Nvidia’s GeForce 9300 chipset

For PC enthusiasts exposed to an almost constant stream of fresh, high-performance hardware, integrated graphics chipsets aren’t terribly exciting. They often arrive astride budget motherboards that lack the features, tweaking options, and attention to detail to which we’ve grown accustomed. What’s worse, the integrated graphics cores themselves are rarely impressive. Game compatibility tends to be a highlight rather than a given in this segment of the market, with performance testing a matter of quantifying how low one must drop the display resolution and in-game detail levels to get even adequate frame rates.

What integrated graphics chipsets lack in spine-tingling excitement they make up for by being rather important products. IGPs dominate the desktop market, and for good reason—gaming performance simply isn’t a priority for the vast majority of PC users. Integrated graphics cores also migrate to budget and thin-and-light notebook platforms where discrete GPUs often aren’t an option. And, of course, the recent addition of Blu-ray decode acceleration has made integrated graphics attractive for home theater and desktop systems tasked primarily with video playback.

AMD’s 780G chipset kicked off this latest generation of integrated graphics products in surprisingly spectacular fashion. It was the first to offload Blu-ray decode, bringing smooth HD movie playback to systems with even budget processors. The 780G also debuted a reasonably competent graphics core ripped from a discrete Radeon GPU, guaranteeing game compatibility and setting a new standard of IGP performance.

Nearly eight months have passed since the 780G launched, and it’s still our favorite integrated graphics chipset. Nvidia took a shot at the champ with its GeForce 8300, and while it largely matched the 780G’s capabilities, it wasn’t quite good enough to win us over. Then AMD piled it on this summer, releasing a 790GX chipset with an even faster graphics core that raised the bar higher still. Intel sells more integrated graphics chipsets than AMD and Nvidia combined, but when its latest G45 Express joined the party, a distinct lack of graphics horsepower kept it from challenging for the integrated graphics crown.

The next integrated graphics chipset in line to take a shot at AMD’s platform prelude to Fusion is Nvidia’s new GeForce 9300. This latest nForce GeForce MCP sports a Core 2-compatible front-side bus and enough graphics punch to take on the 790GX, at least according to Nvidia. If the GeForce 9300 really is that good, it could very well be the best integrated graphics chipset on the market. Naturally, we’ve rounded up the 780G, 790GX, GeForce 8300, and G45 Express, and we’ve pitted them against the 9300 to find out. Buckle up, folks. This is as exciting as integrated graphics gets.

GeForce MCP

As one might expect, the GeForce 9300’s graphics core is its most compelling component. This one element has the potential to take an otherwise drab diesel econobox and turn it into an adorable little hot hatch. At least on paper, the 9300 looks every bit the part. The graphics core is packed with 16 “CUDA processors,” which is twice as many as you get in the GeForce 8300. These shader processors run at 1.2GHz with a 450MHz graphics core. Nvidia is also prepping a GeForce 9400 that bumps clock speeds up to 1.4GHz and 580MHz, respectively. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Apple just announced a new line of MacBooks that will feature GeForce 9400M integrated graphics—a mobile variant of the very GeForce 9300 silicon we’ll be looking at today. Integrated graphics may not be exciting, but at least now it’s cool.

Calling what were formerly shader units CUDA processors might seem like a cheap marketing ploy, but Nvidia has spent a great deal of its marketing focus on its general-purpose GPU computing initiative of late. It may eventually pay off. We have seen early examples of CUDA being used to accelerate video encoding and [email protected], among other tasks. And the GeForce 9300’s shaders can perform PhysX calculations, too.

While it’s probably not a good idea to saddle an IGP with a combined graphics and physics load, the 9300 supports Hybrid PhysX, which allows users to crunch physics calculations on the motherboard GPU while a discrete GPU handles graphics. Nvidia recommends that a GeForce 9500 GT be paired with the 9300 for Hybrid PhysX, stating that using a faster discrete graphics card can actually result in slower performance.

Nvidia hasn’t forgotten about more traditional GPU teaming with the GeForce 9300. The performance-enhancing component of Hybrid SLI, known as GeForce Boost, is supported, except again, it only works with relatively low-end graphics cards. Motherboard and discrete GPUs must be evenly matched for GeForce Boost to improve performance, and that limits the GeForce 9300 to working in tandem with the GeForce 8400 GS and 8500 GT, and presumably their newer GeForce 9-series derivatives.

