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Intel DG41MJ: Affordable 775 Mini-ITX

For more price-conscious users, Intel now offers the DG41MJ, a more affordable but less capable alternative to the DG45FC. Value is the name of the game.

July 12, 2009 by Lawrence Lee

Product Intel DG41MJ
LGA775 Mini-ITX Motherboard
Manufacturer Intel
Street Price US$95~$100

The Intel DG45FC was
the first full-featured mini-ITX motherboard with support for Core 2 processors.
At the time of its release, it was fairly expensive and though the price has
since come down somewhat, it is still a bit more than what many users are willing
to pay. Those looking for a cheaper retail alternative have few options, the most notable
being the GeForce 7 motherboards produced by Zotac.


The box.

Intel recently released the DG41MJ, a more
affordable alternative to the DG45FC. DG41MJ uses the G41 chipset, instead of the DG45FC’s G45. The differences between the G41, G43, and G45 chipsets are minor. The G41 and G43 have the X4500 integrated
graphics chip while the G45 chipset feature X4500HD graphics. X4500HD
has a feature called “variable length decoding” which makes it more
capable when rendering high definition H.264 and VC-1 video. G41 is paired with
an older Southbridge chip, ICH7, while G43 and G45 use either the ICH10 or ICH10R
Southbridge, the “R” denoting RAID capability. ICH10 offers the option
for more USB, SATA, and PCI-E ports as well as native support for integrated
high definition audio and gigabit ethernet among other things.


Package contents.

 

Intel DG41MJ: Specifications (from the
product web page
)

PHYSICAL DETAILS & LAYOUT

A board’s layout is important in several regards. The positioning of components
can dictate compatibility with other products (third party heatsinks mainly)
and also ease of installation. Poorly placed power connectors can also disrupt
airflow and make the system more thermally challenging.


Conforming to the mini-ITX form factor results in many of the board’s
onboard connectors to be jammed right up against one another. The fan
headers next to the first DIMM slot are difficult to access depending
on the size of the CPU cooler used. The 4-pin ATX12V power connector and
USB headers are awkwardly placed near the back panel making making cable
management awkward.

 


The Northbridge is cooled by a large aluminum heatsink with long fins
resembling a bed of nails. The heatsink measures 38 mm high from the PCB
surface. The ICH7 Southbridge chip is left bare. The board has 3 SATA
ports, 2 DIMM slots, and a single PCI expansion slot.

 


The back panel only offers a single digital A/V output: DVI-D.

 


The DG41MJ with memory and Alpine 7 Pro cooler installed.

 

BIOS

For enthusiasts, the options available within the BIOS can make
a good board, a great one. The ability to manipulate frequencies, voltages,
and fan control settings vary depending on the hardware and the amount of
trust placed in the user’s hands by the manufacturer.


Limited fan control options.

 


The “Hardware Monitoring” menu.

Typical for Intel boards, the DG41MJ’s BIOS is severely restrictive.
Only basic memory options are available: frequency, voltage, and timings.
It does offer the option to control both the CPU and System fans, but the
only user-configurable setting is the minimum system fan speed which can be
set to “Slow” or “Off.”

BIOS Summary
Setting
Options
CPU Frequency
N/A
CPU Voltage N/A
Memory Frequency
667 MHz, 800 MHz
(for a 1066 MHz FSB CPU)
Memory Timing Control
Basic
Memory Voltage
1.80V, 1.92V, 2.00V, 2.12V
Chipset Voltage
N/A
Integrated Graphics
Clock Speed
N/A
Video Memory 128MB, 256MB
Fan Control
CPU Fan Control Enabled, Disabled
System Fan Control Enabled, Disabled
Lowest System Fan Speed
Slow, Off

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:


System device listing.

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our main test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states (measured using a Seasonic Power Angel). We stress the CPU
using CPUBurn (K7 or P6 setting) or Prime95 (large FFTs setting). To stress
the IGP, we use FurMark’s stability test or ATITool’s artifact scanner/3DView.
We use which ever CPU/GPU stress software/setting that produces the highest
system power consumption.

We also test platform’s proficiency at playing back high definition videos.
Standard Blu-ray movies, by design, can be encoded in three different codecs:
MPEG-2, H.264/AVC and VC-1. MPEG-2 has been around for a number of years and
is not demanding on modern system resources. H.264 and VC-1 encoded videos on
the other hand, due to the amount of complexity in their compression schemes,
are extremely stressful and will not play smoothly (or at all) on slower PCs,
especially with antiquated video subsystems.

