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ATI Radeon 9100 IGP Chipset Preview

October 12, 2003



When NVIDIA started developing integrated chipsets the expectations were fabulous - some predicted even the soon death of external video cads. However, the problems related with insufficient RAM throughput didn't let them get high 3D speeds with the integrated graphics - x86 mainboards with 256bit buses couldn't help it, and the memory had to be standard because it was shared between the processor and integrated graphics core. Nevertheless, the 3D scores of the second chipset - NVIDIA nForce2 - were pleasantly high. Although they were still much lower than those of the mid-range add-in cards, that integrated chipset was the only such solution ensuring more or less good performance in games.

ATI and Intel actually had nothing to offer. The former failed to push its desktop chipsets Radeon IGP 320/330/340 into the mass market, and the latter didn't make any visible steps to equip its leading platform with fast integrated 3D. Although the performance bar grew up with the i845G/i845GE/i865G, the speeds were still far from the nForce2.

Early this year we tested mainboards based on ATI's chipsets designed for Socket 478 and Socket A. The scores were very bad: the industry leading partners promised by ATI (including FIC and Gigabyte) had nothing to offer us, and the boards from other companies were slower even than integrated solutions from VIA and SiS in non-gaming applications, while 3D performance was the same (sure, they were much weaker even than the first nForce). Today we are pleased to present one more integrated 3D solution for the Socket 478 platform - ATI's new chipset named Radeon 9100 IGP. ATI says that its integrated graphics core is based on the Radeon 9200, which stands on the level of the GeForce4 MX in nForce2. Let's see if it's a really good solution. 

Official specification of the Radeon 9100 IGP

General specification:

  • Classical architecture: North Bridge (IGP - Integrated Graphics Processor) and South Bridge (IXP - IO Communication Processor) interconnected with the A-Link bus




  • 9100 IGP:
    • Intel Pentium 4/Celeron at FSB 400/533/800MHz supported
    • Hyper-Threading supported
    • Dual-channel (128-bit) DDR SDRAM interface
    • Memory clock up to DDR400
    • Up to 4GB with two unbuffered modules at most
    • AGP 3.0 (AGP 8x) compliant, Fast Writes
    • Unified Memory Architecture (UMA)
    • Frame buffer, 16 to 128 MB
    • 266MB/s interface to South Bridge





  • IXP 150 (IXP 200 and IXP 250 pin compatible):
    • Up to 3 PCI Bus-Master devices
    • 2 IDE (Parallel ATA) channels with support up to ATA100
    • Up to 6 USB 2.0 ports
    • Integrated 3Com 10/100 Mbit/s Ethernet controller
    • LPC interface for Super I/O controller

Integrated graphics core (Radeon 9200):

  • 3D:
    • Proprietary hierarchical HyperZ buffer
    • Pixel shaders 1.4 supported in hardware
    • Volume and compression textures supported
    • texture anisotropic filtering
    • Full Screen Anti-Aliasing (FSAA)
    • Up to 2048x1536x32

  • Video:
    • Hardware support for Motion Compensation / iDCT
    • Enhanced hardware MPEG2/DVD decoder

  • 2D:
    • Optimized 128-bit core
    • Up to 2048x1536x32
    • full hardware support for GDI (including 2D acceleration specific for Windows XP)

  • Display controller:
    • 2 CRTC displays supported
    • Display rotation support
    • DDC and hot plugging support
    • Integrated 300MHz RAMDAC

  • LCD panel supported:
    • 12-bit digital interface with support for DVI/DFP/VESA P&D (via external TDMS)
    • Up to 1600x1200

  • TV-out:
    • Integrated TV-encoder with Composite/S-Video/RGB interfaces
    • PAL/NTSC formats supported
    • Up to 1024x768x32

Software and drivers:

  • Driver support for DirectX 8.1 and OpenGL
  • Integrated graphics core drivers shared with Radeon chips (Catalyst)
  • Microsoft Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows Me supported

In short, the Radeon 9100 IGP has functionality very close to the Intel 865G. Let's compare them. Definitely, the Radeon 9100 IGP has a more advanced graphics core regarding resolutions supported, video, dual-monitor support and integrated TV-Out. The memory controller is probably better as well (we can check if it's so), as well as 3D speed of the integrated graphics core.

On the other hand, it has a weaker south bridge deprived of the Serial ATA or ATA133. Although many don't care about it but it's not a good sign not to have features supported in all solutions from other leading companies (regarding this platform). The FSB 800MHz looks suspicious because at the time of release it supported only 533 MHz and the support for 800 MHz wasn't voiced separately. But it's not difficult to check if its operation is stable or not as there are tests that can heavily load the FSB. 

Performance

ATI's chipset is compared to its direct competitor i865G. We have a clear idea on Intel's product and we can estimate the Radeon 9100 IGP in comparison with any other chipsets through the i865G (which in case of the external card performs identically to the i865PE).