Even support for HybridPower has made it into the GeForce 9300, although according to Nvidia, it will only be available “in select designs.” This unique-to-Nvidia technology allows a powerful discrete graphics card to be completely shut down at idle, with the motherboard GPU taking over graphics duties until additional horsepower is required. HybridPower can dramatically reduce a gaming rig’s idle power consumption, so it’s good for your carbon footprint, but not terribly applicable to most integrated graphics systems.

These days, integrated graphics cores are more than just 3D pixel-pushing engines. The GeForce 9300 also features dedicated hardware for Blu-ray decode acceleration across MPEG2, VC-1, and AVC/H.264 formats. Decode acceleration can be applied to two video streams, allowing the 9300 to smoothly play back newer titles that feature picture-in-picture video commentary tracks. Nvidia’s PureVideo HD umbrella includes a full suite of post-processing capabilities, too, although we’ve found that commercial Blu-ray movies tend not to need additional image quality massaging.

The GeForce 9300’s robust graphics core is backed by a wide selection of output options, including VGA, DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort. Up to two digital displays can be powered simultaneously, which is a nice perk for multimonitor desktops. Home theater PC aficionados will no doubt appreciate the chipset’s ability to output lossless multi-channel LPCM audio over HDMI, as well. Neither the 780G nor the 790GX supports multi-channel LCPM output over HDMI, although the G45 Express and GeForce 8300 both do.

Since Intel’s current processors don’t have integrated memory controllers, Nvidia had to build one of its own for the GeForce 9300. This dual-channel controller takes advantage of dirt-cheap memory prices with support for DDR2 DIMMs up to 800MHz, and it’s set up nicely for the future with support for DDR3 memory up to 1333MHz.

The GeForce 9300’s memory controller sits on a front-side bus that scales up to 1333MHz. That’s fast enough for all of Intel’s existing processors, with the exception of the Core 2 Extreme QX9770, which is entirely too expensive to pair with a budget motherboard. The latest GeForce MCP is up-to-date on the PCI Express front, too. Nvidia has endowed the 9300 with 20 lanes of gen-two connectivity, leaving enough bandwidth for a full-speed x16 slot and a small collection of expansion slots and peripherals.

AMD 780G AMD 790GX Intel G45 Express Nvidia GeForce 8300 Nvidia GeForce 9300
Processor interface 16-bit/2GHz HyperTransport 16-bit/2GHz HyperTransport 800/1066/1333MHz front-side bus 16-bit/2GHz HyperTransport 800/1066/1333MHz front-side bus

PCI Express 1.1 lanes
0 0 6 0 0

PCI Express 2.0 lanes
26* 26* 16 19 20

Multi-GPU support
CrossFire CrossFire NA SLI SLI

Chipset interconnect
PCIe 1.1 x4 PCIe 1.1 x4 DMI NA NA
Interconnect bandwidth 2GB/s 2GB/s 2GB/s NA NA
Serial ATA ports 6 6 6 6
6
AHCI Y Y Y Y
Y
Native Command Queuing Y Y Y Y
Y
RAID 0/1 Y Y Y* Y
Y
RAID 0+1/10 Y Y Y* Y
Y
RAID 5 N Y Y* Y Y
ATA channels 2 2 0 1
1
Max audio channels 8 8 8 8
8
Audio standard AC’97/HDA AC’97/HDA HDA HDA
HDA
Ethernet N N 10/100/1000 10/100/1000
10/100/1000
USB ports 12 12 12 12
12

Normally, this is where I’d try to come up with a clever interconnect segue down to the south bridge, but the GeForce 9300 is actually a single-chip solution. The chipset’s graphics and core logic functionality are neatly consolidated on a single piece of silicon. So, back to the chipset’s features.

The rest of the GeForce 9300’s payload doesn’t differ from what’s already available in the GeForce 8300 chipset. On the storage front, Nvidia serves up six 300MB/s Serial ATA ports with full support for RAID and AHCI. You also get a dozen USB ports and an integrated Gigabit Ethernet MAC.

