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The popularity of Intel's HD Graphics amongst HTPC enthusiasts and the success of the AMD APUs seem to indicate that the days of the discrete HTPC GPU are numbered. However, for those with legacy systems, a discrete HTPC GPU will probably be the only way to enable hardware accelerated HD playback. In the meanwhile, discrete HTPC GPUs also aim to offer more video post processing capabilities.

In this context, both AMD and NVIDIA have been serving the market with their low end GPUs. These GPUs are preferable for HTPC scenarios due to their low power consumption and ability to be passively cooled. Today, we will be taking a look at four GPUs for which passively cooled solutions exist in the market. From AMD's side, we have the 6450 and 6570, while the GT 430 and GT 520 make up the numbers from the NVIDIA side.

Gaming benchmarks are not of much interest to the HTPC user interested in a passively cooled solution. Instead of focusing on that aspect, we will evaluate factors relevant to the AV experience. After taking a look at the paper specifications of the candidates, we will describe our evaluation testbed.

We will start off the hands-on evaluation with a presentation of the HQV benchmarks. This provides the first differentiating factor.

While almost all cards (including the integrated graphics on CPUs) are able to playback HD videos with some sort of acceleration, videophiles are more demanding. They want to customize the display refresh rate to match the source frame rate of the video being played. Casual HTPC users may not recognize the subtle issues created by mismatched refresh rates. However, improper deinterlacing may lead to highly noticeable issues. We will devote a couple of sections to see how the cards handle custom refresh rates and fare at deinterlacing.

After this, we will proceed to identify a benchmark for evaluating HTPC GPUs. This benchmark gives us an idea of how fast the GPUs can decode the supported codecs, and whether faster decoding implies more time for post processing. We will see one of the cards having insane decoding speeds, and try to find out why.

Over the last few months, we have also been keeping track of some exciting open source software in the HTPC area. Aiming to simplify the player setup and also take advantage of as many features of your GPU as possible, we believe these are very close to being ready for prime time. We will have a couple of sections covering the setup and usage of these tools.

Without further ado, let us go forward and take a look at the contenders.

The Contenders
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  • qwertymac93 - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    What the heck are you talking about? Reply
  • velis - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    A great review. Provides all the answers one could wish for and even gives some further hints.
    I sure hope you have something like this lined up for llano.

    If I may suggest a couple or three things:
    Perhaps you should also mention reclock - it will solve most 23.976 and similar problems... It's not like many will detect that the video is running 1/24000th faster. Plus it's insanely easy to use.
    I understand you couldn't just post full blown images for space problems, but those thumbnails require too much work too. Is it possible to display a popup of sorts when one mouse-overs those thumbnails?
    Also a vertical line showing 60FPS in those DXVA tests would be great :)
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    I will pass on your request(s) to the person in charge of the graphing engine :) Reply
  • Salfalot - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    What might have been a nice option is to see what sound levels the cards produced. Even it was only for the GT430 and the HD6570. I know that the decibels can differ between manufacturers but it would have been nice!
    For the rest a very nice detailed review between HTPC cards. I was deciding which card to buy so this helped a great deal! I was only looking between the HD6450 and the HD6570 but the GT430 is a better option than the HD6450.
    Reply
  • nevcairiel - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    HDMI Audio is purely digital, there is no diference based on what card you use.

    It depends on the audio decoder, and your receiver at the other end of the HDMI link, the HDMI sound card on those cards does not change the audio.
    Reply
  • Salfalot - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    I think I did not use the right word, as I meant the levels of decibel the fan of the cards produce and not the audio too and through speakers.
    All reviewed cards have a fan on them and since most of the HTPC setups are in the living room it would have been nice to know which of the cards are most silent.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Though we considered cards with fans in this review, we made it a point to note that the same configuration (GPU model + DRAM bus width + operating frequencies) can be obtained with passive cooling from other vendors.

    For example, the 6570 has a passively cooled model from HIS with the same config and Zotac has a passively cooled 430 too. Other vendors have also demonstrated passively cooled models in Computex.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Firstly, a truly informative article. Very high quality.

    The fact that none of AMD, Intel and Nvidia can lock onto to the correct frame rates is unforgiveable. It is not as though these frame rates have changed over the last 6 months. It should not be necessary to be an advanced HTPC user and delve into custom creation of frame rates.

    I really hope that the representatives of AMD, Intel and NVidia are hanging their heads in shame at such basic errors - sadly I doubt they care.
    Reply
  • Grasso789 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    The mistake is rather with Microsoft. Video playback speed should be adapted to the refresh rate of the grafx card. There is a software called Reclock doing that. Then, for example 23,996 Hz can be run with a monitor refresh rate of n times 24 Hz. (The same with audio, because bit-perfect transmission only works with synchronization.) In the end and for most sources, the RAMDAC needed only (multiples of) 24, 25 and 30 Hz. In any system, one of its parts should be the clock master, while the other parts serve. Reply
  • casteve - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Excellent review, Ganesh! Your HTPC insight/reviews have been missed. Reply

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