MSI P55-GD80 Motherboard Review

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Since the release of Intel’s P55 platform, a seemingly endless number of motherboards have been popping up, ranging from under $100 for basic entry-level boards to close to $300 for feature-packed overclocking powerhouses. MSI’s top end 1156 motherboard, right around the middle of the P55 price range, is the P55-GD80. With all of the features and overclocking options, I was very excited when MSI sent me this board for testing.

The Board

When designing this board, MSI seems to have thought of everything.  It has all the advanced options and components essential to extreme overclockers, but incorporates several features that make achieving a respectable performance increase easy for the absolute beginner, which I’ll discuss later.

The packaging for the P55-GD80 is not surprising.  The box is nearly ident

ical to that of several MSI boards I’ve received in the past.

Inside we find an almost overwhelming selection of accessories:

  • User Manual
  • OC Genie Guide
  • Quick Installation Guide
  • HDD Backup Guide
  • Poster-size Quick Guide
  • Winki Guide
  • Driver disc
  • 3x SLI bridges
  • 1x Crossfire bridge
  • Drive cables (SATA, e-SATA, PATA)
  • IO Shield
  • 4x voltage read point connectors
  • And every quick connector you could want

The board has an attractive blue/black color scheme and a nice clean layout.  Everything is labeled for easy identification so there’s no guessing or manual referencing needed.   The socket area may be a little more difficult to insulate for subzero cooling, but nothing too hard to handle.   I would list all of the cool board features, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Here we see the heatpipe layout for the board is purely cosmetic.  Where some manufacturers have left an empty space where the northbridge used to be or used the space for other components (Asus has moved the first PCI-E 2.0 slot up), MSI has chosen to keep the traditional look.  While I always prefer function over form, I can’t argue with the fact that it does, in fact, look nice.

On this corner of the board we see a few standard features as well as some new ones.  While built in power, reset, and clear CMOS buttons are becoming more and more common standard options these days, especially on high end boards, MSI has taken it a step further.  The ‘buttons’ have been replaced with MSI’s Easy Button 2 feature, which consists of touch-sensitive keys for easier operation.

Initially, I wasn’t expecting to be very impressed with this feature, but it has actually been very useful.  Honestly though, it’s one of those things you have to experience to fully appreciate.  It’s more fun than necessary, but I now wish every motherboard came with this feature.  The only downside is these buttons are much easier to touch accidentally.

The only switch MSI did not incorporate into the Easy Button 2 panel is the clear CMOS button, for obvious reasons.  In fact, they’ve made that button slightly harder to accidentally press by slightly recessing it into the button housing.

This corner also features the OC Genie button which activates MSI’s OC Genie auto-overclocking function.  Also, to be used either in combination with OC Genie or independently, are the Direct OC buttons, which allow bclk adjustment up or down (hence, the – and + buttons), eliminating the need for overclocking software such as setfsb.  I’ll discuss both of these features more later on.

There is also a debug LED, something that is essential to casual and extreme overclocking alike, and a feature I’d also like to see included on all motherboards.  For those that don’t know, this provides codes for easy troubleshooting.

MSI has also been kind enough to include voltage read points for CPU, VTT, DDR, and PCH, so no soldering is needed to find these exact voltages.  Four connectors are included for usage with meter probes.  To the left of this panel we have the V Switch, which allows a higher maximum for each corresponding voltage value.  I’ll list each of the resulting maximum voltages when I discuss the BIOS settings.

They read points work great, but the location makes them a little difficult to access depending on how the 24-pin connector is routed from the power supply.  As you’ll see in some photos below, mine comes from directly beneath the board and right over the v-check points.

Here are photos of the testing setup used for this review:

The BIOS

The P55-GD80 features all of the standard BIOS options you’d expect – the Standard CMOS Features, Advanced BIOS Features, Integrated Peripherals,   Power Management, H/W Monitor (or PC Health), and BIOS Settings Password sections are all as you’d expect.  There’s also a Green Power section to control power saving features.

The Cell Menu is where the magic happens.  Here we find the options to control every aspect of our overclocking experience.  The different settings can be seen in the photos below.  Voltage adjustment values are as follows:

  • CPU Voltage: 0.9v – 2.1v, 2.2v max w/ v-switch, Auto = 1.225v
  • CPU VTT: 0.482v – 2.092v, 2.292v max w/ v-switch, Auto = 1.126v
  • CPU PLL: 0.2v – 2.4v, 2.4v max w/ v-switch, Auto = 1.8v
  • DRAM: 0.93v – 2.43v, 2.63v max w/ v-switch, Auto = 1.53v
  • DDR VREF (all values): 0.45v – 1.15v, Auto = 0.75v
  • PCH: 0.464v – 1.964v, Auto = 1.064v

MSI’s M-Flash feature allows easy BIOS backup and flashing.  I’ve used this on other MSI motherboards, and say that BIOS flashing doesn’t get much easier than this.  All you do is insert a flash drive with your new BIOS, enter the M-Flash utility, tell it to flash the BIOS, and the rest is done for you.  In a matter of seconds, the new BIOS is flashed, the computer is restarted, and you’re finished.

Testing

The testing platform consisted of the following:

  • Core i5 750 es
  • MSI P55-GD80
  • 2×2 GB G.Skill Ripjaws PC16000 9-9-9-24
  • MSI GTX275 Lightning
  • Corsair HX620
  • WD Raptor 36 GB
  • Thermalright Ultra-120 original
  • Windows 7 Ultimate x64

First, I’d like to discuss MSI’s OC Genie feature.

I’ve seen lots of reviews stating that it only works so-so.  I think it actually works great for its intended purpose.  OC Genie is not meant for the extreme overclocker; in fact it’s meant to be useful to novice and beginning overclockers.  Nor is it meant to be used for 24/7 overclock settings.

In the OC Genie manual, MSI says to enable the OC Genie, then use those values for a starting point.  The following screenshot is of an overclock provided by the OC Genie.  Though the voltage values are very high for these settings (1.408 vcore, 1.407 VTT, 1.75v DDR), changing the CPU multi to 20 and raising bclk to 200 would give a nice, stable 4 GHz CPU clock.

Overclocking on this board was smooth as silk.  Overclocking to over 4.3 GHz while keeping the memory fast was effortless.  I would say just about anyone could duplicate this with adequate cooling and decent DDR3.

The highest bclk I was able to obtain on air was 216, no matter what I tried.  Hopefully it’ll go much higher when I do liquid nitrogen testing.

Memory overclocking is a dream on the P55 platform, as shown in the following screenshots.  In both the memory was at stock voltage.  I was able to get a few MHz higher on this board (at the same timings and voltage) as on two other boards I’ve tested on. The Everest test was easy, the Super Pi 32m run took some work (though minimal) to pull off.

Conclusion

I’m having a blast playing with it and can’t wait to put it under some liquid nitrogen to see what it can really do.  With more extra features than I would ever use, this board has something for everyone, from the casual tweaker to the hardcore clocker to the extreme bencher.   I’d like to thank MSI for giving me the chance to test this motherboard.  Testing results with the cold stuff will be coming soon in the form of a forum thread.

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