okay i've confirmed that the problem is with the motherboard. i bought a new one just to test it out and everything boots up properly.
the question is, what do i do, and what will give me the best results for the money?
option a - $55 sticking with the mobo i bought (GIGABYTE G41M-ES2L which I think is a downgrade from my P35 DS3L right?) and keeping my current config
option b - $160 getting the ASRock P43DE3 mobo and DDR3 ram and sticking with the Q6600
option c - $100 (assuming i can sell my Q6600 for a $100) getting the MSI 785GT-E63 mobo, AMD Phenom II X4 955 CPU and sticking with my DDR 2 RAM
option d - $140 getting an ASUS M5A87 mobo, AMD Phenom II X4 955 CPU and DDR3 RAM and selling my CPU and RAM.
I am leaning toward either a) or d), but any suggestions are welcome (including other hardware that I should look at) - thanks so much!