Introduction

Socket 775 / LGA775 / Socket T was introduced in 2004.  I think no normal web site would review a Socket 775 motherboard in 2013.  However, as mentioned in my previous article, I needed to repair an old PC, so I bought a new motherboard – Gigabyte GA-G41M-Combo Rev. 2.0.  This review takes a look at it from the perspective of repairing old PC and its features compared to 2013 standards.

Revision Differences

There are several revisions of this motherboard.  It is not obvious what was changed among the 1.x revisions.  However, revision 1.x uses VT1708S for audio, which is changed to Realtek ALC887 in 2.0 and dropping the S/PDIF output.  It is important to know the revision (silkscreen on the top-left hand corner of the motherboard) before flashing BIOS because the BIOS for different revisions are incompatible.

Features and Mysteries

As suggested in its model name (beware that this implication is not always true with Gigabyte motherboards) this motherboard uses Intel G41 Express chipset in a MicroATX form factor.  To my surprise, the latest hardware and BIOS revision was done in 2012.  The first shop I went to just sold out of this motherboard and the MSI corresponding motherboard a few days before, so there’s still demand for Socket 775.

Rather than copying the features and specifications from the Gigabyte web site, I’ll just comment on some of the features:

  • CPU support – basically the whole range of Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Pentium Dual-Core, Celeron Dual-Core and Celeron 400 Sequence are supported.  Also in the CPU support list is Prescott Pentium 4 – but strangely only a few models are listed – this is the first mystery.  So if anyone is considering to buy this motherboard to repair a Prescott Pentium 4 PC, beware.  In addition, most of the Core 2 Extreme CPUs are not listed, although it is not likely anyone will use a budget motherboard such as this one for an Extreme CPU.
  • RAM – This Combo motherboard supports 2 slots of DDR2 and 2 slots of DDR3, but DDR2 and DDR3 cannot be used at the same time.  In 2013 there are very few motherboards that support DDR2, so having this feature is great for repairing DDR2 PC.  For DDR2, up to 4GB x 2 (total 8GB) can be used.  For DDR3, we run into what I’d call the G41 8GB DDR3 mystery – both the motherboard printed manual and the Intel G41 specifications state that up to a total of 4GB DDR3 is supported, but the motherboard web specifications state that up to 8GB (4GB x 2) is supported.  Since there are reports of success of using 4GB x 2 DDR3 on other G41 motherboards, I’d believe the Intel specifications are too conservative.  There is a report that Kingmax DDR-3 does not work on this motherboard, but Kingston does.  [2016 Update: I have success with a pair of Kingston KVR1333D3N9/4G-SP, with each being 4GB DDR3 comprised of 16 chips.]  Note that using a single module of 8GB DDR3 will not work (you need a far newer motherboard to use 8GB DDR3 modules).  [For 4GB memory, look for those with low-density 16 chips.]
  • On-board display – The G41 chipset integrates Intel GMA X4500 display.  We don’t need to run a benchmark test to know that it would not run today’s games at acceptable frame rates.  The only question is whether this display will run Windows 7 Aero well.  I’m pleased to report that it is good enough for normal web surfing purposes.  On this board it only has a VGA output port – no DVI, HDMI output.  I wish it had a DVI output, but I cannot really complain about this for its price.  X4500 supports hardware accelerated Blu-ray playback if you run Windows Vista or 7, but it’s a mystery to me whether Blu-ray playback can really be done with its VGA output, since it usually requires HDCP (which implies a DVI or HDMI output).
  • Ultra Durable mystery – The packaging of the motherboard says it is Ultra Durable with humidity protection, but the web site specifications neither describe it as Ultra Durable-class motherboard or state the feature of humidity protection.
  • USB – It has 4 USB 2.0 ports, plus internal headers for additional 4 ports via USB brackets (not provided).  Not surprisingly, it does not support USB 3.0, which is now standard.
  • SATA – Likewise, it only supports SATA 3GB/s instead of the newer SATA 6GB/s, but in my opinion this is not important for HDD performance at all.  It does impact SSD performance, but there is an Amazon UK review saying that the motherboard cannot boot SSD – I don’t know whether this is an isolated incompatibility, a failure to set SATA to Enhanced in BIOS (not a default setting), or (perhaps more likely) a failure to deal with the complex problem of having both IDE and SATA drives – different SATA ports on the motherboard may also behave differently.
  • Layout – some reviewers complain that a SATA port can be blocked by the presence of a graphics card.
  • Hardware accessories – the motherboard only comes with 2 SATA cables and 1 80-wire IDE cable.  There is no USB bracket.

Overclocking and G41 FSB Wall

I tested a Core 2 Duo E6400 B2 2.13GHz (266MHz FSB x 8) running at 2.66GHz (333 MHz FSB x 8) with nothing else changed in the BIOS, running Prime95 for a short time with no error, before deciding that the stock Intel Heatsink Fan (with Cooler Master thermal grease newly applied) is incapable of dissipating the heat effectively enough for this level of overclock in my environment.  As I have no plan to replace the Heatsink Fan with something better (e.g. my favorite Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus), I have not experimented with even higher overclock settings.