Testbed:

  • Processor: Intel Pentium 4 3.2 GHz (16x200 MHz) with Hyper-Threading enabled, Socket 478
  • Mainboards:
  • Memory: 2x256 MB PC4000(DDR500) DDR SDRAM DIMM OCZ (CL 2 used as DDR400)
  • External video card: Manli ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 256 MB
  • Hard drive: Western Digital WD360 (SATA), 10,000 rpm (IDE-SATA SABR200HV adapter)

Software

  • OS and drivers:
    • Windows XP Professional SP1
    • DirectX 9.0b
    • Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility 5.0.2.1003
    • Intel Graphics Driver PV13.3.2
    • ATI Catalyst 3.7
    • ATI Catalyst 3.6 (для R9100 IGP)
    • ATI GART Driver 5.0.2196.1007
    • ATI SMBus Driver ot 16.12.2002

  • Test applications:
    • Cachemem 2.4MMX
    • 7-Zip 2.30
    • WinRAR 3.20
    • VirtualDub 1.5.4 + DivX codec 5.05a Pro
    • Gray Matter Studios & Nerve Software Return to Castle Wolfenstein v1.1
    • Croteam/GodGames Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v1.07
    • Digital Extremes/Epic Games/Atari Unreal Tournament 2003 v2225

Board Canyon 9I6GM-L Sapphire Axion 9100 IGP
Links Canyon 9I6GM-L Sapphire Axion 9100 IGP
Chipset Intel 865G (RG82865G + FW82801EB) ATI Radeon 9100 IGP (9100IGP + IXP150)
CPU support Socket 478, Intel Pentium 4 (HT support), Intel Celeron
Memory slots 2 DDR 2 DDR
Expansion slots AGP/ 3 PCI AGP/ 3 PCI
I/O ports 1 FDD, 2 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2 1 FDD, 1 COM, 1 LPT, 2 PS/2
USB 4 USB 2.0 + 2 connectors with 2 USB 2.0 4 USB 2.0 + 1 connector with 2 USB 2.0
FireWire - -
Integrated ATA controller ATA100 + SATA ATA100
External ATA controller - -
Audio C-Media CMI9739A AC'97 codec Avance Logic ALC650 AC'97 codec
LAN controller Realtek RTL8100L (Fast Ethernet) Realtek RTL8100C (Fast Ethernet)
I/O controller Winbond W83627HF-AW ITE IT8712F-A
BIOS 2 Mbit Phoenix AwardBIOS v6.00PG 4 Mbit Phoenix Award WorkstationBIOS v6.00PG
Form-factor, dimensions mATX, 24.5x20 cm mATX, 24.5x23 cm
Average current price (quantity of supplies) $107(4) n/a(0)

Test results

Note: "int"/"ext" stands for internal/external graphics.

In applications critical to the memory access speed the Radeon 9100 IGP falls far behind the Intel chipset (up to 20% in archiving), especially in case of the add-in card, i.e. when the memory bus is not loaded additionally with the graphics core. It indicates that the memory controller of ATI's new chipset is pretty weak. On the other hand, in real applications (archivers) the difference is noticeably less than in the low-level Cachemem benchmark. The weakest point of the Radeon 9100 IGP is the read speed.

In the video encoding test it loses only 6%, but even paired with the external card it still falls behind the integrated i865G. However, in some applications (like MP3 encoding or final rendering in 3ds max) the performance less depends on memory and the R9100 IGP can catch up.

Now comes the most interesting - 3D games!

While with the external card the ATI chipset still loses the battle (about 10%), the integrated graphics core helps it smash the i865G into pieces. It loses only once - in Return to Castle Wolfenstein in the low resolution at 16-bit color (where the performance is most likely limited by the memory throughput rather than by the 3D accelerator). 

Summary

  1. ATI's new chipset looks a successful solution in spite of its downsides - the poorly equipped south bridge and a low RAM speed. It turns out a success thanks to the integrated 3D accelerator. Such integrated graphics has decent playability. With rich video handling functions and TV-Out the computer turns into a good inexpensive home solution. The visual quality at 1024x768x32 is excellent (integrated chipsets are often blamed for blurry images). We believe that the 2D quality of the Radeon 9100 IGP is simply the same as that of ATI's external cards.
  2. ATI Radeon 9100 IGP coupled with an external card doesn't make much sense. The boards on this chipset will be slower than i865PE based boards, with the price being the same or higher. That is why the R9100 IGP makes sense if you are going to use only the integrated graphics.
  3. The issue on the actual memory access speed is still open. It's possible that it's either the board or the drivers to blame - the board is still a preproduction sample, while the drivers are not new at all, and we hope that by the time the product appears on the market the drivers will be updated. Besides, BIOS can affect as well... 

So, the Socket 478 platform has finally got a chipset with a good speed of the integrated 3D accelerator. The Socket A feels better as it has the nForce2 IGP at its disposal, and Intel's platform is still deprived of speedy integrated 3D graphics. 
  

Stanislav Garmatyuk (nawhi@ixbt.com)
Dmitry Mayorov (destrax@ixbt.com)

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