If a low budget is your primary concern and you need just enough power to handle an office suite, web browsing, social networking and media playback, an entry-level PC will take care of your needs. Take an Intel Pentium G-series processor or a Core i3/i5 if you need more power, and club it with a decent motherboard, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive, and you’re set. Unlike the processor where your choice is dictated by price and there's nothing much to look at, picking a good motherboard can be quite tricky. You have to look at processor compatibility, the number of expansion slots, USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gb/s support, and so on.

An affordable motherboard with a  very limited feature set

An affordable motherboard with a very limited feature set

An entry-level processor and a low-cost motherboard form the heart of a budget PC. If you can get both of these for under Rs. 10,000 then it’s possible to build just the PC box for under Rs. 20,000. A few months ago the cheapest motherboards for Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors that use socket 1155 were those based on the Intel H61 and H67 chipsets. But with the recent launch of the B75 chipset, things have changed drastically. For under Rs. 5,000 you get native support for USB 3.0 and SATA 6 Gb/s, and a bunch of other features such as PCIe version 3.0 and memory support up to DDR3-1600, which Ivy Bridge CPUs can make use of. The most striking feature of the B75 chipset is the Intel Smart Business Advantage (SBA) suite, which can be very useful for small businesses that don’t have a formally managed network infrastructure. SBA is an all-in-one package with which it’s possible to define a sleep period while the user is away, block USB ports and specific types of USB devices, monitor the antivirus program, back up data at scheduled times, and more.

Very good layout

Very good layout


Features and Layout

The B45MA-P45 is MSI’s attempt to launch a super-affordable motherboard for Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors. To achieve this, the feature set is massively cut down, and this is quite evident from the lean rear panel. You get just the bare necessities – PS/2 ports, six USB ports of which two are USB 3.0, D-sub and DVI video outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet port and audio jacks. These should be good enough to set up a very basic PC, but it would have been nice if MSI had added at least an HDMI port should a user need to connect to a TV or projector with HDMI input.

Limited components on the rear panel

Limited connectivity on the rear panel

The set of expansion slots is also very lean. A PCIe x16 slot is present if you want to add a graphics card. Further down lie a PCIe x1 slot and a PCI slot. There is a good amount of space between the PCIe x16 and x1 slot to accommodate dual-slot graphics cards. At the bottom right corner are six SATA ports—the white one is the sole SATA 6 Gb/s port. The placement of the ports is good, but outward orientation would have made routing SATA cables a bit easier. The headers at the bottom of the board include two USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0, each supporting two ports. So, in all you get eight USB 2.0 ports and four USB 3.0 ports. MSI could have further cut down costs by offering only two RAM slots, but they’ve opted to offer four, so it’s still possible to add up to 32 GB of memory. The RAM slots are colour coded so that it’s easy to install memory in dual-channel. You’ll have to make sure that the clips at the end of the slots are closed, or else you might damage a graphics card during installation. Overall, the layout is pretty good—there’s plenty of room around the CPU socket, which should ease installation of custom coolers. Also, there are two headers for system fans that can be used to connect fans of your PC case.

Test rig configuration
Processor: Intel Core i7-2600k
Memory: G.Skill RipjawsX 8 GB (4 GB x 2 @1866 MHz)
Graphics card: AMD Radeon HD 6870
SSD: Plextor PX-256M2S
Power supply:  Cooler Master Silent Pro 1000W
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate, 64-bit

Performance
The memory speed officially supported with a Sandy Bridge CPU installed is 1333 MHz, but we used the memory’s XMP profile and ran it at full speed (1866 MHz) in dual channel mode. The test rig scored 4917 points in PCMark 7 and 4415 points in 3DMark 11 (performance mode). It took 26 seconds to transcode a 1 minute MPG video H.264 format and Cinebench R11.5 reported 6.69 points, which is ideally what the Core i7-2600k should log at stock speed. We didn’t have any problems running a high-end graphics card on this board. At 1920×1080 with ‘Ultra’ preset and AA turned off Crysis II and Dirt 3 logged 28 fps and 51.4 fps respectively. The overall performance of this motherboard is very good and in none of the benchmarks we found it lagging too far behind Z77 motherboards using the same set of hardware. In fact, the scores were almost the same.

Verdict and Price in India
Priced at Rs. 4,500, the MSI B75MA-P45 is one of the cheapest motherboards for Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors. It’s priced at par with some of the older H61 and H67 models, but is definitely a better deal—you get better features for the same price and it won’t get outdated as soon. Besides building a basic home or office PC, the B75MA-P45 will also do well in an entry-level gaming rig or home PC.

If you find the feature set of the MSI B75MA-P45 too lean and you don’t mind spending a little more, then we strongly recommend the Gigabyte B75M-D3H. It has an HDMI port, two SATA 6 Gb/s ports and two PCIe x16 slots with support for CrossFireX.

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