Integrated Graphics Solutions

At the bottom of the price and performance ladder - and we recognize that we have overlapped the motherboard market here - we have the integrated graphics solutions. If you are really interested in gaming performance, the simple fact of the matter is that none of the IGP offerings are going to be sufficient to run all of the latest games at reasonable frame rates. In some cases, reducing the graphics quality and lowering the resolutions will make games playable, but there are quite a few titles available that won't run acceptably without a discrete graphics card. If you don't really need to play all of the latest and greatest games, or if you don't play games at all, these IGP solutions should be sufficient. Some of the IGP motherboards can also work very well inside an HTPC, if that's something you're interested in.

When looking at IGP solutions, the added cost on the motherboard relative to a non-IGP solution is usually going to be less than $15, and in some cases IGP is essentially free. That provides tremendous bang for the buck, as long as you don't need a lot of "bang". IGP is also the only area where Intel, SIS, and VIA have some reasonable GPU offerings. Before we discuss the various IGP offerings, though, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the feature set on a lot of motherboards that have IGP is much more limited than what you find on competing motherboards, including typically far worse overclocking results. That won't be a problem for many people - and certainly not for businesses - but if you want to run a modern LCD with a DVI connection (which is preferred for LCDs where possible) there are very few motherboards that have integrated DVI ports. Finally, even though IGP solutions are frequently based off of discrete graphics chips, performance will almost always be lower because the graphics have to share memory bandwidth with the CPU and other devices, and the integrated GPUs are often designed to be lower performing parts.

Starting with the IGP offerings for Intel platforms, and going with the assumption that you want to run a Core 2 Duo processor, we have a few options available. Intel's original intention was that you would have to upgrade to a G965/Q965 chipset motherboard for Core 2 Duo support, but with the cheapest of these motherboards starting at over $100, vendors began to look for alternate solutions. You can find a few 865G boards with Core 2 Duo support, which would also provide you with an AGP slot for upgrading, but if you want to use an AGP card you probably don't need IGP in the first place. There are quite a few boards with the 945G chipset available for less than $100, and while 945G is one of the slower integrated solutions it is still capable of running Windows Vista's Aero Glass interface. The G965/Q965 motherboards are supposed to offer a better feature set than 945G, but while that may be true on paper they haven't shown themselves to be much faster (if at all) relative to competing solutions so far. Updated drivers from Intel continue to improve performance and compatibility, and we should finally get a driver that will make the G965's X3000 performed better than the 945G, but the 965 solutions should still be looked at more as a minimum level of graphics performance rather than something capable of running most recent games.

The only other currently available IGP solutions for Intel platforms come from VIA, and these are featured on some of the cheapest Core 2 Duo compatible motherboards available. Unfortunately, they once again focus more on AGP as an upgrade path rather than PCI-E, and the boards can be a bit more quirky and unstable. Still, if you need to purchase a Core 2 Duo CPU anyway, you might consider the $160 E6300 and ECS motherboard bundle, as you basically get the motherboard for free. In the near future, ATI should also begin shipping their RS600 chipset (ATI Xpress 1250) which will feature X700-level IGP performance - hopefully with full SM3.0 capability and 8 pixel pipelines, although the final features and availability date are not yet known. Taking a quick look at the available Intel platform motherboards with integrated graphics, we were unable to find any that come with a DVI port, but hopefully that will change when we begin to see Core 2 motherboards with ATI and NVIDIA IGP solutions - and we might even see HDMI ports on some boards, which would be great for HTPC systems.

On the AMD side of the fence, there are a couple of currently shipping IGP solutions that also offer better compatibility and performance than the Intel or VIA solutions. From AMD/ATI, the Radeon Xpress 1100/1150 chipsets are available with DirectX 9 support and performance similar to that of the X300 SE HyperMemory cards - note that Shader Model 3.0 support is not included. While we say that performance is similar to the X300 SE, they actually have half as many pipelines and have to share main memory bandwidth, making them less than half as fast as a discrete X300 card. These chipsets offer performance roughly equal to that of the NVIDIA 6100/6150, although the NVIDIA chipsets do offer SM3.0 support, giving them a slight advantage in terms of flexibility. SM3.0 games aren't going to run well on any IGP anyway, but potentially SM3.0 will be used for other work in Windows Vista (it's a stretch, I know...). Performance of the NVIDIA chipsets is similar to that of their GeForce 6200 TurboCache cards, but once again with half as many pipelines, making them clearly slower than just about any discrete graphics solution. If you're more interested in saving as much money as possible - and you're willing to risk stability and reliability concerns - you can also find motherboards with the SIS 761 and the VIA K8M800/K8M890 chipsets starting at around $50.

Unlike the Intel platform, we were actually able to find several motherboards with integrated graphics for socket AM2 that include DVI ports. The ASRock ALiveNF6G-DVI uses the nForce 6100 chipset and is available for around $73, and it actually puts the DVI port on an included expansion card that fits a special "HDMR" slot. The MSI K9AGM-FID includes the DVI port on the back panel and is the only AM2 solution with such a feature that uses the ATI Xpress 1150 chipset, priced at around $83. MSI (K9NBPM2-FID) and ASUS (M2NBP-VM CSM) both offer similar micro-ATX motherboards that use the NVIDIA Quadro NVS 210S chipset, both priced at $83 as well. Finally, ASUS (M2NPV-VM - $91), Abit (NF-M2 - $96), and DFI (C51PV-M2/G Infinity - $104) offer "micro-ATX" boards with DVI ports based off the nForce 6150 chipset. We put "micro-ATX" in quotation marks because the DFI board actually appears to be too large, as it is 10.4 inches wide rather than the standard 9.6 inches.