GeForce 9300 by MSI
Introducing the P7NGM-Digital

Manufacturer MSI
Model P7NGM-Digital
Price (Estimated) $110-$120
Availability Soon

The GeForce 9300 arrived at The Benchmarking Sweatshop riding MSI’s P7NGM-Digital motherboard. As one might expect from an integrated graphics platform, the board uses a Micro ATX form factor that can easily slide into unobtrusive desktop and home theater PC enclosures. Using the smaller form factor does limit expansion capacity a little, but the whole point behind an integrated graphics chipset is to avoid having to farm out functionality to discrete components.

MSI expects the P7NGM to start selling today with a street price between $110 and $120. That price range puts the board right in the thick of things with rivals based on the G45 Express, 780G, and GeForce 8300. Motherboards based on AMD’s 790GX chipset tend to run around $150, although Biostar makes one that sells for close to $100

Either because motherboard makers are less particular when it comes to budget models or because limited Micro ATX real estate squeezes designers, the P7NGM’s layout is hit and miss. The primary power connector is nicely placed along the edge of the board where associated cabling won’t mess with chassis airflow, but the auxiliary 12V plug is a little too far down the board for my liking. I prefer to see auxiliary 12V connectors pushed to the top edge to ensure that cabling doesn’t sit between the processor heatsink and where most enclosures put their exhaust fans.

Even with all its functionality consolidated in a single chip, the GeForce 9300 needs only a small passive heatsink to stay cool. This heatsink leaves plenty of clearance for the sort of larger aftermarket processor coolers that one might want to put inside a silent home theater PC.

South of the socket, we find the board’s collection of Serial ATA ports. Six internal SATA ports should be more than enough for a budget system, and I could actually stand to see that total drop to five, with the sixth routed to an eSATA plug in the port cluster. Sadly, however, the P7NGM lacks external Serial ATA connectivity.

Even without adding eSATA, MSI could have done a much better job arranging the board’s SATA ports. Longer double-wide graphics cards like Nvidia’s GeForce 9800 GTX block access to the top four ports, leaving only two easily accessible. Granted, you’re unlikely to run a gargantuan video card on an integrated graphics motherboard, but proper port placement should be easy for board designers to get right.

We don’t find any surprises in the P7NGM’s slot stack. In addition to a full-bandwidth PCI Express x16 slot, the board also features an x1 slot and a pair of standard PCI slots.

Around the back, the port cluster serves up everything we’d expect, including a trio of video outputs, analog audio ports, and a dose of Firewire. Ideally we’d like to see a digital S/PDIF audio output included here, particularly because this is the P7NGM-Digital. However, you can at least pass multi-channel digital audio over the board’s HDMI output, provided you’re feeding a compatible receiver or TV.

Realtek predictably provides the hardware behind the board’s audio outputs with a basic ALC888 codec chip that doesn’t support on-the-fly Dolby Digital Live and DTS encoding like the fancier ALC889A. Surprisingly, the crab also supplies a RTL8111C Gigabit Ethernet chip that supplants the GeForce 9300’s embedded GigE MAC. Nvidia chipsets have long integrated networking capabilities, but it seems MSI is more taken with Realtek’s latest Gigabit chip.

Busting into the BIOS

We tend not to expect much from a Micro ATX board’s BIOS, but MSI has done a pretty good job with the P7NGM.


Bus speeds
FSB: 400-2500MHz in 1MHz
increments
DRAM: 400-1400MHz in 1MHz increments

PCIe:
100-200MHz in 1MHz increments

Bus multipliers
NA
Voltages CPU: 1.3125-2.0875V in
0.0125V increments

DRAM: 1.8-2.55V in 0.05V increments

Chipset: 1.06-1.354V in 0.021V increments
FSB: 1.2-1.55 in 0.025V
increments


Monitoring
Voltage, fan
status, and temperature monitoring

Fan speed control
CPU

If you want to dip into overclocking, quad-pumped front-side bus speeds are available between 400 and 2500MHz in 1MHz increments. Users can also set an effective memory clock between 400 and 1400MHz, also in 1MHz increments, and adjust the PCI Express clock between 100 and 200MHz.

Since overclocking can require a little extra voltage, MSI provides CPU voltage options between 1.3125V and an impressive 2.0875V in very fine 0.0125V increments. Chipset, front-side bus, and DRAM voltage manipulation is supported, too, with options for the latter scaling all the way up to 2.55V.

