Intel P45 / G45 Express Launch and Technology Preview

Intel G45 / G43 Express and Thoughts

Perhaps a bit more exciting than the P45/P43 Express is their more feature packed brothers, the G45/G43 Express. In terms of their feature sets, such as processor support, memory interfaces, and storage/audio/networking, these two product lines are nearly identical. However, the G45/G43 Express chipset products have Intel’s new GMA X4500/X4500HD integrated graphics engine lodged inside.

Intel G45 Chipset Diagram

The GMA X4500HD, with its impressive sounding name, replaces the GMA X3500 graphics engine.
The primary benefit which Intel is touting with the new GMA X4500HD graphics core is the ability to push high-definition/Blu-Ray video with good performance and image quality. Intel has improved the performance of their integrated graphics core to allow for full 1080P HD video playback and the X4500HD is also the first Intel integrated graphics solution to support both DisplayPort and HDMI with full HDCP support.  X4500HD also supports Intel's Clear Video technology, which uses hardware-level processing to enhance image quality and clean up video.  The "HD" in the X4500HD denotes support for AVC and VC1 decode acceleration, which the standard X4500 graphics engine does not have.

This, in short, basically means that this chip will be better than Intel's previous solutions for home theater and media center boxes. How it compares with discreet GPUs, however, remains to be seen. We will start to see motherboards with onboard video interfaces rivaling expensive third-party graphics cards with HDMI/DisplayPort – and since the chipset houses both the integrated graphics engine and the audio engine, motherboards will be able to output video/audio through these ports properly, without the need for any digital audio cabling internally.

Performance wise, Intel is not elaborating in their official documentation, which makes us believe that the GMA X4500 won’t be a game-changer in this regard. We are expecting performance gains on some level, but nothing we’ve seen thus far has convinced us that this will be a decent graphics component for any type of serious gaming. For casual gaming, Intel’s integrated graphics components can sometimes get the job done, and we expect the GMA X4500 to be similar in this regard. The GMA X4500HD is, however, technically up to date with modern gaming graphics standards, as it’s a Shader Model 4.0 compliant GPU, which means it supports DirectX 9/10 titles, and also supports OpenGL 2.0 as well. However, just because it supports modern titles doesn’t mean it has the raw processing horsepower or driver support to render everything properly at acceptable frame rates. It's up to Intel to empower their chipset with solid drivers that will allow end users to get the most out of their IGP solution.

The G45 Express chipset does suffer one drawback in comparison to the P45 Express, in that the G45 does not support dual graphics cards. The G45 Express supports a single PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot if you do not want to use the onboard graphics, but it does not officially support the ability to split multiple x16 slots into an 8x8 multi-GPU configuration. Beyond this limitation and the inclusion of the onboard GPU, the G45 and P45 series chips are essentially identical. Both can be paired with either ICH10 or ICH10R Soutbridges, depending on what the motherboard maker selects.

As for G45 Express versus the G43 Express, as far as we can tell by looking over Intel’s spec sheets is that the G43 Express only supports a single DDR2/DDR2 DIMM memory module per channel, which means motherboards will only have two slots instead of four. This likely means that G43 Express motherboards will top out at 4GB as their peak memory capacity as opposed to 8GB on G45 Express motherboards. Also, the G43 Express uses the GMA X4500 graphics engine, as opposed to the GMA X4500HD, which means the G43 Express will not have AVC/VC1 decode acceleration support.

Assuming Intel P45/G45-based motherboards hit the market at the same price point as Intel P35/G35-based boards, there is very little not to like here. This new lineup of chipsets will bring lower power consumption, PCI Express 2.0 support, and better integrated graphics abilities to the mix.  In general, Intel's new chipset genuinely offers solid improvements across the board. Given the expected overclockability and power improvements with this series of chipsets, it will be hard for Intel to really push their “high-end” X48 chipset, which shares so many attributes with the P45 – although we’re certain they’ll try.

Motherboards based on the P45/G45 series chipsets will start shipments very soon, and you should be able to grab one off the shelves by the end of the month. We’ll be following up with reviews of finalized P45 motherboards soon, so stay tuned.

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