We wouldn't dream of letting an Intel launch go by without complete and thorough coverage. Can you imagine the Nehalem launch without reviews on launch day? Or even the release of Intel's first mainstream SSDs without an article going through the technical merits of the chip giant's design? Yet skip a product release was exactly what we did with the introduction of one of Intel's latest chipsets: the long awaited G45.

When I visited CeBIT in Germany earlier this year I noted that the stars of the show were the chipsets. We had 780G from AMD, GeForce 8200 from NVIDIA and G45 from Intel. Nearly every single motherboard had either a DVI or HDMI port on it, and full Blu-ray acceleration was supported across the board by all of the vendors. We were about to enter the golden era of chipsets with integrated graphics and CeBIT was the first indication of it, but what happened?

In fact, out of all three vendors, only AMD was able to deliver on their promises in a timely manner. Despite lacking in one key feature (8-channel LPCM support), the 780G chipset was honestly the most impressive chipset launch from AMD to-date. Gigabyte's 780G board was so good in fact that despite Intel's microprocessor superiority, the board was strong enough to be my choice in my own personal HTPC. While the G45 may have been the right chipset for me, the 780G was the chipset I could rely on right now and thus I turned to it.

NVIDIA shortly followed up with the GeForce 8200, however the first motherboards weren't anywhere near as polished as what was available with 780G and the integrated graphics performance was actually lower than AMD's. For a company that gave Intel such a hard time for delivering poor integrated graphics performance, NVIDIA was nothing but hypocritical. AMD's 780G put it to shame.

Time still went by and there was no G45; I was concerned. While both AMD and NVIDIA had tons of experience in building in support for full hardware H.264/VC1/MPEG-2 decode acceleration, this would be Intel's first attempt at such a feature. I'd seen demos of G45 running just fine and I was told that everything was ok, but I didn't have hardware. The first time I laid my hands on G45 was actually in mobile form during the mismanaged Centrino 2 launch, and it wasn't good. Blu-ray acceleration worked, but it wasn't usable at all. I chalked this up to the early Centrino 2 platform but once we got G45 boards in house, things weren't that much better.

The first boards (available for sale, mind you) and drivers had issues with Blu-ray playback in certain situations, HDCP problems and issues with HDMI repeaters (e.g. AV receivers). It was so bad that in AMD's suite during IDF one of the AMD demos was a 780G vs. G45 comparison, showcasing how broken the initial G45 release was. We struggled with G45 for much of the early weeks of its release, but the platform wasn't problem-free enough for a launch-day review.

As of late I get the impression that although Intel is quite successful and executing very well on multiple fronts, the strengths of Intel's less popular teams are no where near as great as their chip designers. We all saw this with the Centrino 2 launch I just mentioned - something we'd never see from the Nehalem guys. But Intel does far more these days than make desktop CPUs, there are chipsets, soon to be graphics cards, solid state drives, wireless adapters, notebook platforms, the list just goes on and on. The incredible revolution Intel was able to pull off in the desktop CPU space over the past 2+ years raises the bar for the rest of the company, and not all of the teams are able to perform quite as well.

What follows is the first part of a three part series on the current state of chipsets with integrated graphics. This first part looks closely at Intel's G45, presently the only LGA-775 chipset with full Blu-ray decode acceleration, as well as a quick comparison of the first G45 boards. Part two will widen our focus and compare G45 to competing Socket-AM2 chipsets with integrated graphics: mainly AMD's 780G and NVIDIA's GeForce 8200/8300. And finally we'll bring this whole series to a close in part 3 with a comparison of IGP gaming performance to the cheapest yet best performing available add-in PCIe graphics cards. After this series of articles we will dive into a AMD 790GX and NVIDIA 750a roundup to complete our look at the hybrid IG solutions.

A High Level Overview of G45

The G45 is very similar to the P45, with the addition of integrated graphics. These boards target essentially the same market, but G45 board will likely not be as targeted towards overclocking and may be a little cheaper. The major advantage of G45 will be for people who don't want any sort of 3D graphics on their desktop. While Intel continues to advance their graphics subsystem performance (as we'll see in the next article in the series), the performance still just isn't there for any but the simplest of 3D tasks. These boards should really go into systems that focus on 2D operations like office applications, internet, and general communication packages. That said, you can play certain types of games if they fall into the casual gaming category, you know, titles like Barbie Fashion Show up to Sims 2 will have acceptable performance at 1280x1024 resolutions.

With the intended target market being those who do not wish to overclock or game with the integrated graphics, we are looking at desktop computers targeted at business tasks and surfing the internet. The G45 provides support full Blu-ray acceleration and multi-channel LPCM audio output, so it will work as an HTPC platform. With a mainstream target, we expect these to end up in plenty of systems over the coming months, especially from the OEM sector. It isn't overkill for those who don't need a lot of features and overclockability, and it offers enough capability to get by in the home and in the workplace.

Before we look at the performance of the chipset, we will take a look at chipset features and capabilities and the southbridge. Understanding how this solution compares to the previous generation Intel integrated graphics chipset and how it compares to the other 65nm chipset offerings Intel has will help give us context for the performance comparisons to come.

