MSI Z77A-G41 LGA 1155 Motherboard Review

While it's usually the high end boards that get the most attention, it's often the lower end and mid-range boards that many people purchase. With this in mind we get back to basics with the Z77A-G41 which is an entry level offering from MSI that boasts many enthusiast features.

Introduction

MSI is well known in enthusiast circles for their motherboards, but like its competitors, MSI produce many other products. These range of course from notebooks, to graphics cards, to many other devices. And while MSI has been gaining momentum in other business areas like graphics cards, it is primarily motherboards that it is most closely associated with in enthusiast circles. It's been a few months since we reviewed an MSI board. Its last few offerings have been extremely solid and its Big Bang XPower II is one of my favorite X79 boards thus far. Seeing another of its offerings is of course a welcome sight.

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The MSI Z77A-G41 is based on Intel's Z77 Express chipset and aside from what comes with the chipset there isn't much else going on. When I look at the Z77A-G41 "feature rich" is not a term that comes to mind. In fact this is the most stripped down Z77 Express chipset based board I've ever seen in person. And as you might have guessed, given the "low" product model number, this is not an expensive motherboard. The MSI Z77A-G1 is selling currently at Newegg for $89.99 after $10 MIR and at Amazon with Free Prime shipping for the same price.

Due to the native chipset feature set, there is of course a decent amount of core features including support for 32GB of DDR3 RAM, PCIe 3.0, 2.0, SATA 3Gb/s, SATA 6Gb/s, RAID 0, 1, 5, 10, Intel's Rapid Storage Technology, Smart Response Technology, Rapid Start Technology and more. The Z77A-G41 is certified for AMD's CrossFireX and NVIDIA's SLI technology. However, there is no PLX chip and only dual PCIe x16 form factor slots. Therefore support for SLI and CrossFireX is limited to dual card configurations. It does feature MSI's super ferrite chokes and all solid electrolytic capacitors however the board lacks any heat sinks for the electrical subsystem but does have a tiny chipset cooler. This board is a value offering. We do have concerns about its abilities as an enthusiast board.

That being said I've evaluated similar offerings from MSI in the past and I've always found those to be far more capable than those might seem at a glance. Though I dare say such solutions aren't the best choice for high 24/7 overclocks given the lack of cooling.

Main Specifications Overview:

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Detailed Specifications Overview:

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Packaging

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The board ships in a very basic standard cardboard box that's very much like what we've seen boards ship in for the last couple decades. However this one is a bit thinner than most and the bundle is very light. Included in the box are the following accessories: User guide, quick installation guide, driver disc, M-connectors, two SATA cables, a diagram which you can affix to your chassis and an I/O shield.

Board Layout

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The layout of the MSI Z77A-GD41 is a fairly good design. I have little to complain about. Then again there isn't much on the surface to get in the way to create any challenges for you working with it. Slot layout is optimal for what MSI chose to do. The CPU socket area is barren and you can mount almost anything here. The CPU is still too close to the DIMM slots, but there isn't anything MSI could have done about that given signal constraints between the memory slots and the CPU's integrated memory controller. One complaint I do have is the terrible location of the CMOS battery. Once a video card is installed the CMOS battery will likely be hard to get to if you need to. This could have been located almost anywhere else given the barren board surface. The CMOS jumper is however located over by the SATA headers so this will be much easier to get to should you need to. But this does all highlight that features like a CMOS Reset button on the IO panel have been excluded due to costs.

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The CPU socket area is like a barren sea of nothing compared to most motherboards we review here. There is little to impede the installation of virtually anything here excluding the DIMM slots themselves. With the proliferation of closed loop water cooling systems and a growing selection of low-profile DIMMs this is getting to be less of a problem all the time.

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MSI uses standard locking tabs and color coding for its four DIMM slots. These are placed far enough away from the primary PCIe x16 slot to avoid any trouble with clearances in the event of a memory upgrade or any maintenance.

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The Z77 Express chipset is sandwiched between the two PCIe x16 slots. It's got the smallest and least effective looking chipset cooler I've seen on a modern motherboard. I know the board's price point is low, but vertical SATA ports can be a big pain. I don't like seeing these at any point for any reason. And due to an issue that forced me to install my GTX 580 in the second PCIe x16 slot, I can tell you that anything plugged into the SATA 3Gb/s ports will simply be in the way. Again I know this is a budget board but certain things are done on a lot of boards for good reason; right angled SATA headers is one of these.

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The expansion slot area is well executed in terms of layout. I like seeing a PCIe x1 slot mounted higher to give the DIMM slots a little extra clearance. I also like seeing the spacing between the two PCIe x16 slots. I'm not a big fan of the fact that MSI went with two different retention mechanisms for these slots.

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The I/O panel is as barren as the CPU socket area. I felt cheated when I saw this as I don't even get all the USB 2.0 ports provided with the chipset by default. And screw the D-sub connector; go with DVI-I and allow people to run a DVI-VGA adapter if they need it. Among the other ports are the PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports, 4 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, RJ-45 LAN port and 3 mini-stereo jacks for audio.


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