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 Outpost.com. 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.

Index Ultra Budget GPUs
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  • justly - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    I apoligize for straying from the video topic, but I really get annoyed at the all to often trash talk about VIA and SiS chipsets.

    I understand that this is a GPU article so I can see Anandtech not recommending SiS or VIA integrated graphics based on their lack luster video capabilities. My question (or maybe I should call it a complaint) is how can Anandtech claim SiS and VIA boards are not stable or reliable? The last reviw (that I can remember) of a SiS based board was over a year ago, even then I dont think it was a production board. Coverage of VIA based boards isn't much better but at least Anandtech does give VIA some budget coverage.

    I can fully understand if Anandtech doesn't want to recommend VIA or SiS to their enthusiast crowd due to poor overclocking, or being "a bit more quirky" as your article states.
    I'm not going to read all the way through old articles just to try and figure out what these stability and reliability issues mighy be (mainly because most of the articles are so old that a BIOS update could easily have made any stability issues invalid). Well I lied a little, I did briefly look through the VIA board articles within the last year and found no stability issues at stock settings. In fact, the only stability issues I saw mentioned in an article happened when "we tried to exceed the SPD settings of our DDR memory modules" but the next line reads "We did not experience these same issues with our DDR2 memory modules" (and that article is 1 week shy of 9 months old).

    I hope Anandtech decides to either stop repeating these claims of unstable, unreliable and quirky boards based on VIA & SiS or start reviewing these boards and show its readers why they deserve these remarks.
    Then again if the only thing we as readers get from reviews of these chipsets/boards is complaints about how budget boards are not able to overclock, or the lack of a tweakable BIOS in a sub $60 board then blame the board not the chipset as most people are already aware that budget boards are like this reguardless of what chipset they use.



    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    I know of at least one attempted SiS board review in the past year that was canned because our reviewer could not get the board to function properly (after several BIOS updates and two boards, IIRC). Motherboards (and chipsets) are such an integral part of any computer that I would never skimp in that area. Then again, maybe I'm just too demanding of my computers?

    If you read user reviews of VIA/SiS boards you typically see a pattern that indicates the boards are overall "less reliable" - periodic instabilities and far higher failure rates. Some people report no problems and love the low prices, while others try to do a bit more with their systems and encounter difficulties.

    If you just want to use a computer for office tasks, just about any system will be fine... but then again, if you're doing office work and your computer crashes, you probably won't be too happy. Anyone planning on running a higher-spec GPU should avoid cheaper motherboards IMO, as running a $300+ GPU in a <$75 board is just asking for problems. (For the same reason, I recommend $75+ PSUs for anyone running a CPU+GPU that cost more than $400 combined.)

    Basically, I just can't recommend a questionable motherboard that saves a person $10-$20. The fact that the companies aren't out there promoting their products says something. If they're not proud enough of their work to try hard to get reviews at reputable sites, perhaps it's because they know their boards won't pass muster.

    I actually had a company representative complain to me once about my stress tests being "unrealistic". He asked, "How many people actually try to run Folding@Home and a bunch of gaming benchmarks in sequence?" Basically, the system would crash if I used my script to benchmark games at various resolutions without rebooting in between each run. It's true that a lot of people might never stress a system to that level, but when I've looked at dozens of computers that handle that workload without problems, a system that crashes/locks in the same situation is clearly not as "stable or reliable" as competing solutions. All things being equal, I would recommend a different PC at the same price.

    That's basically how I see the VIA/SiS situation. $10 is about 100 miles of driving, a trip to most restaurants, a two hour movie.... It's not worth the risk just to save $10. If it is, maybe a new computer isn't what you really need; a used PC would probably be just as good and likely a lot cheaper (and possibly faster as well).
    Reply
  • justly - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    I agree with most of what you say, no one wants a system that crashs.
    One thing I do notice though, is that most of your arguments can be atributed to low priced boards, yet the comments I find annoying are the generalizations about chipsets. Do you actually believe a $50 nvidia based board is significantly more stable or reliable than any other chipset? and if you do, couldn't this just be a side effect of being a more popular chipset thus less work programming a bios? I'm sure this isn't what you meant, but going by your comments about motherboard pricing, if I found a $100 SiS based board it should be more stable and reliable than a $50 nvidia board.

