Memory Performance - Any Sacrifices Compared to G45?

The first thing we've got to find out is if you give up anything at all in normal, day to day usage if you opt for NVIDIA's GeForce 9300 compared to Intel's G45. We'll start at the purely synthetic tests looking at memory controller performance.

Until Nehalem permeates all segments of Intel's product lineup, the memory controller on the Northbridge/GMCH is still very important. Advancements in chipset memory controller design seem to have plateaued and thus for the past couple of generations we've seen no real improvements in memory performance. There also seems to be a performance parity between designs from Intel and NVIDIA, but does this hold true with the GeForce 9300? To find out we ran a quick set of memory bandwidth and latency tests:

  Intel G45 NVIDIA GeForce 9300
Everest Memory Latency (Lower is Better) 68.7 ns 89.8 ns

 

What? Are you kidding me? Let me get this straight, NVIDIA saw Intel fall flat on its face and suffer with G45 and we have this sort of a problem at launch? Sigh.

The issue here is that NVIDIA's Advance Path is disabled in the WHQL driver that's being launched alongside the GeForce 9300/9400. Advance Path is NVIDIA's own prefetcher in its memory controller and apparently there weren't enough engineering resources to get this done in time for today's launch. Everyone is playing the finger pointing game at this point, and we're hearing that the problem may be fixed as early as Friday. While it's unlikely that NVIDIA wouldn't fix it, we'd caution against hopping on this bandwagon until it is fixed. Unlike the problems that plagued G45 at launch, this is one that does impact everyone. Thankfully, despite the poor memory latency, real world performance doesn't appear to be impacted too negatively. In the majority of our tests, as you'll soon see, NVIDIA is able to deliver performance on-par or better than Intel's G45.

There's another somewhat related issue: CAS4 timings are not supported by the current BIOS implementations at this point; they are available in the BIOS, just not working. Regardless of memory type or voltage, you won't be able to run your memory at CAS4, only CAS5. NVIDIA is going to work with the motherboard guys to enable it in the future, but for some reason support just isn't there today.

This is actually no better than Intel's own G45 board which won't work with CAS4 timings, although 3rd party G45 boards work just fine. It's not a huge deal but sort of silly given that CAS4 support has been around on every single DDR2 chipset NVIDIA has ever released for AMD or Intel platforms.

A Rushed Launch

As if the memory controller issues weren't proof enough of a rushed launch, we've encountered a handful of issues with these first boards that are worth reporting. Both Gary and I were doing testing for this review and he actually ran into the bulk of the problems with his setups.

The first non-memory-performance-related bug report we sent to NVIDIA (to be fair it was at 3:56am today) was this:

I am having a real problem tonight with AHCI and BD Playback off our optical drives. The standard test system we utilize is located here . I am utilizing the 20.07 platform drivers and 178.13 (tried 178.15 also) GPU drivers. The problem is that the BD title (any of them) will start playing and the image playing will start to slow down and then just freeze. This occurs with PDVD 8 Ultra (2021a) or WDVD 9 Plus at the same point in each movie. I switch to RAID mode, no problems; switched to a new image with SATA settings, no problem; switched back to AHCI settings, the movies refuse to play properly. Also, I noticed several slowdowns and locks when doing file transfer tests with AHCI enabled. Those are random, but I have yet to see a problem with RAID or SATA configurations. This occurs on either the MSI or ASUS board.

I didn't run into Gary's AHCI problems but I was using a slightly different testbed (my system was set up with an Intel SSD instead of the standard testbed hard drive). The worrisome part of Gary's AHCI problems is that we've seen them before:

A follow up after doing some additional regression testing on the new AHCI image. I still get slight hitching in AHCI mode on the Sony drive during heavy scenes, but the LG drive seems fine. I ran a battery of transfers tests and the slowdowns have disappeared. I am still testing, but most of the problems I experienced are gone now. The problem I have is that this is the same pattern I noticed back at the 780i/790i launch where weird things would start occurring and eventually I experienced data corruption.

Now it's impossible to say for sure what these problems will eventually result in, or if they are as severe as what we encountered with the 780i/790i at launch, but one thing is for sure: these motherboards or drivers aren't ready for prime time. (10/15/08 Update - The AHCI BD playback problem appears to be limited to the Sony BDU-X10S; our LG and Plextor BD drives are working properly.  Also, file transfers still have an occasional and random pause with AHCI enabled; no data corruption is evident after transferring close to 8TB of data to each of our GF9300 boards this morning. (11/06/08 Update - Our AHCI BD playback problem was solved with the 1.3 Firmware update from Sony and BIOS 0404 from ASUS.  We still have not experienced any, nor do we expect to, data corruption problems with this chipset. We are continuing testing and will provide a final update in our motherboard roundup.)

I did some Home Theater testing separate from Gary and while my results were mostly flawless, he ran into a strange problem:

I loaded the 20.07 platform drivers and 178.13 GPU drivers with the .35 HDMI drivers. I selected the NVIDIA HDMI output device as the default in Vista. I am utilizing a Pioneer Elite AVR for pass through to my monitor and have a 7.1 setup. When using PDVD 8 Deluxe (2021a), if I set speaker environment to HDMI/PCM, PDVD will lock up at the same point in each BD title after a brief slowdown. If I set PDVD speaker environment to 6 or 8 speaker (depends on the title) then playback is perfect (as directed in the Reviewer's Guide). (11-06-08 Update - Utilizing the retail version of PowerDVD 8 Ultra, build 2021a, and the released .37 HDMI drivers from NVIDIA corrected our previous audio out problems on the ASUS board.)

