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In many respects the Nvidia GeForce 9300M chipset at the heart of this Asus P5N7A-VM motherboard is an utterly logical product as it combines the Core 2 processor with decent integrated graphics. Nvidia tried something similar with the GeForce 7000 series of chipsets which we saw when we reviewed the MSI P6NGM-FD and while the graphics were capable of movie playback they scored about 400 marks in 3DMark06 and weren't up to the task of playing any game more demanding than FreeCell.
Nvidia's next integrated graphics core was the GeForce 8300 which featured in the Asus M3N78 Pro. This was a far more impressive piece of silicon and scored 1,300 marks in 3DMark06 however it was allied to the Phenom processor and wasn't available for Core 2. It may sound as though Nvidia took its eye off the ball as Phenom has very little appeal compared to Core 2 but it took pains to ensure that GeForce 8300 was slightly faster than the AMD 780G chipset. If you were building a Media Centre around an AMD processor you now had to make a choice between Nvidia and AMD graphics but surely Nvidia had the Core 2 IGP market all sown up?
In a word, no.
Intel's G35 wasn't much better than the G965 in terms of performance as both IGPs score about 600 marks in 3DMark06 but the G45 is a completely different proposition as we saw with the Intel DG45ID motherboard. G45 has decent digital outputs, proper movie playback and scores 1,200 in 3DMark06 so the time is clearly ripe for a new Nvidia chipset, and that time is now.
Nvidia has launched a pair of chipsets that are identical apart from the speed of the graphics core. The GeForce 9300M and 9400M chips are fabricated using a 65nm process and have a 32W TDP. They support Core 2 Duo with dual channel DDR2-800 or DDR3-1333 memory. The graphics core supports DirectX 10.0 and Shader Model 4 using 16 Unified Shaders; the 9300M runs at 450MHz Core/1,200MHz Shaders while the 9400M has a 580MHz Core and 1,400MHz Shader clock speeds. Graphics memory is shared system memory so the speed is likely to be 800MHz as we doubt there will be many DDR3 versions of this chip on the market.
Nvidia tells us that the 9300M graphics core has slightly lower performance than a dedicated GeForce 8400GS graphics card. We don't have a comparison for 9400M yet except to say it's what the new range of MacBooks will be sporting. There are 20 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 so you can expect a proper x16 graphics slot on Micro-ATX motherboards while Mini-ITX designs will have to rely on the 9300/9400 graphics.
It's a single chip that combines the Northbridge with an nForce 730i Southbridge that supports Gigabit Ethernet, six SATA or eSATA ports with RAID, 7.1 HD audio, up to 2 USB 2.0 ports and a sprinkling of PCI and PCIe expansions slots.
Ordinarily we would expect review samples to use the fastest version of a new chip however the Asus P5N7A-VM has a 9300M core but we hope in time to see the P5N7A-EM which has the GeForce 9400M core. At present we don't have a price for the P5N7A-EM so we've made an educated estimate and reckon it will be a rather expensive £80-£85. The 9400M version won't be any cheaper so the new chip will be the same price as the Intel DG45ID.