After nearly a month of struggling with problems, we finally published our review of Intel's G45 in the first part of this series we hastily called the IGP Chronicles. Part I looked at Intel's G45 and compared it to its predecessor, G35. Initially touted as the holy grail of HTPC chipsets, G45's advantages on paper were plagued by too many real issues for us to get excited about it. Not that we were totally disappointed with the chipset as an HTPC platform, we just knew Intel could have done better and in the end they did not. Of course, as we alluded to in our Radeon HD 4550 review, all you really need is one of AMD's lower end cards and you can use any chipset you want for a decent HTPC.

As a business platform, G45 works just as well as G35 or any other Intel chipset so there are no complaints there. Besides less than desirable HTPC attributes we discovered casual gaming performance is a big disappointment considering the chipset specifications. Paper specifications aside, gaming performance - casual or otherwise - is just dismal even on popular titles that are several years old.

We fully understand that casual gaming is not the be all end all measurement of an IGP solution, but a vast majority of systems sold to home users are designed, marketed, and sold as an all purpose solution for the household utilizing an IGP design. As such, we do think it is an important attribute to consider, along with video/audio capabilities, graphic design, and general application performance.

With Intel commanding the lion's share of the IGP market for years and mindlessly rolling out product that met the lowest common denominator in performance for the corporate market, any real hope for improved integrated graphics solutions slid off into oblivion. This is not to say that AMD, VIA, and NVIDIA solutions were not better at the time; they were, but just enough so they could market and advertise superior performance. However, their platform solutions were still underwhelming.

AMD in particular is responsible for bringing the integrated graphics platform back to respectability. The 690G chipset was an excellent first step over a year ago and then AMD released the 780G chipset earlier this year. The 780G chipset release brought the integrated graphics market back to the limelight. Utilizing a graphics core directly out of their current discrete GPU lineup, AMD provided us with a platform that easily handled Blu-ray playback, offered adequate game performance, made a snap out of spreadsheet and digital imaging work, and wrapped all of this in a very energy efficient package. The only real problem we had with the 780G was the lack of multi-channel LPCM HDMI audio output for HTPC users.

NVIDIA followed suit with their GeForce 8200/8300 series, but gaming performance fell between the AMD and Intel solutions in most cases. However, application performance equaled that of the 780G and NVIDIA provided the elusive multi-channel LPCM HDMI output that was sorely missing on the 780G platform. We have grown fond of the GF8200 as an HTPC solution, particularly after a series of driver updates that really let this chipset shine in BD playback. We expect to see a generational improvement in the GeForce 9300/9400 series, something akin to the leap AMD took from the 690G to the 780G and finally to the 790GX.

Finally, there is no perfect IGP solution at this time. Intel’s G45 offers decent HTPC capabilities and leverages off Intel’s excellent Core 2 series of processors, but gaming performance is flawed, BD playback abilities are hindered by drivers, and the chipset is expensive. AMD’s 780G is nearly perfect for the current market but the lack of multi-channel LPCM really eliminates it from most HTPC configurations and gaming performance could still be better. NVIDIA’s GeForce 8200 is the best current HTPC solution as of this article date but casual gaming performance is somewhere between the G45 and 780G. The other issue is that the stronger IGPs are both Socket-AM2 platforms, when the more desirable CPUs are from Intel. We will discuss what our requirements are for the ideal integrated graphics platform later on.

So today, we widen our perspective as we compare G45 not only to G35, but also to its current Socket-AM2 counterparts from AMD and NVIDIA. We will follow up this article with a full roundup of motherboards featuring the AMD 780G, AMD 790GX, and NVIDIA 8200/750a chipsets. Our final article in this series will focus on budget to midrange discrete video card performance on these products along with processor suggestions for each platform.

The Lay of the Land

While Part I focused exclusively on Intel's G35 and G45, today we've got contenders from both AMD and NVIDIA. First up we have the AMD 780G, quite possibly the best chipset AMD has ever made. The more recent addition to the integrated graphics family is the 790GX, bringing an updated Southbridge and faster graphics clock.

From NVIDIA we have the only two single-chip solutions in today's roundup: the GeForce 8300 and 8200. Sometime last year NVIDIA decided that it needed a renewed focus on its chipsets, and part of that strategy was to strengthen its chipset brands. The nForce brand would eventually be phased out and replaced by the name GeForce. We've got two chipsets from NVIDIA and both of these carry the GeForce brand name: the GeForce 8200 and GeForce 8300 aren't graphics cards, they are chipsets. Technically they have nForce names as well but just as Intel's latest IGP chipset is called the G45, NVIDIA's is called the GeForce 8300. Simple enough.