    You also want me to read "user reviews"? this doesn't sound like a good way to judge reliability to me. Most user reviews are either in enthusiast fourms like the ones you have here, these usually only rewiew overclocking abilities, or on retail sites like Newegg, and to be honest most of the bad reviews I see there look more like PEBKAC.

    You really haven't cleared up why VIA or SiS chipsets should be considered unreliable or unstable, although your dislike of budget boards is quite evedent.

    I'm not trying to deny you your opinion, I'm just asking that you refrain from singling out specific chipsets if what you are really having a problem with is all budget boards, if there actually is a chipset specific problem please try to get a review published indicating what the problem is.

    BTW if the board that wouldn't function, and had the review canned was a production board I feel sorry for the person that bought it without a proper warning from a review site that knew it was flawed (you don't want to know what I think of the review site that would let this happen).
    Knowing what to expect from a product can help a budget builder as much as it can help an overclocker.
    Reply
  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    I tend to view guids like these through the eyes of my own system, and having a 7900GT at 500/1500, there is little reason to upgrade if I'm going to continue to play games at 1280x1024. However, 22" (widescreen) LCDs have also become a lot cheaper, and with my poor eyes, the 1650x1050 or so resolution will probably work pretty well. That leads me to the great situation I'm apparently in - it looks like my card will fetch around $200 if I sell it, and I have the option of either a perhaps slightly faster X1950pro for $199, basically making it a free change but only slightly faster, or a X1950XT 256meg for only $249. That's a lot of additional card for only $50, and pretty tempting. I cannot see why the $249 part doesn't get the nod for your pick over the 7950GT though. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Despite the fact that they are separated by quite a few cards in the table, the X1950 XT 256MB and the 7950 GT give relatively similar performance. The XT is probably 10-15% faster depending on game, but that's not really enough to mean the difference between one resolution and another in my opinion. You also get 512MB of RAM with the 7950GT, and it tends to overclock better than the XT resulting in performance that is basically equal.

    However, you're right that it is still worth considering, and so I added it to the final table. This is particularly true for people that don't like NVIDIA hardware for whatever reason - just as the 7950GT is worth considering for people that don't like ATI's drivers. Honestly, I'm still unhappy with ATI's drivers overall; they NEED TO DITCH .NET! What's next, writing low level drivers in C# or Jaba (that's big, fat, slow Java for the uninformed)? I know the .NET stuff is just for the UI, but it still blows, and I get about a 45 second delay after Windows loads while the ATI driver starts up. If I weren't running CrossFire, I might not have as many issues with ATI's drivers, though.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    As a side note, Neverwinter Nights 2 appears to require/use .NET 2.0, and for those who have played the game that probably explains a lot of the performance issues. I'm not sure if CrossFire/SLI support is working yet, but I do know that my CrossFire X1900 XT config can't handle running with antialiasing, and/or water reflections/refractions at resolutions above 1280x1024. Seems decent without the AA and water stuff at 1920x1200 with the latest drivers and patch, though. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Something seems to be missing from this part of the last paragraph on page 8.

    quote:

    As another example, we wouldn't recommend upgrading from a GeForce 6800 GT to a GeForce 7600 GT, because even though the latter is faster fair so fundamentally similar in terms of performance.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Weird speech recognition there, I guess. I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be "they are" instead of "fair so"... but I can't honestly remember if that's what I said or not. LOL Reply
  • gerf - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    quote:

    (which is preferred for LCDs were possible)
    On the second page, were should be "where."

    BTW, good article. Laptop integrated's good enough for me though (ex-gamer).
    Reply
  • Noya - Thursday, December 14, 2006 - link

    Chart of best values jumps from about $100 w/rebate to $200+, while a highly overclockable 7900gs can be had for $145 after rebate (about $35 over a 7600GT). Reply

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