nifty QDIMM feature as found on the Sabertooth 55i and P7P55D Deluxe support for DDR3 memory overclocked up to 2,133MHz is appreciated.
To the left of the board we have six black angled SATA connectors, and the aforementioned blue Drive Booster SATA port facing straight up behind them, running off its own JMicron controller. Drive Booster is very similar to Asus’ Drive Xpert feature, and for most users is just as pointless. Theoretically it should speed up a RAID setup if you plug one of the drives into this port, but it’s not likely to offer much practical advantage compared to Intel’s Matrix solution, and MSI’s outlandish claims of “double the drive speed” seem optimistic.
A nice touch are pin extension modules for the main pin header sets – essentially the equivalent of Asus’ Q-Connector. This makes it far easier to attach all those fiddly little cables for your case’s power/reset buttons and power/HDD LEDs, and it’s a feature we wish would become standard on all motherboards, though we appreciate budget motherboards have to save pennies somewhere.
As far as the PCI slots are concerned, we have two well-spaced PCIe 2.0 16x slots, two PCIe 1x slots and a single PCIe 4x one, followed by two plain PCI slots for older cards. A single dual-slot graphics card will cover one of the 1x PCIe slots while a second would cover one of the PCI slots.
Just keep in mind that despite the claimed compatibility with AMD/ATI’s CrossFireX and nVidia’s SLI, as with most motherboards based on the P55 chipset the P55-GD65 only supports 16 PCIe lanes for graphics in total, so you can either have a single card in full 16x mode or dual video cards limited to 8x each. P55 boards that offer more than the twin 8x PCIe lanes Intel’s chipset caters for are making their way onto the market, but they require the help of an additional bridge chip like nVidia’s NF200 to provide extra interconnect bandwidth.