All the usual memory timing options make an appearance in the BIOS, but Nvidia clearly didn’t have lower latency timings in mind when it designed the GeForce 9300. We couldn’t get the MSI board to post with memory modules running with a CAS latency of 4, and an Asus board based on the GeForce 9300 failed to post at CAS 4, as well.

We asked Nvidia about the issue, and they were quick to point out that CAS 4 is an “enthusiast setting.” That’s certainly true; most mainstream DIMMs run at CAS 5 or with even looser timings. However, the 780G, 790GX, G45 Express, and even GeForce 8300 have no problems running with CAS 4 timings. Nvidia plans to work with motherboard partners to get CAS 4 working in future BIOS releases, but support isn’t there yet.

Good fan speed control is particularly important for integrated graphics platforms since they’re often pressed into duty in silent home theater PCs. Fortunately, the P7NGM’s BIOS includes temperature-based fan speed control for the CPU and a measure of control over the system fan speed. Users can set a minimum CPU fan speed and also a target processor temperature between 40 and 70° Celsius. Temperature-based fan speed control isn’t included for the system fan header, but you can at least toggle its speed between 50, 75, and 100%.

Specifics on specifications

As usual, we’ve consolidated all of the motherboard’s vital specifications in a handy chart.


CPU support
LGA775-based Celeron, Pentium
4/D, Core 2 processors

Chipset
Nvidia GeForce 9300

Expansion slots
1 PCI Express x16

1 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz PCI


Memory
4 240-pin DIMM
sockets

Maximum of 16GB of DDR2-667/800 SDRAM


Storage I/O
Floppy disk

1 channel ATA/133 via JMicron JMB368

6 channels 300MB/s Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 10, 5 support

Audio 8-channel HD audio via Realtek
ALC888 codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 VGA
1 DVI

1 HDMI

4 USB 2.0 with
headers for 6 more

1 RJ45 10/100/1000
via Realtek RTL8111C

1 1394a Firewire via
JMicron JMB381 with header for 1 more

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out

1 analog rear out

1 analog surround out

1 analog line in

1 analog mic in

We’ve covered most of what the P7NGM has to offer already, so there isn’t much to see here. However, do note that the board’s Firewire connectivity is provided by a JMicron chip. Firewire chips from Texas Instruments and Via have been very popular over the last couple of years, but JMicron appears to be making inroads, at least on budget motherboards.

One more thing

Although it arrived at our labs too late for testing, Asus sent over its take on the GeForce 9300: the P5N7A-VM.

The P5N7A-VM certainly has a smart layout, with its 12V power connector sitting next to the top edge of the board and its Serial ATA ports far enough from the PCI Express x16 slot to avoid graphics cooler clearance problems. Bravo, Asus.

Even more impressive is the board’s port cluster, which packs just about everything that matters, including eSATA, HDMI, and DisplayPort connectivity alongside an S/PDIF audio output.

Our testing methods

We try to test products on an even playing field here at TR, but the GeForce 9300’s refusal to work with a CAS 4 memory timing threw us for a loop. All of our other integrated graphics boards have no problem running our Corsair DIMMs at 4-4-4-12, but the best the GeForce 9300 could muster was 5-4-4-12.

Rather than artificially handicapping the rest of the field, we elected to run the GeForce 9300 at 5-4-4-12 timings while the pack stayed at 4-4-4-12. This puts the 9300 at a bit of a disadvantage, but we see little reason to cut Nvidia any slack here.

All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged.

Processor

AMD Athlon X2 4850e 2.5GHz


Intel Pentium E2180 2.0GHz
System bus 1GHz HyperTransport 800MHz (200MHz
quad-pumped)

800MHz (200MHz
quad-pumped)
Motherboard

Asus M3N78 PRO


Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-DS2H
Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H MSI G45M-FIDR
MSI P7NGM-Digital
Bios revision 0403 F1 F1 1.1
1.0
North bridge Nvidia GeForce 8300 AMD 780G AMD 790GX Intel G45 Express Nvidia GeForce 9300
South bridge AMD SB700 AMD SB750 Intel ICH10R
Chipset drivers ForceWare 15.24 Catalyst 8.9 Catalyst 8.9 Chipset: 9.0.0.1011

