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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  • sprockkets - Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - link

    Except the fact that you needed a firmware update on the home theater receiver is just bulls****.

    Thanks DRM!

    I can't wait till VLC gets native blue ray support! At least we have Sly-Soft!
    Reply
  • DoucheVader - Friday, September 26, 2008 - link

    Hey if it wasn't for a vast majority of people copying stuff, we wouldn't have DRM. I am sick of the complaints. We as consumers created this problem.

    Most things that have DRM are to protect someone's bread and butter. How would you like it if every time you got paid there was some money missing?


    Reply
  • - Saturday, September 27, 2008 - link

    Your point might be valid if DRM worked, but can you point out a single mainstream home theater medium on which the DRM means anything to the pirates?

    DRMed CDs? Ha. Those just pissed off consumers when they inevitable didn't play in some players and/or contained bad software. Often defeated with the frickin shift key.

    DVD? People have tattoos of the DeCSS source code it's that damn short. Amusingly the longest lasting DRM scheme, with 2.5 years between the first DVD movie release and the release of DeCSS.

    HD-DVD? 253 days, not even a full year after the format first shipped its AACS protection system was cracked. Under three weeks later the first copies start showing up on private trackers.

    Blu-Ray (AACS)? The same AACS crack applied to it, and about two weeks after the first HD-DVD copies showed up Blu-Ray was right behind it. Launch to first pirated movie: 225 days.

    Blu-Ray (BD+)? Slightly harder than AACS apparently, but titles did not ship with it until October 2007 so the cracking community got off to a late start. AnyDVD HD supported decrypting all BD+ titles roughly 5 months after the first titles shipped and copies again showed up soon after.

    I'm less familiar with DVD-Audio and SACD, but my understanding is that there hasn't been a direct "crack" of their respective encryption but instead PC-based players and/or sound drivers are modified to just write the decoded bitstream to the hard drive. This works quite well for audio, as in most cases the compression (if any) applied on the disc is not wanted and the uncompressed PCM stream is exactly what the user desires. For obvious reasons that is not feasible with video.

    Once these protections are broken, they do nothing to reduce piracy and only remain to prevent fair-use backups by technologically illiterate users and/or to annoy consumers with crap like these HDCP issues.

    It doesn't even matter to the pirate crowd whether the cracks are public or private, as long as someone can do it that means the files will get out, and once they're out they're out.
    Reply

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