Now for me, all I needed to do was set PowerDVD to HDMI/PCM and I got my 8-channel LPCM output, but on Gary's setup doing so resulted in the issues above. This is actually how we tested on Intel and AMD offerings, so it's strange that NVIDIA would have issues (design change?) here. Obviously there are differences between my setup and Gary's (Integra DTC-9.8 vs. a Pioneer Elite VSX-94THX AVR) but my worry is that if our experiences vary this much between two fairly uncomplicated setups, then what sort of problems will users run into in the wild?

Blu-ray Power Consumption General Performance
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  • 3DoubleD - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    Sounds great. Now all we need is a follow-up of the HD 4xxx article as well as confirmation about whether or not these Nvidia issues are solved or will be solved shortly.

    I'm really enjoying these HTPC based articles and hope you continue them. Now that the HDMI + 7.1 audio issue has finally been addressed I think it would be helpful to start looking into the software end of HTPCs, such as a Media Center software review (what programs that work well, include blu-ray playback, OTA support, network features, ect).

    There are tempting systems such as the FuzeBox Media Server http://www.velocitymicro.com/wizard.php?iid=167">http://www.velocitymicro.com/wizard.php?iid=167 , which includes a seamless interface for Cablecard capture, blu-ray playback, multizone playback, expandable storage, network backups). The interface locks the user from exiting the media center interface, but provides a reliable, seamless, and feature rich experience that I have yet to experience with other media centers. The enthusiast looks at the price tag for such a machine and says, I can build that for half, except that the media center software isn't there. Help us enthusiast achieve that seamless experience without having to empty our pockets for pre-assembled box!

    Thanks

    Reply
  • yehuda - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    Thanks Anand and Gary for all your work on this article. Do you know if the Gigabyte GA-E7AUM-DS2H board is coming out with the others? Reply
  • kevinkreiser - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    Where's the discussion about hybrid-sli drivers/benchmarks? A follow-up article with the tests still in progress?

    This german review has hybrid-sli benchmarks but they omit a discussion about drivers or even how you set it up, they just show numbers.

    http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/hardware/mainbo...">http://www.computerbase.de/artikel/hard...schnitt_...

    Reply
  • kevinkreiser - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    Wait my mistake, actually the german article mentions in the conclusion that they experienced bugginess with the hybrid-sli driver and sometimes games don't start or run really slow. Any comments from you guys at anandtech? Reply
  • Visual - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    Does nVidia intend to have this GPU on an AMD chipset at all, or have they given up competing there?

    Can we expect this chipset to be used in Intel laptops (other than Apple), and will they still get the Centrino brand? If Intel insists on requiring their own chipsets for that brand, I'm afraid laptop manufacturers will not use it despite its obvious advantages.

    Does something like hybrid-SLI work on this chipset, to get better performance from a 9400/9500/9600GT card?

    From the Apple adverts it seems dynamic switching between the IGP and stand-alone GPU will be a reality in its laptops... is that the case also with the desktop version that you test today? I guess you'd have mentioned it if it were... Is it at least planned with future drivers or something?
    Reply
  • R3MF - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    Good point about the Centrino brand, that may well make laptop manufacturers wary of this chipset, just because of the power of the Centrino brand.

    On the other hand, this may be a very good reason for nVidia to push the Via Nano netbook platform via big companies like HP which have a strong brand quality of their own.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    The Hybrid Power tech (switching between IGP and discrete GPU) should be available in this chipset; support for the feature still remains with the motherboard/notebook vendors, however. I'm still waiting for my first Windows notebook to feature hybrid power (which is also available with G45 chipsets... though why you'd want G45 over GF9300 is a tough question to answer; oh, right: Centrino 2!) You're right: Centrino as a brand is so powerful that NVIDIA can have the best solution in every way and still not see much uptake. We'll have to see how it goes.... Reply
  • danielgr - Thursday, October 16, 2008 - link

    It's funny... it seems that it's always the same, and Apple has to introduce something for people to get to know it...
    Sony has been selling "hybrid-power" laptops for about 2 years now... (here is an old laptop running Intel's 965GM chipset with NVIDIA 8400M graphics and "the magic switch"), together with LED displays, SSD drives...
    Their current offer gets you Centrino2+DDR3, BD, Raid-SSD, HybridStuff with Nvidia 9300M GS on Intel's GM45, Wide Gammut LED display, and still weights around 1.5Kg with 7.5-11h of autonomy...
    http://www.vaio.sony.co.jp/Products/Z1/feat1.html">http://www.vaio.sony.co.jp/Products/Z1/feat1.html
    Reply
  • danielgr - Thursday, October 16, 2008 - link

    Forgot the link to the "old_laptop":
    http://www.vaio.sony.co.jp/Products/SZ6/feat2.html">http://www.vaio.sony.co.jp/Products/SZ6/feat2.html
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, October 15, 2008 - link

    We will be updating the article shortly. It has been an all night meeting marathon with the motherboard suppliers and NVIDIA trying to get answers on the AHCI problems, memory performance, and other minor items we discovered. ASUS sent us a new BIOS that we will test in a couple of hours, the AHCI problems have diminished greatly after yet another clean install of Vista SP1 (still have some minor pauses during heavy drive load), and we feel safe enough in taking a detailed look at the motherboards in a couple of days.

    That said, NVIDIA surprised us with this chipset, probably the best one (all around) on the market for HTPC setups and casual gaming performance now. That is not to take anything away from the AMD platforms, personally I am running a 8750 and GF8200 hooked up to a new 52" LCD, if the price was right, the 9350e is a really sweet processor that will greatly lower power requirements on the AMD side, as we will see next week. Hopefully, AMD will respond with multi-channel LPCM output in their IG chipset. If that is not important, the 780g/790GX is great. ;)
    Reply

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