  AMD 790GX AMD 780G Intel G45 Intel G35 NVIDIA GeForce 8300 NVIDIA GeForce 8200
CPU AMD Socket-AM2 AMD Socket-AM2 Intel LGA-775 Intel LGA-775 AMD Socket-AM2 AMD Socket-AM2
Manufacturing Process 55nm 55nm 65nm 90nm 80nm 80nm
FSB N/A N/A 800 / 1066 / 1333MHz 800 / 1066 / 1333MHz N/A N/A
Memory Controller N/A N/A 2 x 64-bit DDR2/DDR3 channels 2 x 64-bit DDR2/DDR3 channels N/A N/A
Memory Speeds Supported N/A N/A DDR2-800/667
DDR3-1066/800
DDR2-800/667
DDR3-1066/800
N/A N/A
PCI Express 22 PCIe 2.0 lanes 22 PCIe 2.0 lanes 16 PCIe 2.0 lanes 16 PCIe 1.1 lanes 19 PCIe 2.0 lanes 19 PCIe 2.0 lanes
Graphics Radeon HD 3300 Radeon HD 3200 GMA X4500

GMA X3500

GeForce 8300 mGPU GeForce 8200 mGPU
Core Clock 700MHz 500MHz 800MHz 667MHz 500MHz Core /
1.5GHz Shader
500MHz Core / 1.2GHz Shader
Shader Processors 8 (5-way) 8 (5-way) 10

8

8 8
Full H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2 HW Decode Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Pin-out 528-pin 528-pin 1254-pin 1226-pin ? ?

Looking at the Southbridges, you'll find that they are all fairly evenly matched. Remember that NVIDIA's GeForce 8300/8200 are single-chip solutions so some of the items in the list don't apply. Both AMD and NVIDIA keep their additional PCIe lanes in the Northbridge while Intel keeps them in the Southbridge/ICH. Both the AMD and NVIDIA solutions still give you at least one PATA channel, which is useful for older HDDs and optical drives.

  AMD SB750 AMD SB700 Intel ICH10 NVIDIA GeForce 8300/8200
Additional PCI Express None None 6 x1 PCIe 1.1 None
USB 12 ports 12 ports 12 ports 12 ports
SATA (300MB/s) 6 ports 6 ports 6 ports 6 ports
PATA 2 channels 2 channels None 1 channel
RAID* RAID 0/1/10 RAID 0/1/5/10 RAID 0/1/5/10 RAID 0/1/5/10
HD Audio Interface Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ethernet Not Integrated Not Integrated Intel Gigabit LAN NVIDIA Gigabit LAN
Northbridge Interface 4 lane PCIe 1.1 4 lane PCIe 1.1 DMI 10Gb/s each direction, full duplex N/A, Single Chip Solution
AMD vs. Intel vs. NVIDIA: Fight
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  • Mathos - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    No idea why they used quad core, other than the fact that a quad would spend more time in low power mode and have lower CPU usage than a dual. That and there are no AMD dual cores out yet that use HT 3.0, although the x2 6500 should be. Most of the AMD based boards are adversely effected by using an older X2 instead of something that uses HT3.0.

    Anyone not seeing the point of a 780g/790gx board, or an nForce 8200/8300 board for an HTPC is not thinking. The point is to not need a discrete card. Many HTPC's use low profile cases, which make finding an adequate video card difficult. Not to mention with the 780g/790gx you can later install a $50 discrete 3650 or 3450 and run it in Xfire with the IGP for better gaming performance. Same goes for the lower end 8000 and 9000 cards on the nforce chipset.

    As far as the PSU goes it leaves room for possibly adding in a discrete card later. Also remember that most PSU's are most effecient at around 50% load which happens on some of the AMD systems under heavy load. Not to mention if you want to have a silent PSU you need to keep the load low so the fan isn't humming constantly, which would happen on a lower rated PSU.
    Reply
  • tonyintoronto - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    The issue is the 780G just doesn't work well enough to be used in htpc.. tons of issues with hdcp and different monitors/tv's, still can't decode mpeg2 stream without crashing the display driver, issues with open GL, was a great idea but bad drivers/hardware have done it for me.. now, the 9300 and 9400 looking nice :) Reply
  • Mathos - Tuesday, October 14, 2008 - link

    Hmmmmm Actually the power numbers aren't too bad when you take it into context. Q9300 is a 45nm chip, and 9950 is 65nm. Q9300 is 95w TDP rated, but runs much lower actual TDP. While the 9950 is rated 125w TDP. I'd be interested in seeing this test redone once Deneb variants come out. Considering the lesser performance of the Phenom compared to the Penryn, it actually speaks well of both the AMD based chipsets, and shows that the 790GX does a lot to make up for the processor.

