Beyond Atom: Exploring Performance ITX Solutions

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IGP Multimedia Performance

Let's face it, though integrated graphics have come a ways in recent years, it's still not viable option for a gaming machine. While newer IGPs can handle modern games at acceptable frame rates for lite or casual gaming, you'll still have a hard time driving the latest first-person shooters on a high-res screen.

However, IGPs of today also aren't completely useless outside of gaming. In this day and age of HD video, IGPs have gained new purpose as video playback accelerators. Both the Intel DG41MJ and the Zotac GF9300-D-E are equipped with IGPs that offer video decode acceleration; Intel's X4500 and NVIDIA's GeForce 9300 respectively. This would be an extremely valuable feature to have for any HTPC or multimedia-centric system build where you don't have the space or budget for a discrete graphics card, as is often the case with SFF builds.

 IGP Video Playback Performance
 Video Decoding with Intel and NVIDIA

We put both boards through a set of 1080P HD video tests and measured their CPU utilization levels to get a feel for how much of the heavy lifting the IGP is offloading from the CPU. We used two short video clips of less than 5 minutes in duration for this test. Each video clip was played 3 times on a loop while the CPU utilization was constantly monitored. The first clip is encoded with WMV and played back using Windows Media Player 11. The second clip is encoded with H.264 and played back using Apple Quicktime 7.6. In both cases the system was not running any other application and had identical software and hardware installations (besides the motherboard and drivers).

 Intel DG41MJ (Intel X4500)
 Zotac GF9300-D-E (GeForce 9300)

In the first test clip encoded in WMV, we see that both the DG41MJ equipped with the Intel X4500, and the GF9300-D-E performed quite well. Both IGPs were able to offload a very significant amount of the work involved in decoding the video from the CPU, with a resulting CPU utilization of less than 15%. The GeForce 9300 performed slightly better, with CPU utilization hovering between 6%-9%, while the X4500 managed CPU utilization of 7%-12%.

 Intel DG41MJ (Intel X4500)
 Zotac GF9300-D-E (GeForce 9300)

In the second clip encoded in H.264, we see slightly higher CPU utilization rates for both IGPs since H.264 is a bit more robust in terms of encoding which also requires more processing power to decode. In this test, the two IGPs performed more similarly with the Intel X4500 hovering between the 20%-28% range while the GeForce 9300 managed 18%-30%.

Overall, both IGPs provide a significant amount of video playback acceleration, certainly enough to handle general multimedia and HTPC playback duties with ease without the need for a discrete graphics card. This is good news for ITX motherboards like the ones we are looking at today, since they only possess a single expansion slot and you will be forced to make some tough choices about the slot's occupant. The ability to handle HD video playback with the IGP means you can save the only expansion slot for a DVR / TV tuner card, in the case of a HTPC.

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