Intel is the largest provider of graphic solutions in the PC market. Repeat that three times, and then marvel at how that can be after trying to play the latest game you or your child just brought home. Or if you're trying to play that new HD-DVD or Blu-ray title that just arrived in the mail on your Intel Integrated Graphics equipped system.

Of course, Intel is the market leader by volume rather than performance. They ship more integrated graphics chipsets than anyone else in the world. Virtually every business PC sold uses an Intel IGP, along with many of the entry level home systems where the thought of playing the latest game or watching a high definition movie on a PC is but a mere twinkle in the eye of the user. After all, there are lot more important reasons for using a PC other than for entertainment and in these markets, the Intel graphics solutions are more than sufficient.

We tend to be in with the crowd that wants more than the basic features needed for getting Windows Vista Aero certification or running Office 2007 at lightning fast speeds. While we would always buy a dedicated GPU unit for gaming, we still expect enough performance out of an IGP solution to at least play the top edutainment titles or mass market favorites like Sims 2. We also expect an IGP to provide decent video acceleration of the latest video formats when Aunt Harriet wants to view the newest sensation on YouTube or watch a home movie from last Christmas. Finally, we have been known to use HTPC boxes, and the thought of spending more for a HD decode/playback capable video card than the motherboard, CPU, and potentially memory combined is silly for such a system.

The innovation in the IGP market has been lagging for some time but has picked up in recent months with the introduction of the AMD 690G, AMD Radeon X1250, and now the NVIDIA MCP73 series. All of these solutions offer native DVI/HDMI output, HD decode and playback features, and decent enough gaming performance for those just starting or in a pinch until they can afford a better solution. Intel made some headway with the G965 chipset, and they hope to keep pace with or even surpass their competitors with the upcoming G35 chipset. Until then, we are left with a mid-year release known as the G33, aka the GMA 3100.

The G33 chipset is basically the P35 chipset with an integrated GMA 3100 graphics engine. As such, the chipset brings support for the 1333MHz FSB CPUs, upcoming 45nm based CPUs, and potentially DDR3. The GMA 3100 graphics engine is basically an update to the GMA 950 found in the 945G chipsets. The main highlights of the GMA 3100 are that it supports OpenGL 1.4, Shader 2.0 operations (DirectX 9.0c compliant), and Vertex Shader 2.0 is supported by software via CPU host processing. It has a 400 MHz clock, four pixel pipelines, a maximum 2048x1536 resolution, Dynamic Video Memory Technology, Clear Video processing engine, and MPEG-2 hardware decode acceleration.

Of these features, Dynamic Video Memory Technology is new and adds a twist to the UMA operations. DVMT allows the GMA 3100 to utilize anywhere from 4MB to 256MB of system memory for graphics purposes depending upon the type of application running. In 2D operation the chipset will reserve 4MB of system memory at 800x600 resolution and up to 16MB for 2048x1536 while dynamically adjusting the system memory requirements when utilizing a 3D application. HDMI, DVI, and HDCP support are provided... but only if the board manufacturer utilizes an SDVO chipset for the interface to the GMA 3100 or a separate ADD2 card is purchased. Otherwise, the user is left with the standard analog VGA output that our G33 review boards utilize today.

Even though the G33 is a "new" chipset, it still contains minimum graphics functionality and seems intent on just getting by in the market. Of course, it is not all about gaming with these platforms, but even in video playback and general application performance we see better solutions from Intel's competitors. Hopefully, this will change with the upcoming G35 chipset, but until that product actually ships we are left wanting.

Let's take a look at the G33 solutions today and see how well each board performs.

ASUS P5K-VM: Feature Set
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  • strikeback03 - Friday, September 28, 2007 - link

    When building a couple computers for work using the MSI P35 Platinum board, it appears they don't support eSATA hot-swapping, at least not in XP. I know my Foxconn G965 board at home can do it. Is this behavior still present in the MSI board here? Is it a P35 limitation, or BIOS, or what?
  • hans007 - Friday, September 28, 2007 - link

    I dont get it...

    an svdo card (add2-n) with dvi output costs what $6 on ebay. why dont you guys just buy one, so you can test these with digital.

    also the video driver in vista 32bit is not as mature still as the recently released gma 3000 compatible XP driver.

    most people actually have XP so could another round of benchmarks in XP be run? I probably wont even get vista for at leas tanother year, since well its pointless and has no reason for being bought at this point.
  • lopri - Saturday, September 29, 2007 - link

    Well.. it seems like you're using Windows XP and a monitor via VGA. Then why bother with these new IGP-based mATX boards? 915G/945G (or GeForce 6100) series would be a better choice for you. They are a lot cheaper (~$50 probably) and XP support is as mature as can be.

