This first batch of motherboards bodes well for Intel's P35 Express chipset. However, as good as they are, we have issues with each, some of which are more serious than others.
MSI's P35 Platinum is probably our least favorite of the bunch. The board is priced well at under $180 online, but the BIOS definitely needs some work to resolve memory setting problems and a lack of support for the Core 2 Duo's C1E Enhanced Halt State. We're also not crazy about losing two of the ICH9R's Serial ATA ports to eSATA. However, the Platinum easily has the most impressive chipset cooler of the lot, and its performance was quite good, so a BIOS update could make this board considerably more attractive down the road.
We've only had a couple of weeks with the P35 Platinum, but Asus' P5Ks have been running in our labs for much longer. They've grown on me, in particular because they offer a nice array of integrated peripherals, including 802.11g Wi-Fi. Those extras go a long way toward justifying the price premium you'll pay for the boards. The P5K Deluxe costs around $225 online while the P5K3 Deluxe is selling for closer to $250. Asus has turned out a solid BIOS for each board, as well, and their performance is competitive with the others.
Unfortunately, the P5K3 Deluxe is saddled with DDR3 memory that costs significantly more than DDR2 without any real performance or power consumption benefits. That leaves the P5K Deluxe as a viable option, but it consumes close to 40W more power than the competition at idle, and around 30W more under load. Such a significant wattage gap is curious, to say the least, and makes it difficult to recommend the P5K Deluxe for a power-efficient Core 2 build.
So we're left with Abit's IP35 Pro and Gigabyte's GA-P35-DQ6. The former costs just $175 online, making it a bargain compared to some of the other boards we've looked at today. Even at that lower price, you get the best fan speed control and hardware monitoring options of the lot. However, Abit has cut corners, and the IP35's lack of PCIe-based Gigabit Ethernet definitely hurts this board's appeal. This board's Firewire performance isn't that hot, either, but those are more minor issues that are easily balanced by the board's great layout and low price. If I had to buy one board out of the five we've looked at today with my own money, it would probably be the IP35 Pro, and that earns it a share of our Editor's Choice award.
However, the IP35 isn't the only board that will be swarmed by Editor's Choice groupies. Gigabyte's GA-P35-DQ6 is also a phenomenal option, and one with fewer flaws than Abit's working-class hero; the DQ6's Firewire performance is up to snuff and it's not stuck with pokey PCI-based Gigabit Ethernet. We also like the DQ6's speedy performance, and we prefer Gigabyte's flexible approach to eSATA connectivity. But this board isn't perfect, either. It has only one GigE controller, and that's a little stingy given its $240 street price. These factors conspire to keep the DQ6 from solo Editor's Choice glory.
We may not have found the perfect P35 Express-based motherboard today, but in the IP35 Pro and GA-P35-DQ6, we have a couple of very good candidates. If this is how boards look just a month after the P35 chipset's release, its future is very bright indeed.
52 comments — Last by Convert at 9:41 PM on 06/27/07
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