Intel's Ivy Bridge: An HTPC Perspectiveby Ganesh T S on April 23, 2012 12:01 PM EST
Before proceeding to the business end of the review, let us take a look at some power consumption numbers. The G.Skill ECO RAM was set to DDR3 1600 during the measurements. We measured the average power drawn at the wall under different conditions. In the table below, the Blu-ray movie from the optical disk was played using CyberLink PowerDVD 12. The Prime95 + Furmark benchmark was run for 1 hour before any measurements were taken. The MKVs were played back from a NAS attached to the network. The testbed itself was connected to a GbE switch (as was the NAS). In all cases, a wireless keyboard and mouse were connected to the testbed.
|Ivy Bridge HTPC Power Consumption|
|Prime95 + Furmark (Full loading)||127.1 W|
|Blu-ray from optical drive||57.6 W|
|1080p24 MKV Playback (MPC-HC + QuickSync + EVR-CP)||47.1 W|
|1080p24 MKV Playback (MPC-HC + QuickSync + madVR)||49.8 W|
The Ivy Bridge platform ticks all the checkboxes for the average HTPC user. Setting up MPC-HC with LAV Filters was a walk in the park. With good and stable support for DXVA2 APIs in the drivers, even softwares like XBMC can take advantage of the GPU's capabilities. The QuickSync decoder and DXVA decoder are equally efficient, and essential video processing steps such as cadence detection and deinterlacing work beautifully
For advanced users, the GPU is capable of supporting madVR for most usage scenarios even with slow memory in the system. With fast, low-latency DRAM, it is even possible that madVR can be used as a renderer for the most complicated streams. More investigation needs to be carried out to check the GPU's performance under different madVR algorithms, but the initial results appear very promising.
Does this signify the end of the road for the discrete HTPC GPU? Unfortunately, that is not the case. The Ivy Bridge platform is indeed a HTPC dream come true, but it is not future proof. While Intel will end up pleasing a large HTPC audience with Ivy Bridge, there are still a number of areas which Intel seems to have overlooked:
- Despite the rising popularity of 10-bit H.264 encodes, the GPU doesn't seem to support decoding them in hardware. That said, software decoding of 1080p 10-bit H.264 is not complex enough to overwhelm the i7-3770K (but, that may not be true for the lower end CPUs).
- The video industry is pushing 4K and it makes more sense to a lot of people compared to the 3D push. 4K will see a much faster rate of adoption compared to 3D, but Ivy Bridge seems to have missed the boat here. AMD's Southern Islands as well as NVIDIA's Kepler GPUs support 4K output over HDMI, but none of the current motherboards for Ivy Bridge CPUs support 4K over HDMI.
- It is not clear whether the Ivy Bridge GPU supports decode of 4K H.264 clips. With the current drivers and LAV Filter implementation, 4K clips were decoded in software mode. This could easily be fixed through a driver / software update. In any case, without the ability to drive a 4K display, the capability would be of limited use.
Discrete HTPC GPUs are necessary only if one has plans to upgrade to 4K in the near term. Otherwise, the Ivy Bridge platform has everything that a HTPC user would ever need.