Our main video test suite features a variety of 1080p H.264/VC-1 encoded clips.
The clips are played with PowerDVD and a CPU usage graph is created by the Windows
Task Manger for analysis to determine the approximate mean CPU usage. High CPU
usage is indicative of poor video decoding ability on the part of the integrated
graphics subsystem. If the video (and/or audio) skips or freezes, we conclude
the board’s IGP (in conjunction with the processor) is inadequate to decompress
the clip properly.

SpeedStep was enabled during testing (unless otherwise noted).
The following features/services were disabled during testing to prevent spikes
in CPU/HDD usage that are typical of fresh Vista installations:

  • Windows Sidebar
  • Indexing
  • Superfetch

Video Test Suite


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is a H.264 encoded clip inside an Apple
Quicktime container.

 


1080p | 24fps | ~8mbps
WMV-HD:
Coral Reef Adventure Trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the
WMV3 codec commonly recognized by the “WMV-HD” moniker.

 


1080p | 24fps | ~19mbps
VC-1: Drag Race is a recording of a scene from
network television re-encoded with TMPGEnc using the WVC1 codec, a
more demanding VC-1 codec.

 


1080p | 24fps | ~33mbps
Blu-ray: Disturbia is a short section of the
Blu-ray version of Disturbia, the motion picture, played directly
off the Blu-ray disc. It is encoded with H.264/AVC.

TEST RESULTS

Our test system is fairly basic, featuring a Core 2 E7200 (65W TDP) cooled
by an Arctic Cooling Alpine 7 Pro connected to a variable DC fan controller
so the fan’s power draw does not come into play. The rest of the system consists
of 1GB of Corsair memory (128MB assigned to video memory), an Asus Blu-ray drive,
a 5400RPM notebook hard drive and an OEM Seasonic 400W power supply. The operating
system used is Vista Home Premium SP1 (32-bit).

Test Results
Test State
Mean
CPU
Peak
CPU
System Power
Idle
N/A
35W
Rush Hour
(H.264)
32%
45%
~42W
Coral Reef
(WMV-HD)
24%
35%
~41W
Drag Race
(VC-1)
36%
45%
~46W
Disturbia
(Blu-ray H.264)
71%
93%
~54W
CPU Load
N/A
64W
CPU + GPU
Load
N/A
65W

Our DG41MJ-based system was fairly energy efficient, idling at 35W and using
up to 65W on full load. It also passed all of video playback tests with ease
with the exception of Disturbia, a H.264-encoded scene played from an actual
Blu-ray disc source. It played smoothly, but CPU usage was high, 71% mean and
93% peak. We fiddled with our system by increasing the amount of system/video
memory and using different software players but nothing we tried improved performance
on this particular clip. We surmise this is the result of the X4500 IGP lacking
variable length decoding.

Comparison: G41 vs. G45 vs. GF9300
Test State
Intel
DG41MJ
Intel
DG45FC
Zotac
GF9300-ITX
Idle
N/A
35W
N/A
35W
N/A
35W
Rush Hour
(H.264)
32%
~42W
30%
~42W
7%
40W
Coral Reef
(WMV-HD)
24%
~41W
25%
~43W
34%
~44W
Drag Race
(VC-1)
36%
~46W
40%
~47W
56%
~51W
Disturbia
(Blu-ray H.264)
71%
~54W
N/A
32%
~49W
CPU Load
N/A
64W
N/A
64W
N/A
64W
CPU + GPU
Load
N/A
65W
N/A
65W
N/A
65W

The board’s power consumption was right on par with the DG45FC,
with only negligible differences. CPU utilization during video playback was
also similar, though we tested the DG45FC before we added an actual Blu-ray
scene to our video test suite so we can’t compare the two in that regard. The
Zotac GeForce 9300-ITX
used 5W more during VC-1 playback, but 5W less during Blu-ray playback, probably
due to its full hardware acceleration support for H.264.

Cooling

Lower cost boards ship with simple heatsinks on the Northbridge and Southbridge
while those targeted at enthusiasts typically have large heatpipe coolers and
heatsinks on the voltage regulation modules near the CPU socket. A well-cooled
motherboard can deliver better power efficiency and stability. To test cooling,
reduced the CPU fan speed to 5V, and stressed the CPU and GPU for 10~20 minutes.
Temperatures were recorded with a spot thermometer (hottest point).

Heatsink Temperatures
Measuring Point
DG41MJ
DG45FC
SB Chip
68°C
72°C
NB Heatsink
48°C
71°C
Ambient temperature: 22°C

On load, the DG41MJ’s Northbridge heatsink measured much lower than the DG45FC.
The Southbridge, which is bare on both boards, registered a few degrees lower
as well. Overall, cooling is not an issue for the board.

