Coming to the business end of the review, it must be quite clear by now that we can't recommend the GT 520 or the AMD 6450 with full confidence. They are probably doing well in the OEM market by getting incorporated into generic systems (not geared towards HTPC use). A discerning buyer building a HTPC system, having perused the various sections in this piece, would do well to avoid these two products.

Both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs suffer from a host of driver issues for the discerning HTPC user. Catalyst releases have been known to break GPU decoding in applications like VLC (something AMD has promised to fix in their next WHQL-certified driver). Supported refresh rates disappear from Catalyst if GPU scaling or ITC post processing is enabled. Different refresh rates default to different pixel formats on AMD cards. The HDMI audio driver maps the surround sounds in a 5.1 track to the rear surrounds in a 7.1 system on both NVIDIA and AMD cards. Both NVIDIA and AMD cards have been known to suffer from the silent stream bug at various points of time. Issues with RGB output levels and dithering resulting in banding artifacts on some displays have been reported on cards from both the vendors. The frustrating issue is that these problems get resolved in a particular driver release only to reappear in a later release. Unfortunately, issues like these are part and parcel of the HTPC experience. Both GPU vendors have a lot to learn from each other also.

If you prefer only AMD cards, the 6570 is the perfect HTPC card. The set of post processing options provided is very broad compared to what is provided by NVIDIA. All post processing options are enabled irrespective of ESVP, even for 60 fps videos. It has the highest HQV benchmark score of any HTPC-oriented GPU that we have evaluated so far. We didn't encounter any bitrate limitations with video playback. The pesky 23.976 Hz refresh rate may be a hit or miss depending on your setup, but it is way better than Intel's implementation. The lack of support for open source software developers and pricing relative to the NVIDIA GT 430 are probably the only complaints we can file against the 6570.

If you prefer only NVIDIA cards, the GT 430 is the perfect HTPC card for which you can obtain a passively cooled model. For enthusiasts, the ideal card would be one having more shaders than the GT 430 (for better madVR processing) and also the new VPU engine. However, there is no card fitting those criteria in the market right now. Our first impressions of the GT 430 last October were not favorable. However, driver updates have finally brought to fore the capabilities of the GPU. NVIDIA's support for the 3D ecosystem is better compared to AMD's. Support for custom refresh rates is a godsend for the videophiles and advanced HTPC users. The extensive support from open source applications is a definite plus. It is no wonder that most of the multimedia application developers swear by NVIDIA cards. The video bitrate limitations (not something one would encounter in real life), lack of comprehensive post processing options and the post-processing results when compared to the AMD 6570 (quite subjective) are probably the only complaints we can file against the GT 430.

If you are not in either camp, I would suggest going with the GT 430, if only for the price. Just last week, Newegg had a deal for the GT 430 at $20 after MIR. At that price, the card is simply unbeatable. At $70 without rebates, it is a more difficult decision to make. The 6570, retailing around $75, is probably a more future-proof card and has a better out-of-the-box HTPC experience. If you are the type of person who likes to constantly tinker with your HTPC and get excited by software tools which expose the HTPC capabilities of your GPU, go with the GT 430. If you are the install-it-and-forget-it type, a DDR3-based 6570 is the right card.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Andrew Van Til, Hendrik Leppkes and Mathias Rauen for their inputs to this article.

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  • qwertymac93 - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    What the heck are you talking about? Reply
  • velis - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    A great review. Provides all the answers one could wish for and even gives some further hints.
    I sure hope you have something like this lined up for llano.

    If I may suggest a couple or three things:
    Perhaps you should also mention reclock - it will solve most 23.976 and similar problems... It's not like many will detect that the video is running 1/24000th faster. Plus it's insanely easy to use.
    I understand you couldn't just post full blown images for space problems, but those thumbnails require too much work too. Is it possible to display a popup of sorts when one mouse-overs those thumbnails?
    Also a vertical line showing 60FPS in those DXVA tests would be great :)
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - link

    I will pass on your request(s) to the person in charge of the graphing engine :) Reply
  • Salfalot - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    What might have been a nice option is to see what sound levels the cards produced. Even it was only for the GT430 and the HD6570. I know that the decibels can differ between manufacturers but it would have been nice!
    For the rest a very nice detailed review between HTPC cards. I was deciding which card to buy so this helped a great deal! I was only looking between the HD6450 and the HD6570 but the GT430 is a better option than the HD6450.
    Reply
  • nevcairiel - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    HDMI Audio is purely digital, there is no diference based on what card you use.

    It depends on the audio decoder, and your receiver at the other end of the HDMI link, the HDMI sound card on those cards does not change the audio.
    Reply
  • Salfalot - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    I think I did not use the right word, as I meant the levels of decibel the fan of the cards produce and not the audio too and through speakers.
    All reviewed cards have a fan on them and since most of the HTPC setups are in the living room it would have been nice to know which of the cards are most silent.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Though we considered cards with fans in this review, we made it a point to note that the same configuration (GPU model + DRAM bus width + operating frequencies) can be obtained with passive cooling from other vendors.

    For example, the 6570 has a passively cooled model from HIS with the same config and Zotac has a passively cooled 430 too. Other vendors have also demonstrated passively cooled models in Computex.
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Firstly, a truly informative article. Very high quality.

    The fact that none of AMD, Intel and Nvidia can lock onto to the correct frame rates is unforgiveable. It is not as though these frame rates have changed over the last 6 months. It should not be necessary to be an advanced HTPC user and delve into custom creation of frame rates.

    I really hope that the representatives of AMD, Intel and NVidia are hanging their heads in shame at such basic errors - sadly I doubt they care.
    Reply
  • Grasso789 - Monday, January 28, 2013 - link

    The mistake is rather with Microsoft. Video playback speed should be adapted to the refresh rate of the grafx card. There is a software called Reclock doing that. Then, for example 23,996 Hz can be run with a monitor refresh rate of n times 24 Hz. (The same with audio, because bit-perfect transmission only works with synchronization.) In the end and for most sources, the RAMDAC needed only (multiples of) 24, 25 and 30 Hz. In any system, one of its parts should be the clock master, while the other parts serve. Reply
  • casteve - Monday, June 13, 2011 - link

    Excellent review, Ganesh! Your HTPC insight/reviews have been missed. Reply

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