The MSI G41TM-E43
The MSI G41TM-E43
With the limited PCB space on this mATX board, MSI had to maximize the features onboard while maintaining a decent, usable layout. Overall, we deem it a success as we did not spot any mistakes that affected the usability of this motherboard. Connectors and ports are shunted to the edge of the board to reduce cable clutter and even the SATA ports are aligned facing outwards. There is ample space between the expansion slots, though the floppy drive connector and the last PCI slot could have been better positioned.
The rear panel has all the outputs and connectors that we expect from a HTPC ready motherboard, including three different outputs, VGA, DVI-D and HDMI. We could do with more USB 2.0 ports than the four included here but together with the PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, it should be sufficient. Besides, users can hook up another four USB ports through the onboard headers. Finally, there's a single Gigabit Ethernet port, powered by a Realtek 8111DL chip.
You can install any of Intel's dual and quad-core processors that use the LGA 775 socket, including those with a FSB of up to 1333MHz. But we'll recommend a Core 2 variant at least for HD video playback, given the capabilities of the GMA X4500. We don't see any difficulties with installing larger third party coolers if that's what you prefer, but retail chassis for mATX boards, especially the HTPC segment generally tend to favor lower profile coolers.
Moving onto the ICH7 Southbridge onboard, the maximum number of SATA 3.0Gbps ports supported is relatively few at just four. MSI has not added any extra ports, though by default IDE/PATA and floppy drive connectors are provided. With only four SATA ports, it does limit the number of storage devices and you may even consider having an IDE optical drive instead of SATA, if only to maximize the SATA ports for the hard drives.
MSI has included a very decent HD audio CODEC from Realtek, its ALC889 CODEC for up to 8-channel audio support. There's no S/PDIF output at the rear, so if you need that, you'll have to use the onboard header. Like the G45, this board is capable of 24-bit 8 channel lossless LPCM audio output over HDMI that enables one to enjoy Blu-ray movies in all its audio glory.
A sign that the G41TM-E43 is one of MSI's newer efforts is the presence of features like Active Phase Switching and the Easy OC Switch. Green Power is also supported, with options to enable it in the BIOS. While Green Power and the Active Phase Switching work together to improve the power efficiency for this board, we again have to find the Easy OC Switch (which allows for the FSB to be adjusted in fixed intervals, up to 400MHz) a rather redundant feature. More so for a board of this segment, where users are unlikely to try overclocking and when there are no voltage adjustments in the BIOS.