Graphics: 15.2


Chipset: ForceWare 20.07

Graphics: ForceWare 178.13

Memory size 2GB (2 DIMMs) 2GB (2 DIMMs) 2GB (2 DIMMs) 2GB (2 DIMMs)
2GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type
Corsair
TWIN2X2048-8500C5

DDR2 SDRAM at
~800MHz
CAS latency
(CL)
4 4 4 4
5

RAS to CAS delay (tRCD)
4 4 4 4
4
RAS precharge
(tRP)
4 4 4 4
4
Cycle time
(tRAS)
12 12 12 12
12
Audio codec Realtek
ALC1200
with 2.04 drivers
Realtek
ALC889A
with 2.04 drivers
Realtek
ALC889A
with 2.04 drivers
Realtek
ALC888
with 2.04 drivers

Realtek
ALC888
with 2.04 drivers

Hard drive


Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB
SATA

O


Windows Vista Ultimate x86
with Service Pack 1

Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing.

All of our test systems were powered by OCZ GameXStream 700W power supply units. Thanks to OCZ for providing these units for our use in testing.

Finally, we’d like to thank Western Digital for sending Raptor WD1500ADFD hard drives for our test rigs.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Memory performance

Memory subsystem performance doesn’t always track with real-world applications, but it’s a good place to start with integrated graphics chipsets that cannibalize a portion of system memory and therefore bandwidth.

With a higher CAS latency than the other systems, it’s no surprise to see the GeForce 9300 fall to the back of the field in our memory subsystem tests. Then again, we wouldn’t expect going up just one tick in that memory timing setting to produce the much higher total latency we’re seeing with the 9300. Indeed, Nvidia expects memory performance to improve with the next GeForce 9300 driver revision. They say the current driver doesn’t enable an Advance Path feature that supposedly provides a lower latency data path for memory reads and writes. Looking at the chipset’s pokey memory access latency, there’s clearly room for a lot of improvement.

Some motherboards don’t cope well when all their DIMM slots are populated, so we threw a couple of extra memory modules into the systems for some four-DIMM testing.

Loading the GeForce 9300 up with memory modules doesn’t change the picture much. Nvidia’s latest MCP still lags behind the G45 Express, which puts it well off the pace set by the 780G and 790GX.

You don’t see any four-DIMM results for the GeForce 8300 because the particular Asus board we used for testing has problems running with four memory modules. We’ve had four-DIMM configs working on one other GeForce 8300 board, though, so the issue doesn’t appear to be chipset-related.

The following latency graphs are a little indulgent, so I won’t be offended if you skip them. They show access latencies across multiple block and step sizes, painting a fuller picture of memory controller performance with each chipset. I’ve arranged the graphs in order of highest latency to lowest. Yellow represents L1 cache, light orange is L2, and dark orange is main memory.

These results are from our two-DIMM configs and nicely illustrate the GeForce 9300’s higher access latencies.

STARS Euler3d computational fluid dynamics

Few folks run fluid dynamics simulations on their desktops, but we’ve found this multi-threaded test to be particularly demanding of memory subsystems, making it a good link between our memory and application performance tests.

Despite a memory timing handicap, the GeForce 9300 is only a hair behind the 790GX in our Euler3d fluid dynamics benchmark. That still puts it well off the pace set by the G45 Express, though.

WorldBench

WorldBench uses scripting to step through a series of tasks in common Windows applications. It then produces an overall score. WorldBench also spits out individual results for its component application tests, allowing us to compare performance in each. We’ll look at the overall score, and then we’ll show individual application results alongside the results from some of our own application tests.

The GeForce 9300 hits its stride in WorldBench, posting the highest overall score of the lot, albeit by only one point.

Photoshop CS2 is too old to support GPU acceleration for features like zooming, rotation, and flick panning, but the GeForce 9300 still turns in the fastest time in that test. Otherwise, the 9300 hangs with the G45 Express, which is good company to keep in a 2D desktop app.

WorldBench’s Firefox tests have always preferred lower memory access latencies, so it’s no surprise to see the GeForce 9300 stumbling in the standalone browser and multitasking tests.

