The GMCH/ICH Showdown: What's New in the 4-Series

The role of the chipset in a modern PC has changed considerably over the years, mostly due to AMD's integration of the main memory controller onto its CPU die. Intel won't do the same until Nehalem, so the role of its chipsets remain relatively unchanged despite taking on additional functionality over the years.

The role of a chipset is to connect everything in your system to one another; it's the controller logic that connects your CPU to your graphics card, Ethernet, hard drives, USB peripherals, etc.., and connects all of them to main memory. For all of modern desktop chipset history, most chipsets have been two chip solutions - normally known as a North and South Bridge. The North Bridge generally housed the memory controller and AGP or PCI Express interface, while the South Bridge took care of less bandwidth intensive things like PATA/SATA ports, LAN, USB, sound, etc...

Intel came up with its own terms for North and South Bridge back in the late 1990s with a move to its "hub architecture". The North Bridge became the Graphics and Memory Controller Hub (GMCH) while the South Bridge became the I/O Controller Hub (ICH). The GMCH is technically only present when it's a chipset with integrated graphics, otherwise it's simply a MCH.

The 4-series GMCH, which is used in the G45 chipset as well as the P45 chipset (just a MCH there) is honestly not much different from the 3-series (G)MCH used in the G35/P35 chipsets:

  4-series GMCH 3-series GMCH
Manufacturing Process 65nm 90nm
FSB 800 / 1066 / 1333MHz 800 / 1066 / 1333MHz
IOQ Depth 12 12
Memory Controller 2 x 64-bit DDR2/DDR3 channels 2 x 64-bit DDR2/DDR3 channels
Memory Speeds Supported DDR2-800/667
DDR3-1066/800
DDR2-800/667
DDR3-1066/800
PCI Express 16 PCIe 2.0 lanes 16 PCIe 1.1 lanes
Graphics GMA X4500

GMA X3500

Core Clock 800MHz 667MHz
Shader Processors 10

8

Full H.264/VC-1/MPEG-2 HW Decode Yes No
Pin-out 1254-ball 1226-ball

 

The pinout is different, thus requiring new motherboard designs but the performance characteristics of the two GMCHs are basically identical. The 4-series chipsets added PCIe 2.0, but the biggest performance impact is the improved graphics core in the 4-series GMCH. If you've got a 3-series motherboard today, the 4-series equivalent shouldn't be any faster in non-gaming/video decoding applications (although it will use less power thanks to the 65nm manufacturing process).

The ICH comparison is even more tame, there's honestly no change between ICH10 and its predecessor: ICH9.

  ICH10 ICH9 ICH8
PCI Express 6 x1 PCIe 1.1 6 x1 PCIe 1.1 6 x1 PCIe 1.1
USB 12 ports 12 ports 10 ports
SATA (300MB/s) 6 ports 4 ports (ICH9 base)
6 ports (ICH9R)
4 ports (ICH8 base)
6 ports (ICH8R)
RAID* RAID 0/1/5/10 RAID 0/1/5/10 RAID 0/1/5/10
HD Audio Interface Yes Yes Yes
Ethernet Intel Gigabit LAN Intel Gigabit LAN Intel Gigabit LAN
G/MCH Interface DMI 10Gb/s each direction, full duplex DMI 10Gb/s each direction, full duplex DMI 10Gb/s each direction, full duplex
Voltage 1.1V 1.05V 1.05V
Release Date 2008 2007 2006
*RAID is only supported on -R derivatives

 

Even going back to ICH8, there's hardly a difference here (you do get some more USB ports with ICH9/10). There are some minor differences, for example the base ICH10 features 6 SATA ports while the base ICH8/9 only featured 4. The take away point is that feature-wise, there's not much new.

Index The Last "Discrete" Intel Integrated Graphics Chipset?
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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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