- Review Price: £68.00
The MSI G41M looks very similar to the (http:www.trustedreviews.com/motherboards/review/2008/10/23/MSI-G31-M3-F/p1 MSI G31M3-F) that we reviewed just a few months ago. Both motherboards are Micro-ATX designs that support Intel Core 2 CPUs and use an Intel chipset and Intel graphics but there is a fundamental difference in the graphics department.
The G31M-F uses the G31 chipset, which has GMA 3100 graphics that support Shader Model 2 with Vertex Shader 2.0a and Pixel Shader 2.0. This means that you can forget about running Windows Vista with its ”3D” Aero interface. Support for digital displays is also fairly rotten and the net result is that G31 isn’t fit for much more than running the desktop in Windows XP or Windows Vista Basic.
In contrast, G41, which lies at the heart of the MSI G41M, is a very graphically capable chipset. Its GMA X4500 graphics support Shader Model 4 and DirectX 10 and has ten unified shaders. This is fairly pathetic compared to the integrated graphics that are available from Nvidia and ATi but it at least gives Intel a whole new list of features to work with.
The important change is the emphasis on digital connections and, correspondingly, the MSI G41M has a DVI-D output, which is perfect for a digital TFT, as well as a VGA port for an analogue TFT or old CRT monitor. The third connection is Display Port which is a bit of a white elephant at present as it’s still not widely used. We feel it would make more sense for MSI to include HDMI, which is much more popular.
The list of accessories in the MSI package boils down to a power adapter for a SATA and that’s it. So, with regards the photos you see on these pages, what you see really is what you get.
Back to the board itself, there are two DDR2 memory slots that are limited to 4GB of DDR2-800MHz RAM, four SATA connectors, and a PCI Express slot that will not accommodate a double slot graphics card as the BIOS battery in positioned in such a way that it obstructs the graphics card. We successfully used a Radeon HD 4870 X2 on the test bench but it was leant over at an angle in the PCI Express slot and would not have fitted inside a PC case. Whichever you try and spin it, this is a fundamental flaw.
You only get four USB ports on the I/O panel which is marginal however there are headers for four more ports if you should happen to have some mounted on your case.
The integrated audio doesn’t have a digital connection and, as mentioned, there is no HDMI output so the MSI isn’t an obvious candidate for a Media Centre. This is a shame as the passively cooled chipset makes this a silent motherboard that would otherwise be ideal for the job. At least the Gigabit LAN and single Firewire port make sure this board has all the other basics covered.
Getting the system up and running was the work of moments as the BIOS contains no features worthy of mention. You can increase the amount of graphics memory from 32MB to 64MB or 128MB but that’s about the limit as the overclocking features simply did not work. Raising the CPU and RAM voltage by even a modest amount changes the figures from a nice safe blue colour to flashing red warning signs. We screwed up our courage and made the changes and found that we were unable to raise the front side bus as the system refused to POST. After two failed attempts at booting the BIOS reset itself so no harm was done and we didn’t have to mess around with reset switches and jumpers but neither could we raise the level of performance.
We started testing with a WD Caviar Black hard drive to generate figures that could be directly compared with the MSI G31M3-F and also the Intel DG45ID. The GD45ID has a GMA X4500HD graphics core which is practically identical to the GMA X4500. The difference lies in the HD suffix which indicates that G45 can handle HD movie playback better than G31 and G33.
Our experiences with the Intel DG45ID have been varied and depend on the mix of BIOS and drivers. During our testing the MSI G41M played the Blu-ray version of Blood Diamond which is encoded with VC1 with a CPU load of 60 percent. Switching to the Blu-ray of Casino Royale which is encoded with MPEG-2 we saw the CPU load rise above 90 percent and occasionally touch 100 percent. Despite this we did not detect any stuttering or dropped frames but it seems that Blu-ray playback pushes the G41M to its limits. It also suggests that MSI knows a thing or two more than Intel about writing a BIOS that can handle movie playback.
Once we had run the benchmarks on the MSI G41M and seen that the integrated graphics cannot handle 3DMark Vantage we tried some other configurations. We switched from the WD Caviar Black to the Intel X25-M SSD that we are using for our benchmarks this year and then plugged in a Radeon HD 4870 X2, which positively dwarfed the MSI, and ran our tests again.
From a technical stance the G41M blows the G31M-F into the weeds but there is the question of cost to consider as G41M has a price of £68 while the MSI G31M-F is on sale for £38. Effectively that is a surcharge of £30 for a digital connection to your display with the added bonus that you can watch high definition movies, which is not something we see a board like this actually being used for that often. Oh, and you can forget about playing games that are more intensive than, say, Sims 2.
On the other hand you could pay an extra £20 for a GeForce 9300 motherboard that will handle any movie format that you throw at it with the plus factor that you will be able to overclock your CPU and also play fairly decent games.
The MSI G41M delivers a level of performance that would have been impressive six months ago but it doesn’t cut the mustard in 2009 despite its very modest price.
Score in detail
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