MSI – P55A Fuzion review

motherboard supporting mix and match ATI and Nvidia graphics
Photo of MSI – P55A Fuzion
£149.87

One of the holy grails of motherboard design is the ability to support two graphics cards with differing architectures in a single board, akin to a Crossfire or a SLI setup. With the coming of Lucid’s Hydra 200 chip this dream of mix and match is now a reality. Its first appearance in a motherboard was in MSI’s Big Bang Fuzion and it must be said it wasn’t the greatest success, due to high price of the board and a lot of teething troubles with the driver.

To its credit, MSI has stuck with the technology and has brought it back on two new motherboards, this time aimed at the mainstream market: the AMD-based 870A Fuzion and our review board, the Intel-based P55A Fuzion.

Based around Intel’s 1156 Socket (supporting Core i3 / i5 / i7 and 9650 processors), the P55A Fuzion is a nicely laid-out board with passive coolers on the Intel P55 Express and Lucid chipsets. The ‘A’ after the P55 means that the board supports both SATA 6 and USB 3.

Despite the board being aimed at the mainstream market, MSI has used some pretty high-end components in the power side of the things. The board has a 10 Phase power design combined with what MSI calls Military Class components; Hi-C capacitors which have a longer life than standard ones, as do the Solid Capacitors, while the Icy Chokes run at lower temperatures than standard versions, all of which aid greatly when it comes to providing stable power if you are overclocking.

And overclocking is something the P55A is very good for, with a BIOS full of overclocking options and MSI’s own OC Genie and Super Unlock overclocking utilities.

There are two full-speed X16 PCI-E graphics slots and, because of the Hydra technology, you can fit dual ATI and Nvidia cards in Crossfire or SLI setups respectively or – which is the reason for Hydra’s existence – one card of each in a mix and match setup.

Setting up the Lucid’s Hydra 200 (in this case the LT22102 version) on MSI’s P55A Fuzion poses very few problems, if any, as long as you follow some simple guidelines; install both cards, install both sets of drivers, install the Hydra driver and software and re-boot the system. If everything has gone to plan you should see a Hydra icon on your toolbar. Clicking on this brings up the Hydra window with options to turn Hydra on and off and display a Hydra logo in any game you’re playing. There’s a tab on the window which, when clicked, brings up a list of supported games which is steadily growing.

Performance-wise the P55A Fuzion is impressive, in fact it’s one of the fastest P55 board we’ve tested, with an overall SYSMark07 score of 216 and 7669 overall in PCMark Vantage. But the more important issue is how the board’s graphic performance stacks up, and does the promise of using two separate cards together hold up.

We used two games, FarCry 2 and Just Cause 2 (in-game benchmarks using the Small Ranch and Dark Tower maps respectively), to test and compare Crossfire, SLI and mix and match setups. In FarCry 2 our Crossfire setup (two HD 5830s) scored an average of 126.64fps, the SLI setup (two GTX460 s) 110.66fps and the mix of cards 103.34, while in Just Cause 2 we got scores of 62.10fps (Crossfire), 59.42fps (SLI) and 59.01fps from the mix and match setup.

So does the Hydra technology work? Well, yes it does, and certainly better now than the first time around, although it still works better in some games than in others. But if you want to use both ATI and Nvidia in the same board, a Hydra-based board is the only game in town.

Company: MSI

Contact: 020 8813 6688


Verdict
Leaving aside Lucid's Hydra technology for the moment, MSI's P55A Fuzion is a quick performing and impressively featured P55 Express based motherboard, and with many of the power cycle components usually found on MSI's high-end range of motherboards it's also very stable when overclocked. This time around the Hydra technology works well, even if it's a tad game-dependent.