    I'd say AMD/ATI are doing a good job on the Chipset front now.
    Reply
  • Calin - Tuesday, October 14, 2008 - link

    Also, considering we're talking about a $174 versus a $260 processor. I wonder what the results were if the comparation would have been against the quad core Q6600 (at a somewhat similar price of $189). Reply
  • 3DoubleD - Tuesday, October 14, 2008 - link

    "However, they are offering 8-channel LPCM support on the HD 4xxx series of video cards. Of course that option comes with an additional cost and potential problems such as incompatibility with AVR receivers such as those from Yamaha"

    Can you elaborate on these problems? I was planning on building an HTPC system and was considering this exact combination. Are these temporary (driver update solvable) problems?

    This second question is only distantly related to this article. When using the HDMI with LPCM audio, will sound from sources other than Blu-ray discs (such as games or movies with DD5.1 or DTS) be playable on your stereo? Part of me wants to say yes it will for DTS and DD5.1, but I'm skeptical about video games for some reason. I guess I don't fully understand the extent of the sound card capabilities on these IGP/discrete graphics solutions.

    Great article, I'm looking forward to your HTPC graphics card review.
    Reply
  • AmdInside - Tuesday, October 14, 2008 - link

    I own the Asus M3N-H/HDMI (Geforce 8300) and except for the fact that it doesn't have an eSATA port, I have no complaints (well, maybe the placement of the 24-pin power connector).

    http://www.asus.com/products.aspx?modelmenu=1&...">http://www.asus.com/products.aspx?model...mp;l1=3&...

    I recently purchased the Intel G45 Mini-ITX motherboard to build a second HTPC and although it has worked ok for the most part, BD and HD-DVD playback just doesn't seem as smooth as the Geforce 8300. It is not choppy. It just feels like the framerate is lower. I can't explain why. The same HDTV was used with both systems and they were both set to 1080p/60. Both systems are running Windows Vista. If you are building a new HTPC, I would not recommend Windows XP btw with these platforms. Anyways, I appreciated the article. For me, I was trying to build a somewhat portable HTPC with the Intel mini-ITX motherboard but given the problems I am having with BD and HD-DVD playback, I think I am going to leave it as a Windows Media Center DVR box and use the Geforce 8300 as my main HTPC. For what it's worth, I tested with both WinDVD and Arcsoft TMT.
    Reply
  • gipper - Tuesday, October 14, 2008 - link

    It sounds to me like you're really recommending that at this time the way to go is to get a cheap Intel chipset motherboard with the cheapest, lowest power 45nm Core2 Duo, and an ATI 4550.

    But what Intel chipset would give that rock solid platform at the lowest price?
    Reply
  • tayhimself - Tuesday, October 14, 2008 - link

    Neither AMD nor Nvidia can make a decent chipset. Intel seems to have as many misses as they have hits so they're usually a good bet. Boo hiss to poor QC! Reply
  • Nil Einne - Friday, January 30, 2009 - link

    As with others, I have to say this is a piss poor review. I looked at the Part 1 and came across a resonably decent review. Was expecting the same thing here. But what do I come across? You onmly test two quad cores. What idiot buys a quad core for their HTPC? Unless you're transcoding there's absolutely no reason and given the price of HDs nowadays and the fact that some broadcasters are using AVC for their HD content anyway there's only a few people who are going to bother. Even if you are occasionally transcoding, it's questionable of you really need a quad core or it might be better to just stick with a dual. At the very lest you could have tested quad cores and dual cores like you did with the previous review. But you didn't and so have a fairly useless review for 99% of the population. Why did you even bother with gaming anyway? Seriously, how many people game with quad core IGP systems particularly the kind of games you were testing. And how many of those check out Anandtech reviews? Maybe 5 people in the whole world... You may use a quad core IGP for a high load server or a non-3D workstation but not gaming.

    As it stands, based on your previous review (part 1, i.e. the one with the G35) and your comparison between the G35 and G45 I'm guessing that the 8200 is probably still better when paired with a decent CPU for most HTPC purposes but only barely. Sadly it's just a guess for the reasons I outlined above
    Reply
  • Nil Einne - Friday, January 30, 2009 - link

    When I said part 1 I meant the "IGP Power Consumption - 780G, GF8200, and G35", got slightly confused. One of the strangest things about this review of course is the 8200 performed so poorly whereas in that review, it was better then the 780G. Has the 780G improved a lot? Is it just the Gigabute 780G was a POS? Who knows, one would have thought the reviewer would have at least co=mmented on if not investigated this but apparently not Reply

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