Feature Articles

HD Enters Mainstream

HD Enters Mainstream

We have seen and heard many overly optimistic predictions about the 'coming' HD era for some time now and only now we believe that the final pieces have fallen in place. It has been a while coming but with Blu-ray installed as the chosen HD format, multi-core processors easily and cheaply available and large displays falling in prices, the last obstacle for most consumers is that mainstream PCs being capable of playing 1080p HD videos smoothly. And by mainstream, we're looking at integrated GPU solutions, since that's what most PC vendors are likely to configure.

This has been achieved. For the AMD platform, the 780G chipset is what you require and has been available since early this year. For the Intel platform, the G45 chipset was introduced in June and while our benchmarks showed that it was indeed capable of smooth Blu-ray video playback, it was only possible using Windows Vista. Nevertheless, it is still a massive improvement over the less than ideal playback on the G3x series of IGP chipsets.

NVIDIA's new GeForce 9300 mGPU has brought this to a new level, with low CPU utilization that is on par with its discrete graphics cards and additionally, throws in decent gaming performance too. And we have not even mentioned the arguably niche stuff that you can do with NVIDIA technologies like CUDA and PhysX.

What this means, is that your average notebook (netbooks do not apply) using either of these two chipsets from Intel and NVIDIA (or AMD's Puma platform) is capable of playing HD videos flawlessly now. Of course, not all will have a Blu-ray drive but at least HD videos will not be an issue due to the poor performance of the integrated graphics. And that is, we believe, a true indicator that we are in the HD era for real this time.

From what we have seen today of the NVIDIA GeForce 9300 mGPU through the implementation of the ASUS P5N7A-VM, it's clearly the superior choice to Intel's competing G45. The only problem could be the higher temperatures on the ASUS board, though the performance in our opinion, more than compensates. Compared to the older GeForce 7150/nForce 630i solution, NVIDIA has a winner here, though kudos too for Intel for the significant improvements made with the G45. With Larrabee the main focus for Intel in the not too distant future, the landscape may change greatly next year but for now, NVIDIA is top dog when it comes to IGP chipsets (even bettering AMD's 780G since NVIDIA's iteration supports uncompressed HD audio output via HDMI). With Apple betting everything on the new NVIDIA mGPU, it's a massive win for the company and more vendors may follow suit.

On that note, expect to find more GeForce 9300 mGPU boards from other vendors and also the more powerful GeForce 9400 mGPU. As it is, the ASUS P5N7A-VM is selling for around US$119 online while the Intel G45 Express has been available for a while now from various vendors for slightly over US$100.

Our Final Ratings