Although I don’t do aggressive overclocking, I’m still curious about a prevalent FSB Wall issue that is present in most G41 implementations.  It is widely reported G41 has a FSB Wall between 340 – 350 MHz.  With the G41 motherboard being reviewed, it indeed has a 343 MHz FSB Wall wtih default settings.  Overclocking PCI-E frequency to 104MHz helped increase the FSB Wall to 357MHz.  This is a pretty significant limitation for those who want to overclock much higher, because it implies the maximum overclock for this CPU would be 357MHz x 8 = 2.85GHz (or 2.5GHz for those using Core 2 Duo E6300 with a x7 multiplier).

With the failed overclock settings I attempted, the motherboard usually succeeds to recover from it after a minute or two.  However, there were a number of times when I had to power cycle the PSU in order to boot it up again.  During these failed overclocking attempts I did not have to clear CMOS.

G41 is a budget chipset, and the GA-G41M-Combo is a budget motherboard.  It is unreasonable to expect great overclocking potential from it.  Considering the major limitation – the low FSB Wall comes from the G41 chipset, it is not a fault of the motherboard.  At least 333MHz works as specified.

Fail to resume from S3 on Windows 7 SP1

The only major problem I have with this motherboard is its failure to resume from S3 with a configuration of Windows 7 SP1 (all patches up to the date of this post and latest drivers for everything), 1GB DDR2 x 2, PS/2 mouse and keyboard, no USB device, SATA HDD, IDE DVD writer.  On resume it will go into a reboot loop that can only be recovered by power cycling the PSU.  Doing some google I found that it is a prevalent problem with various Gigabyte motherboards, although some of them had a BIOS update that fixed it.  Common solutions that disable Hybrid Sleep and changing USB suspend in Windows 7 did not help.  I also tried all sorts of BIOS setting changes suggested in various forum posts without success: no overclock, diable HPET, wake up by PME, disable CPU C1E, EIST, XD, increase RAM voltage, and even tried another PSU.

The only thing remaining that I did not try is to downgrade the BIOS from FB to FA version.  Finally I gave up on solving the S3 resume problem, and use S1 instead.

Multiple automatic restart until successful POST

David Moylan (see the comments section) experienced an issue “multiple automatic restarts until POST was successful” and he solved it by downgrading the BIOS from FB to FA.

Tips for Set Up

SATA

  • By default SATA is run in auto or IDE emulation mode – this default is normal for old chipsets like the G41.  However, if you use Windows 7, you really should set the BIOS setting for SATA to be Enhanced before installing Windows.
  • Some people have trouble booting SATA HDD while having IDE HDD as data drives with various brands of motherboard.  This is how I achieved this:
  1. Disconnect IDE HDD, leaving only the SATA HDD connected
  2. Set SATA mode in BIOS to Enhanced
  3. Install Windows 7
  4. Reconnect IDE HDD (Some posts suggest to disable it in BIOS to avoid booting from IDE HDD since Windows will still see them no matter what – I have them enabled in BIOS and still it works for me)
  5. Set boot order in BIOS properly

BIOS Upgrade

  • It seems easy for the motherboard to accidentally trigger the Dual BIOS recovery mechanism to copy the backup BIOS to the main BIOS.  After updating a BIOS and confirming it to be working, one may press ALT-F12 at power on to copy the main BIOS to backup BIOS as well.

Windows 7

  • There is a modified BIOS that includes SLIC 2.1, for those who care about this.  Note that this BIOS can only be used for Rev.2.0 of this motherboard – do not attempt to flash it to any different motherboard revision.
  • The AR8151 Gigabit Ethernet driver is not present in Windows 7 SP1, you’ll need to to have it ready in USB drive or CD.
  • For a 2GB RAM setup, I found that it is the absolute minimum for 64-bit Windows 7.  While it works acceptably for simple tasks, it is going to give an obviously slower response than on Windows XP.

Latest 64-bit Windows 7 Drivers

Windows XP (Not verified)

  • Disable PAVP – as it cannot be used in Windows XP anyway, so disabling it will free up a little RAM

Windows 8

  • I have not found much information other than this thread about AR8151 Ethernet problems.  This issue is no longer valid in newer Windows releases and updates, according to David Moylan.

OS X Mountain Lion (Not verified)

  • Read the tonymacx86 guide.  Note that the audio chip described in the first post should really be Realtek ALC887 instead.

Summary

The Gigabyte GA-G41M-Combo Rev. 2.0 Motherboard is an inexpensive but decent motherboard for repairing socket 775 PC, as long as one does not need all 4 SATA ports together with using a graphics card, does not need S3 Resume to work or intend to overclock much.  Those who need DVI or HDMI output will need an additional graphics card or find another socket 775 motherboard (not that there are many choices these days).

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