The ability to cram in more and more transistors in a die has made it possible to have both the CPU and GPU in the same silicon. Intel's GPUs have traditionally catered to the entry-level consumers, and have often been deemed good enough for basic HTPC use. AMD introduced their own CPU + GPU combination in the Llano series last year. While AMD does have a better GPU architecture in-house, they could not integrate their best possible GPU for fear of cannibalizing their mid-range GPU sales. The result was that Llano, while being pretty decent for HTPC use, didn't excite us enough to recommend it wholeheartedly.

Today, Intel is taking on AMD's Llano with a revamped integrated GPU. We have traditionally not been kind to Intel in our HTPC reviews because of the lack of proper drivers and open source software support. Things took a turn for the better with Sandy Bridge. One of Intel's engineers took it upon himself to bring reliable hardware decoding support on Intel platforms with the QuickSync decoder.

As a tech journalist in the HTPC space, I spend quite a bit of time on forums such as Doom9 and AVSForum where end-users and developers interact with each other. The proactive nature of the QuickSync developer in interacting with the end-users was something sorely lacking from Intel's side previously. We have seen various driver issues getting quashed over the last few releases, thanks to the new avenue of communication between Intel and the consumers.

With Ivy Bridge, we are getting a brand new GPU with more capabilities. Given the recent driver development history, even advanced HTPC users could be pardoned for thinking that Ivy Bridge would make a discrete HTPC GPU redundant. Video post processing quality is subjective, but that shouldn't prevent us from presenting pictorial results for readers to judge. One of the most talked about issues with the Intel GPU for HTPC purposes is the lack of proper 23.976 Hz display refresh rate support. Does this get solved in Ivy Bridge?

In this review, we present our experience with Ivy Bridge as a HTPC platform using a Core i7-3770K (with Intel HD Graphics 4000). In the first section, we tabulate our testbed setup and detail the tweaks made in the course of our testing. A description of our software setup and configuration is also provided. Following this, we have the results from the HQV 2.0 benchmark and some pictorial evidence of the capabilities of the GPU drivers. A small section devoted to the custom refresh rates is followed by some decoding and rendering benchmarks. No HTPC solution is completely tested without looking at the network streaming capabilities (Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight performance). In the final section, we cover miscellaneous aspects such as power consumption and then proceed to the final verdict.

Testbed and Software Setup
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  • ganeshts - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    The FSE mode performed visibly worse for me compared to FSW in the few cases that I tried. I have got the rest of the settings that Andrew @ MR used. I may try it and see if it improves things. My aim was to get madVR to render without any dropped frames, and I was able to get that at DDR3-1600 (which is what Andrew used too) for almost all the clips I had (except 720p60, which I didn't try till yesterday). Reply
  • satish0072001 - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Video decoding and rendering benchmarks
    Can you provide the learning guide how you've got those scores? It will be very helpful for some of us... I know about hqv score.. but this one is new to me.. kindly help :)
    From where can I get these benchmarks if i have to compare my existing system with the IVB results?
    Reply
  • LuckyKnight - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    In the article there is a promise of a BIOS update to fix the 23.97Hz issue. Wasn't something similar also promised for sandy bridge in the same article over a year ago!! That never happened did it. I want to build a HTPC already! Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Well, something did happen with SNB.. they got it to 23.972 Hz :) If you think about it, video cards with AMD and NVIDIA GPUs also end up in the 23.974 - 23.978 range, and only very rarely do I actually see a GPU outputting exactly 23.976023976 Hz.

    If Intel gets between 23.974 - 23.978 in a stable manner, I will consider the matter closed.
    Reply
  • Shaggie - Thursday, April 26, 2012 - link

    Is there still the problem like with SB that the driver puts color space to limited range when connecting to the tv with HDMI and resets it with every refresh rate switch/reboot with the integrated graphics? Reply
  • Stabgotham - Monday, April 30, 2012 - link

    Is there a point to getting an H77 board with Ivy Bridge if all you are using it for is as an HTPC (sans overclock)? I can't tell what the benefit would be to justify the price increase. Reply
  • crisliv - Wednesday, June 13, 2012 - link

    Nice article! As always.
    About the note:
    "The good news is that Intel is claiming that this issue is fully resolved in the latest production BIOS on their motherboard. This means that BIOS updates to the current boards from other manufacturers should also get the fix. Hopefully, we should be able to independently test and confirm this soon."

    What does it mean exactly? Does it mean that this BIOS update should get refresh rate closer to the 23.976 than it was in your test? And "on their motherboard" - does it mean that this BIOS update is for Intel MB only?

    True that in AMD and nVidia the out of the box refresh rate for 23 is never precisely 23.976, but the custom timings on nVidia allows you to get closer to is. There is no custom timing settings on the HD4000, right?
    Reply
  • LuckyKnight - Thursday, June 14, 2012 - link

    Do we have an update regarding 23.967hz? Reply
  • theboyknowsclass - Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - link

    it's been a while, and couldn't find any follow up Reply
  • Hdale85 - Thursday, August 23, 2012 - link

    I've been looking at an Ivy Bridge setup with the H77/Z77 chipset but I can't find any information about the audio support? Can it bitstream TrueHD and DTS-HD tracks? The older chipsets do it so I would find it strange that the new ones don't, but I don't see it mentioned on any of the new boards or in the intel information. Reply

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