The GMCH/ICH Showdown: What's New in the 4-Series
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  • computerfarmer - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    It is good to hear about new technology, initial issues and how they are worked out.
    I hope the second part of this article is sooner than the follow up of "AMD's 790GX/SB750" expected chipset review. The AMD announcement was on August 6, 2008, with an expected review to follow.
    On September 10th, Gary Wrote:
    "An update, DFI decided to proceed forward with their uATX 790GX board. My retail kit arrived today and I will be testing it shortly. Also, based on your comments and others I will show a 4870x2 vs 4870 CF on this platform and compare it to 790FX. The roundup should be up late next week, G45 is up on Monday with 790GX/780G/GF8300/NF750a comparison results.

    Sincerely,
    Gary "

    The recent article on Power Supplies was excellent.

    The information is good, but some items appear not to be as important as others.

    Now we are still waiting - AMD 790GX/SB750.
    Reply
  • erikejw - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Who cares about if MSI or ASUS have a faster IGP board, compare with NVIDIAS and AMDs boards.

    It is as useless like running a review of the new Nehalems when they arrive and don't compare them to any AMD chips at all, and we all know that will not happen.
    Reply
  • BD2003 - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Glad to see the p45 is getting quality coverage, I was looking very closely at getting one for my HTPC. Theres a few things I'd like to see touched upon, hopefully in future articles.

    First, how about a comparison of the post-processing capabilites and quality of the competing solutions? Supposedly intel's "clear video" is supposed to give us the same kind of solution for noise reduction, sharpening, and other postprocessing that nvidia and amd have been offering. Is it an automatic solution that you have no control over like amd, or is there an applet where you can choose how much effect is applied like nvidia?

    Also, what about the new revision of intel turbo memory. I always see it mentioned in diagrams and previews, but have never seen it implemented on a board. Does it need onboard flash to function, or is there a PCIE, SATA or USB solution that can be added on to a g45 board in order to enable it? If onboard only, are there any actual boards that have implemented it? My understanding is that its little different from readyboost in vista, but the capability to actually choose whats in the cache is quite interesting to me. On my HTPC, I regularly use the same few apps, and I'd love to get those loading at solid state speeds.

    Also, what software is required to enable the hardware acceleration of H.264 and the like? I'm not a fan of using desktop programs like PowerDVD on my HTPC - they often require me to pull out the keyboard which defeats the purpose of an HTPC imo. Can the acceleration be used in Windows Media Center, Mediaportal, or any other HTPC specific software?
    Reply
  • Freezebyte - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Hey, what happened to the preview of the DFI Lanparty P45 T2RS? Its between that one and the Asus P5Q-EM for my new SFF setup I wanna build in the next month.

    I"ve been hearing lots about discrete video cards not working well or at all in the P5Q-EM. Did you guys run into issues with this or did you not even put in discrete video cards at all? Also, will the Asus support the higher Q9000 series Intel CPU's?

    I"m trying to build a decent SFF gaming rig soon, and I wanna know what im getting myself into with either of these boards.
    Reply
  • Clart - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    I personally think you should have made price a bigger point, frankly you're comparing the G45 with the 780G, but the 780G boards average at US$80, while you can't get a G45 for less than US$100, plus a could go to newegg and get a 780G+Radeon 4670 for US$145, that's just 15 dollars more!!!

    Besides when this site reviewed the 790GX there where some criticism about that chipset not actually targeting any specific market, well here is a hint, how about comparing the 790GX with the G45, both cost around 120 dollars.

    Is the G45 a good Business board? Really? Well the way I see it a business pc that doesn't care about graphics performance or ou HTPC characteristics would be much better served with a US$66 780G, that's half the price of a average G45 motherboard, or even a US$49.99 740G.

    Sorry if I was a little acid, but I'm just tired of IT sites comparing boards that aren't even in the same price range, the only reason I see for this is that Intel can't/doesn't compete in the same price range as the 780G/8200, but if that is the case then IT sites should compare the G45 with the 790GX.

    P.S: Gaming in IGPs is not inexistent, ever heard of VALVe? The entire Orange Box runs on a 780G/8200(possibly the G45 also). But I do agree that with cards like the Radeon 4670 out there IGPs loose a lot of their(little?)value for gaming.
    Reply
  • CSMR - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    AMD has an advantage in IGPs (less with G45) but a disadvantage in processors. If you care about price and don't care about power consumption/noise/processor performance you should go with AMD. Businesses will care about these things and are not so price sensitive. Reply
  • snakeoil - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    this is pathetic.....
    pathetic also that intel fanbois think larrabee will change the world and bring world peace.
    pathetic
    Reply
  • jmurbank - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    "8-channel LPCM but no 24Hz Playback"

    Is this correct that frequency response will not include 24 hertz. Is this a joke by Intel or by the author. I assume the author is trying to state 24 bit playback.

    You should state that hardware MPEG-2/H.264/VC decoding is only supported in Windows.

    I prefer AMD processors because they have IGP that works better than Intel's IGP offerings. Also IGP for AMD processors works in Linux while IGP from Intel does not. Intel fans are still stuck with Intel's IGP that are still pathetic.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    My apologies, the two are actually unrelated but I wanted to group them both under the same header.

    1) 8-channel LPCM is supported
    2) 24Hz refresh rates don't work properly currently, this is for video.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • CSMR - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the review review, a lot of useful information. Regarding the DG45FC board, voltage changes would be useful; but as you and SPCR have found, in combination with the E5200/E7200 processors it is a very power-efficient choice. You can build a low power but relatively high performance system without any tweaks (SPCR had 35W idle, 45W blu ray, 65W max load). Reply

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