You can boost the four USB ports by hooking up case mounted ports to the two headers on the board but MSI doesn’t include a bracket in the package. This is more of a problem than it may at first seem as two of the USB ports are next to the graphics port which takes up a fair amount of space and that makes it difficult fit a chunky TV tuner or memory key.
The single biggest issue is that GMA 3100 graphics don’t support a digital output so the only output is VGA. There are plenty of decent analogue TFT displays from the likes of Acer but you’ll need to be sure that your display is compatible or you’ll be forced to install a graphics card in the PCI Express slot which would raise the cost of your PC build significantly.
The Southbridge of the chipset is an Intel ICH7 so there is no RAID to join the four SATA II connectors which is no loss at all on a budget PC. You do, however, get a native ATA100 controller. When we saw that we went all misty eyed with nostalgia.
Despite the fact that there are very few ports and connectors on this board, we were diappointed to note the layout is still quite poor. Especially as the Micro-ATX form factor doesn’t leave a lot of room for manoeuvre. For instance a long graphics card will block the memory retention latches, the CPU fan connector is located between the memory slots and the CPU socket, so it’s difficult to reach, and the ATX 12V connector isn’t neatly placed at the edge of the board where we usually like to find it.
Close to the passively cooled Southbridge there’s a screened area that is ready for an optional JMicron Firewire chip and header that comes with the more expensive models of MSI G31M.
During our testing the MSI behaved itself flawlessly although we have to confess that we didn’t bother trying to overclock the Core 2 E8500 and left it running on default settings.
The maximum memory speed with this chipset is limited to 800MHz and it was noticeable that the memory, CPU cooler and passive coolers on the chipset all remained cool to the touch. With the system idling on the Windows desktop the MSI draws 10W less than the Intel DG45ID and with the system under load the differential grows to 25W. What’s more, provided you select your CPU cooler and power supply with some care you could use the MSI to build a PC that is effectively silent.
Movie buffs may sneer at the graphics in the G31 chipset but the MSI is so incredibly cheap that it deserves a good long look when you build a new PC for friends or family.
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