Out of all of these IGP motherboards we have listed there are a few picks that stand out. For the Core 2 Duo platform, if you're really looking to save some money, there's no beating the ECS + E6300 bundle currently available at You can toss the motherboard and buy a better model in the future if necessary, as the board is basically a freebie. If you want a more current feature set, you can look at either the 945G or the G965 offerings, and although the latter will cost more the boards also come with somewhat improved IGP performance and in some cases much better overclocking. We aren't going to recommend any AGP boards other than the ECS, as we don't feel the ~$20 saved is worth the limited upgrade potential for the future, and of the remaining motherboards the ASUS P5L-MX (945G chipset - $83) gives good base performance and a moderate amount of overclocking (up to approximately 300-310 FSB) at a decent price. If you want IGP but you still want as much overclocking capability as possible, we would recommend the Gigabyte GA-965G-DS3, which costs quite a bit more at $141 but can still reach bus speeds of over 425 MHz. That might be the ideal solution for someone who wants to get the cheapest Core 2 Duo processor and overclock as much as possible, while not worrying about getting a discrete graphics card. Really, though, you could purchase a cheaper P965 motherboard and a $40 discrete graphics card and get the same level of CPU performance as well as faster graphics performance.

On the AM2 platform, we are inclined to go with one of the DVI capable motherboards we mentioned earlier, simply because just about everyone is switching to LCD monitors these days. If all you want is a system that will work well at stock clock speeds, you should simply go with the cheapest board in that list, the ASRock ALiveNF6G-DVI priced at around $73. For somewhat improved IGP performance as well as better overclocking options, there's no beating the Abit NF-M2, which should be able to reach a HyperTransport speed of at least 250 MHz for a 25% overclock. Currently going for around $96, it's a bit more expensive than other options, but the majority of IGP motherboards usually forget about overclocking, making this one of the only AM2 boards to cover that area.

In terms of graphics performance, just keep one thing in mind when considering an integrated solution: you get what you pay for. Even the fastest current IGP (nForce 6150 or ATI Xpress 1150) is going to be slower than the cheapest discrete ATI or NVIDIA graphics card. With such cards starting at under $50, you might be better off spending a bit less on a non-IGP motherboard and getting a more capable GPU instead.

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  • Jodiuh - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    The FR bought release day from Fry's had a 39C transistor and hit 660/1000. The AR ordered online last week has a 40C transistor and hits 630/1000. It may not be quite as fast, but I'll be keeping the newer AR w/ the 40C transistor...comforts me at night. :D

  • Jodiuh - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Reply from EVGA!

    AR= Etail/Retail RoHS compliant
    FR= Frys Retail RoHS compliant

    All of our cards had the correct transistor value when shipped out.


  • munky - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link


    ATI's X1800 line on the other hand is quite different from the X1900 parts, with the latter parts having far more pixel pipelines, although in terms of performance each pixel pipeline on an X1900 chip is going to be less powerful than an X1800 pixel pipeline

    Again, this is completely wrong. The major difference between the x1800 and x1900 cards is that the x1900's have 3 pixel shaders per "pipe", whereas the x1800's only have one. If anything, the x1900 pipes are more powerful.
  • evonitzer - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    Akin to my comment above, quads are the thing these days, so the 1900 series has 4 pixel shaders per pipe. And if you go back to the original article when the 1900 was released, you'll see that the whole architecture is closer to 4 x1600's than 3 x1800's, either of which would result in the 48 shaders that we see. I recommend you read the first few pages of the debut article, but I think we can agree that the shaders in the x1800 were probably more potent than the ones in the 1600, so the 1900 is probably a little wimpier per shader than the 1800. However, it has 3 times as many, so it's better.

    Also the comment was probably intended to dissuade people from assuming that the 1900 would be 3 times better than the 1800, and that there is a difference of architectures going on here.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link


    Also the comment was probably intended to dissuade people from assuming that the 1900 would be 3 times better than the 1800, and that there is a difference of architectures going on here.

    Ding! That was a main point of talking about the changes in architecture. In the case of the X1650 XT, however, double the number of pixel shaders really does end up being almost twice as fast as the X1600 XT.

    I also added a note on the page talking about the G80 mentioning that they have apparently taken a similar route, using many more "less complex" shader units in order to provide better overall performance. I am quite sure that a single G80 pixel shader (which of course is a unified shader, but that's beside the point) is not anywhere near as powerful as a single G70 pixel shader. When you have 96/128 of them compared to 24, however, more definitely ends up being better. :-)
  • munky - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link


    ATI needed a lot more pipelines in order to match the performance of the 7600 GT, indicating that each pipeline is less powerful than the GeForce 7 series pipelines, but they are also less complex

    The 7600gt is 12 pipes. The x1650xt is 8 pipes with 3 pixel shaders each. You may want to rethink the statement quoted above.
  • evonitzer - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    What he meant were "pixel shaders", which seem to be interchanged with pipelines quite often. If you look on the table you'll see that the x1650xt is listed as having 24 pixel pipelines, and the 7600gt has 12 pixel pipelines, when they should read shaders instead.

    Also quads seem to be the thing, so the 7600 gt probably has 3 quads of shaders, and the 1650 has twice that with 6 quads. Pixel shaders, to be more exact.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    I have changed references from "pixel pipelines" to "pixel shaders". While it may have been a slight error in semantics to call them pipelines before, the basic summary still stands. ATI needed more pixel shaders in order to keep up with the performance and video was offering, indicating that each pixel shader from ATI is less powerful (overall -- I'm sure there are instances where ATI performs much better). This goes for your comment about X1800 below as well.
  • Spoelie - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    why does nvidia always gets replaced to "and video" in your texts? here and in the article :)
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, December 13, 2006 - link

    Speech recognition does odd things. I don't proof posts as well as I should. :)

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