The 3dsmax tests included in WorldBench are split between a rendering workload bound by CPU horsepower and a modeling test that can benefit from a speedy graphics core. Clearly, the GeForce 9300 has a superior graphics core to the G45 Express.

The GeForce 9300 has to settle for the middle of the pack in WorldBench’s Nero test, but Nvidia’s latest MCP races out to a healthy lead in WinZip.

Gaming

Even the best integrated graphics chipsets lack the horsepower necessary to run recent games with all their eye candy turned up, so we had to tweak the in-game detail levels a little in all the games we tested. In Call of Duty 4, we turned off most in-game details and dropped the resolution to 800×600. Half-Life 2 Episode Two was also dropped to 800×600 with medium detail levels set across the board. For Crysis, we naturally set the lowest detail level possible at the lowest supported resolution of 800×600. Ambition got the better of us in Quake Wars, though. Here we were able to get surprisingly decent performance running the game at 1024×768 with high in-game detail levels.

The GeForce 9300 nearly runs the table in our gaming tests, beating even the 790GX in Crysis, Call of Duty 4, and Quake Wars. Only in Half-Life 2 Episode Two does Nvidia’s latest fall to second place, and even then, it’s less than two frames per second out of the lead.

Curious to see how additional eye candy affected the performance of the GeForce 9300 and 790GX, we cranked Half-Life 2 Episode Two and Call of Duty 4 up to high detail, keeping the display resolution at 800×600. In Episode Two, the two IGPs were evenly matched, both posting average frame rates around 34 FPS. Call of Duty 4 switched things up a little, dropping the 9300 to second place with 23.6 FPS while the 790GX was able to manage just under 27 frames per second.

HD Video playback

With HD DVD essentially dead, we confined our video playback tests to Blu-ray movies with the highest bitrates we could find for each of the format’s three encoding types. For VC-1 encoding, we settled on Nature’s Journey, which is packed with ridiculously gorgeous loops of nature scenes. On the AVC front (otherwise known as H.264), the highest bitrates we could get our hands on came with the fast zombie flick 28 Days Later. We had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for MPEG2, eventually settling on Click. For whatever reason, an Adam Sandler comedy is encoded with a higher bitrate than other MPEG2 movies.

We used the latest version of PowerDVD 8 Ultra (build 2021a) for playback and enabled hardware acceleration within the application. CPU utilization was logged for 60 seconds of playback with each movie, and the results were averaged. Movies were played back in fullscreen mode with the desktop resolution set to 1920×1080, or 1080p.

The GeForce 9300 is all over the map here. It has the lowest CPU utilization with our MPEG2 movie, but drops to the middle of the pack with AVC content, and into the back with VC-1. VC-1 decoding appears to be a weakness of Nvidia’s PureVideo hardware, but even with 48% CPU utilization, Blu-ray playback was silky smooth on our Pentium E2180-equipped system.

After watching these Blu-ray movies play back on each integrated graphics platform, I’m confident that they all deliver comparable image quality. If you’re watching commercial Blu-ray movies, there’s no need to mess with the image post-processing features available in these IGPs.

Serial ATA performance

The Serial ATA disk controller is one of the most important components of a modern core logic chipset, so we threw each platform a selection of I/O-intensive storage tests using a Western Digital VelociRaptor. The 780G and 790GX are at a disadvantage here because we’re running them in native IDE mode, which doesn’t support Native Command Queuing. AMD’s south bridge chips must be run in AHCI mode to enable command queuing, but performance problems associated with that mode in both the company’s SB600, SB700, and SB750 south bridge chips remain a thorn in the side of both the 780G and the 790GX.

IOMeter

We’ll begin our storage tests with IOMeter, which subjects our systems to increasing multi-user loads. Testing was restricted to IOMeter’s workstation and database test patterns, since those are more appropriate for desktop systems than the file or web server test patterns.

An AHCI mode that actually works pays big dividends for the GeForce 9300, which easily outruns the AMD chipsets in IOMeter. The 9300 essentially ties the GeForce 8300 and G45 Express here.

Response times cast a different light on IOMeter performance, and again, the GeForce 9300 is much snappier than either AMD chipset.

Of all the chipsets running in AHCI mode (and thus delivering significantly better IOMeter performance), the GeForce 9300’s CPU utilization is the lowest. Only a couple of percentage points separate the 9300 from the G45, though.

