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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  • sprockkets - Friday, September 28, 2007 - link

    Sad how an AMD 7050 board can be had for $80, $40 cheaper with the same features. It is the premium you pay for having dvi.

    Oddly enough too is that the Gigabyte board you quote doesn't use all solid caps yet the lower end board does. And of course, they didn't bother with solid caps on their new AMD boards period, cause "AMD is second tier."
  • tayhimself - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    Preposterous!! Why do they even bother making this junk without DVI. More and more I find that I don't want a leet board that overclocks 100 Mhz higher but a stable board with the right features. -sigh-
  • 8steve8 - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    and on top of it, these igp's are not suited well for gaming or videos,,, (the two applications where you may not notice the difference between a digital and analog interface), so they will be used for text/office work... an application where the discrepancies in the user-experience of analog vs digital interfaces with an LCD are undeniable.

    again, great article.,, but in the end, I sort of wonder why waste ur time exploring these boards when your time is better spent on solutions that deserve our money?
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    I think both of those G33 + SDVO models launched long after Gary had started work on this uATX stuff. Good to see that some people are including the necessary chip, as uATX without DVI is simply unacceptable. Unfortunately, testing some of this stuff takes a lot more time than we would like. We're working to address that, however.
  • jenli - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    I would love to see a review of motherboards with igp
    that can be converted to raid servers by using the lone
    pcie 16x slot.

    Have fun,
  • CK804 - Thursday, September 27, 2007 - link

    I'm doing exactly what you mention with an Intel DG965RY. I have an Areca ARC-1210 fitted in there with 3 320GB WD Caviar SE16s in RAID 5.

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