SpeedFan Support

For Windows users, SpeedFan is our application of choice for fan control. It
can be configured to raise or lower multiple fan speeds to designated limits
when any specified temperature threshold is breached.

a
SpeedFan main screen.

Like many Intel boards, the current version of SpeedFan was not compatible.
It did not show fan speeds or offer any fan controls.

BIOS Fan Control

To test the board’s fan control, we connected the CPU fan to a manual fan speed
controller so we could slow it down to induce higher CPU temperatures during
load. A Scythe Kama 92mm PWM fan (2500 RPM maximum) was connected to the CPU
fan header and a Scythe Kama 80mm fan (1500 RPM maximum) was connected to the
system fan header. Fan speeds were measured manually with a tachometer. In the
BIOS, “Lowest System Fan Speed” was set to “Slow.”

Heatsink Temperatures
Criterion
CPU Fan (2500 RPM)
System Fan (1500 RPM)
Min. Fan Speed
560 RPM
720 RPM
Trigger Temp.
50°C
65°C
Range
Unknown, 1210 RPM @ 75°C
Unknown, 1320 RPM @ 75°C
Ambient temperature: 22°C

The CPU and System fans spun at 560 and 720 RPM respectively with the system
idle. The CPU fan did not increase in speed until the Core temperature reached
50°C, while the System fan followed suit at around 65°C. We were unable
to determine the temperature range because both fans failed to reach their maximum
speeds by the time the Core temperature hit 75°C (which was accomplished
by turning off the actual CPU fan for several minutes). We were not comfortable
stressing the processor further and ended the test.

Surprisingly Intel’s fan control on this particular board was too passive,
waiting for too long before ramping up the fans, and even then the rate of increase
was not aggressive enough for our liking.

3D Performance

To get a rough estimate of how well each board’s integrated graphics plays
games, we ran 3DMark05/06. As synthetic benchmarks they have limited value,
but they give a rough idea of how well an IGP performs.

3D Performance: Futuremark Comparison
Motherboard
Graphics
3DMark05
3DMark06
Zotac GeForce 8200-ITX
GF8200
1623
869
Asus M3N78 Pro
GF8300
1669
902
Intel DG41MJ
X4500
1796
1038
Asus P5Q-EM
X4500HD
1708
1092
MSI KA760GM
HD 3000
2289
1049
Gigabyte MA78GM-2SH
HD 3200
2293
1116
Gigabyte MA790GP-DS4H
HD 3300 (Sideport)
3377
1668
System configuration: 2GB of RAM, 256MB of VRAM
assigned (128MB for motherboards with 128MB of Sideport memory). AMD systems
in green (X2 4850E), Intel systems in blue (E7200).

Except for a couple of video decoding features, the X4500 IGP is identical
to X4500HD and the 3DMark results reflect this. The onboard graphics on Intel’s
G4x chipsets are a couple of steps behind AMD”s HD 3200 and HD 3300 in
3D performance.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Intel DG41MJ is very power efficient, and with the exception of an actual
high bitrate H.264 encoded Blu-ray movie, plays most content with little difficulty.
The chipsets run fairly cool, but the board’s automated fan control system is
a disappointment. It is too passive, letting the processor get too hot before
kicking in, and once activated, it is not aggressive enough in the face of high
CPU temperatures. It may be optimized for use with Intel’s stock heatsink/fan, or another HSF that has higher native speed than the fans we tested with. It is probably best to disable it if you plan to
stress the system on a regular basis.

The DG45FC
is equally power efficient, but its video decoding ability is superior. In addition, it offers a bevy of features including HDMI, S/PDIF, RAID, eSATA, an extra SATA port, and a PCI-E 1x slot instead of PCI. Not everyone needs these extra features, but in particular, digital audio and video outputs are essential for
the most common application of mini-ITX systems: Home theater PC. Between the two, we would choose the DG41MJ only if cost was a major issue because the DG45FC can be had for only $25~$30 more. (It should be noted that both Intel boards only support processors rated 65W or lower.)

At the other end of the spectrum, there are much cheaper Zotac boards that use variants of the outdated GeForce 7 chipset, such as the Zotac NF610i-ITX, which can be found on line for under $60. However, as our review details, the NF610i-ITX has many limitations which reinforce the notion, “You get what you pay for”.

Intel DG41MJ
PROS

* Low power consumption
* Runs fairly cool

CONS

* High CPU utilization during H.264 Blu-ray playback
* Lacks HDMI, S/PDIF
* Restrictive BIOS
* Poor fan control

Our thanks to Intel
for the motherboard sample.

* * *

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* * *

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