HD Tach

We used HD Tach 3.01’s 8MB zone test to measure basic SATA throughput and latency.

The GeForce 9300 doesn’t really distinguish itself in HD Tach’s burst and sustained read speed tests, but it races out to a healthy lead in the sustained write speed test.

HD Tach’s margin of error in the CPU utilization test is +/- 2%, and that still gives the GeForce 9300 a healthy advantage over the G45 Express.

USB performance

Our USB transfer speed tests were conducted with a USB 2.0/Firewire external hard drive enclosure connected to a 7,200-RPM Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 hard drive. We tested with HD Tach 3.01’s 8MB zone setting.

Although its CPU utilization isn’t the lowest of the lot, the GeForce 9300 boasts the best all-around USB performance of any integrated graphics chipset. Most impressive is the GeForce’s write speeds, which are 3MB/s faster than those of its closest competitors.

PCI Express performance

We used ntttcp to test PCI Express Ethernet throughput using a Marvell 88E8052-based PCI Express x1 Gigabit Ethernet card.

PCI Express Ethernet throughput doesn’t vary much from one chipset to the next, but the GeForce 9300’s CPU utilization in this test is a little higher than some of the other chipsets.

PCI performance

To test PCI performance, we used the same ntttcp test methods and a PCI VIA Velocity GigE NIC.

The GeForce 9300’s PCI Ethernet throughput and CPU utilization put it in the middle of the pack.

Power consumption

We measured system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet using a Watts Up Pro power meter. Power consumption was measured at idle and under a load consisting of a multi-threaded Cinebench 10 render running in parallel with the “rthdribl” high dynamic range lighting demo. Results that fall under “No power management” were obtained with Windows Vista running in high-performance mode, while those with power management enabled were taken with Vista in its balanced performance mode.

Both at idle and under load, the GeForce 9300 consumes about seven more watts than our G45-based system. That’s not a terrible margin given the GeForce’s significantly more potent graphics core, especially when you consider that the platform’s load power consumption is still lower than that of the 780G and 790GX.

Overclocking

Micro ATX motherboards aren’t often overclocked, but with official support for front-side bus speeds up to 1333MHz, the GeForce 9300 has plenty of headroom available if you want to crank the clocks on a budget Intel processor. But how would MSI’s P5NGM-Digital fare when pushing a processor beyond stock speeds? To find out, we dropped the board’s memory bus speed to 400MHz to take our DIMMs out of the equation and started bumping up the front-side bus speed, testing stability with a dual-core Prime95 load along the way.

We’ve had our Pentium E2180 up to 3.1GHz with its default voltage, and the P7NGM fell just short of that mark, making it up to a stable 3GHz. At higher speeds, the board wouldn’t give us a video signal, even with additional processor and chipset voltages applied. We even tried a virgin sacrifice, to no avail.

Motherboard peripheral performance

Core logic chipsets integrate a wealth of peripherals, but they don’t handle everything. Firewire, Ethernet, and audio are farmed out to auxiliary chips, for example. To provide a closer look at the peripheral performance you can expect from the motherboards we’ve tested today, we’ve complied Firewire, Ethernet, and audio performance results below. We’ve used motherboard rather than chipset names here because these performance characteristics reflect the auxiliary peripheral chips used on each board rather than the performance of the core logic chipset.

Ethernet performance
Throughput (Mbps) CPU utilization (%)

Asus M3N78 PRO
825 52.4

Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-DS2H
938 20.9

Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H
940 28.7

MSI G45M-FIDR
944 23.9

MSI P7NGM-Digital
940 31.9

MSI’s decision to ditch the GeForce 9300’s integrated Gigabit Ethernet controller in favor of a Realtek solution doesn’t look like a bad one. The board delivers competitive networking performance, although we’ve seen lower CPU utilization from other implementations of this particular Realtek chip.

HD Tach
Firewire performance

Read burst

speed (MB/s)


Average read

speed (MB/s)


Average write

speed (MB/s)


CPU utilization

(%)


Asus M3N78 PRO
40.3 32.0 24.6 2.3

Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-DS2H
42.0 37.5 24.1 2.7

Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H
42.1 37.6 24.7 2.3

MSI G45M-FIDR
34.5 31.8 13.2 1.3

MSI P7NGM-Digital
34.5 31.7 13.3 1.0

Note to motherboard makers: avoid JMicron’s Firewire chip. It’s slow across the board, and the P7NGM suffers as a result.

