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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  • kilkennycat - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Anand and Gary,

    Seems as if an important candidate is MIA in your 3-part review of integrated chip-sets/uATX motherboards, the LONG-promised nVidia MCP7A chip-set for Intel processors with integrated 9400/9300 graphics. The only potential integrated-graphics competitor to the G45 in the Intel-processor world. When is the MCP7A due to be released? Most recent speculation (in DigiTimes, iirc) was the end of this month (September). In time to add a review of one or more uATX motherboards based on this chipset as Part 4 to this group of three reviews?
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    By the time this series is over the MCP7A won't be out, but we'll have a standalone review of that product to coincide with availability :)

    -A
    Reply
  • yehuda - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    Ok, when will this series be over? I ask because the last news on MCP7A said that it should be out before the end of this month and your statement makes me wonder if there's another delay ahead. Reply
  • kilkennycat - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Anand, thanks for the reply.

    NDA gag on projected-availability information from nVidia ??
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Yep, it won't be too much longer and NV is quite excited about it but specifics I can't give out unfortunately.

    *If* I were in NVIDIA's shoes I'd want to capitalize as best as possible on Intel's handling of G45. I'd make sure that the first products worked *perfectly* and availability was immediate and at competitive prices.

    If NVIDIA blows this opportunity I'll be quite disappointed, especially given how much crap it has given Intel about Larrabee.

    We'll know soon enough, but after the IGP Chronicles are over :)

    -A
    Reply
  • Pederv - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    From what I read, the G45 can be summed as, "It has a few good points but over all it sucks." Reply
  • kevinkreiser - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    I was hoping there would be mention of the graphics problems when putting nvidia cards in these boards. I was very vocal about this over at the AVS forums. Did any one notice any mention of this in the article? Also will there be coverage of the new nvidia boards MCP7A? Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Our final article will feature the discrete cards like the 9600GT and HD 4670. In testing so far, I have not had the problems that have been reported. I do have some additional NV cards coming to test. We will have coverage on the GeForce 9400 series when it launches. ;) Reply
  • kevinkreiser - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Thanks for the quick reply. I appreciate you guys keeping an eye out for the aforementioned problem. And also thanks for the heads up on the forthcoming MCP7A article. Reply
  • sprockkets - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Shame it costs $100 though. Shame too that Intel boards work so poorly, since I like that mini-itx board. The one from Jetway for the 8200 chipset probably doesn't work any better.
    Reply

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