    In the center of this new wave of IGPs is the advent of HD contents. Vista is kinda necessary-evil in a sense but in general it handles HD and multimedia contents a lot better than XP and has a more intuitive/prettier UI for a living room environment. CRT has long been dead in living rooms, and if you prefer CRT over LCD for some reason (professional gaming maybe?) IGP wouldn't be an option to begin with.

    I'd say DVI is the minimum requirement, HDMI w/HDCP being a preferred solution in these days and nights.
  • veritronx - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    One thing that may have been overlooked.. The MSI board is the only one suitable for people looking to use a dual-slot graphics card as well as, say, a creative sound card, with some space between them. For that reason the only board reviewed that I would look at buying would be the MSI.
  • Ajax9000 - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    From page 1:

    The innovation in the IGP market has been lagging for some time but has picked up in recent months with the introduction of the AMD 690G, AMD Radeon X1250, and now the NVIDIA MCP73 series. All of these solutions offer native DVI/HDMI output, HD decode and playback, ...

    Read the following Nvidia pages and the news is somewhat disappointing re HD video.

    Summary PDF --">
    AMD (MCP78) features --">
    AMD (MCP78) specs --">
    Intel (MCP73) features --">
    Intel (MCP73) specs --">

    PureVideo is only listed for the MCP78 (7050PV+630a) combination. All the other AMD chipsets and none of the Intel chipsets have PureVideo HD.

    If, in the future, they release an MCP73 using (say) 7050PV+630i then memory will be limited to DDR667.

    There is no details thus far, but what would be good is if the new chipset fixes the HD Audio problem that all current HDMI video cards seem to suffer from (i.e. the problem whereby the chipset supports HD Audio, but the video cards can only accept SPDIF-grade audio for HDMI pass-through).
  • BansheeX - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    Everyone who is letting these boards have it for not including HDMI/DVI is completely right. It makes no sense. Sure, I could buy a cheap DVI graphics card and stick in there, but if I have to do that, why would I buy a board with onboard graphics in the first place?

    Sadly missing from this review is the board that DOES include onboard DVI, Intel's own DG33TL. Even sadder is that it takes Intel to make the feature-full board while the OEM companies go for the minimum.
  • Emma - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    I agree with the others, as most computers I build have IGP's, being able to directly compare each of the available IGP's on the market would be about the best thing from a review for a long time.

    The 6100/6150SE should also be included as this is still widely sold.

    Also of interest would be a summary of what other nVidia and AMD IGP's are on the horizon.

  • Owls - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    "We generally feel that users like to install games into the same colored slots for dual channel operation, but MSI chooses to color channel A orange and channel B green."

    I wasn't aware you could install games into DIMM slots.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    Sorry 'bout that - I was helping Gary out a bit and managed to mangle the text. Blame the speech recognition. That or I'm just slurring my words a bit. :)
  • 8steve8 - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    great article tackling most the issues that we care about!

    question #1: why bother reviewing boards without DVI or HDMI?

    whether we are building pc's for friends/offices etc, or an office/server box for ourselves, or we want it to find a home in its post-gaming life when we ditch it for something better... DVI will be key. inexcusable that they pinch pennies there and frankly not worth your time considering these boards. gigabyte has a g33 board with dvi/hdmi, as does intel...">">

    question #2: this would have been muuuch more useful like 5 months ago when G33 was new. now it's about to be eclipsed by the 7150 and g35.

    overall i cant wait to see a similar roundup with modern chipsets like g35/nvidia 7150/ g690 and 7050pv for amd...

    would be interesting to see a cost/perf of integrated platforms including cpu costs...
    mobo + cpu costs... it seems amd has some good cheap 690g boards out there, with dvi/hdmi for around $75. (almost $50 cheaper than a g33 board with dvi)...

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