RightMark Audio
Analyzer audio quality

Overall score

Frequency response

Noise level

Dynamic range

THD

THD + Noise

IMD + Noise

Stereo Crosstalk

IMD at 10kHz

Asus M3N78 PRO
4 5 4 4 3 1 3 5 3

Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-DS2H
4 5 5 5 3 1 3 6 3

Gigabyte GA-MA790GP-DS4H
4 5 4 4 3 1 3 5 3

MSI G45M-FIDR
4 5 4 4 3 1 3 5 3

MSI P7NGM-Digital
4 5 5 5 3 1 3 6 3

Despite a pedestrian ALC888 codec chip, the P7NGM matches the RightMark Audio Analyzer scores of Gigabyte’s GA-MA78GM-DS2H, which features Realtek’s flagship ALC889A codec.

Conclusions

So, is the GeForce 9300 the best integrated graphics chipset around? On paper, it should be. In practice, I think it could be. But it’s not quite there yet.

The GeForce 9300 certainly has a lot going for it, especially if you want to run an Intel processor. In that realm, its only real competition is the G45 Express, whose anemic gaming performance looks all the more inadequate next to the 9300’s potent graphics core. The GeForce all but guarantees broader game compatibility and fewer headaches with newer titles, too—issues that continue to dog Intel’s integrated graphics chipsets.

The only integrated graphics chipset to give the GeForce 9300 a run for its money in games is AMD’s 790GX, but it was slower in three of the games we tested and only barely faster in the fourth. The 790GX is really more of a bizarro hybrid CrossFire platform than a traditional integrated graphics chipset, so I’m not convinced it directly competes with the GeForce 9300. The latest batch of 780G boards are much more appropriate rivals, and even when equipped with SidePort memory as our 780G board was today, they simply don’t have the grunt to keep up with the GeForce in games.

Nvidia has the best integrated graphics core for gaming, then. It also has a competent PureVideo HD decode engine that brings creamy smoothness to 1080p Blu-ray playback. And let’s not forget that the GeForce 9300 fared very well in our peripheral performance tests, exhibiting excellent SATA throughput and the quickest USB controller of the lot. Even the GeForce 9300’s power consumption—a notorious weakness of Nvidia chipsets—is reasonable.

So if the GeForce 9300 has all this going for it, why isn’t it the best integrated graphics chipset on the market? Because it doesn’t feel finished yet. Nvidia has yet to get CAS 4 memory timings working with motherboards, and while that probably won’t affect the vast majority of prospective users, it gives me the impression that this chipset was rushed out the door. Also, Nvidia has admitted that an Advance Path feature that should lower memory access latencies isn’t even enabled in the current drivers. The GeForce 9300 needs a little polish.

Fortunately for Nvidia, the GeForce 9300’s hardware foundation appears to be solid. Assuming that Advance Path can be made to work properly, all that’s needed is a round of BIOS and driver updates to tie up the platform’s loose ends. With those issues resolved, I’d heartily recommend the GeForce 9300 for home theater PCs and consumer desktops alike.

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jalyst
jalyst
13 years ago

not watching this thread anymore, & as this forum doesn’t email you upon response, if anyone wants to reply you’re best using jedi.theone at gmail etc.

adios

jalyst
jalyst
13 years ago

Guess not…. 🙁

jalyst
jalyst
13 years ago
Reply to  jalyst

anyone? any thoughts/opinions?

jalyst
jalyst
13 years ago

But what about as a base for a NAS? How does the 730I/9X00 compare to Intel’s Q45?
Yes I know both are major overkill but it prolly wont end-up as purely a NAS…

I don’t care about GPU comparisons (but all the reviews around seem to focus on that!) what’s more important to me is….

Mem-CPU performance/expandability,
SB I/O performance/features…
RAID performance/features….
Top-notch BIOS (depends entirely on mobo OEM I guess)
Moderate OC’er
Nice touches like: VT-d, TXT…
And others which I forget, damn my goldfish memory!

jonybiskit
jonybiskit
13 years ago
Reply to  Jigar

…ultra fail

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