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Before we consider this comparison let's take a quick look at the Asus P5N7A-VM which really won't take long. It's a Micro-ATX design with four DDR2 memory slots, a graphics slot, a laid-down ATA133 connector and five vertical SATA connectors. There are three USB headers across the foot of the board along with some unused parts that have been marked for a TPM connector and a Firewire chip. Five SATA connectors may sound weird but the sixth connection has been used for an eSATA port on the IO panel along with six USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit LAN, the audio connectors and no less than four graphics outputs in the shape of VGA, DVI-I, HDMI and DisplayPort. It's hard to find fault with that little lot.
The chipset is passively cooled with a heatsink that uses a loop of heatpipe that appears to be included for cosmetic effect as it has no obvious function. During testing the heatsink reached a relatively warm 54 degrees Celsius under load until we added a case fan to reduce the temperature.
Nvidia's briefing about 9300M/9400M makes a point of directly comparing its new chips with Intel G45 and this is where things get a bit sticky. Our PCMark05 and 3DMark06 figures show that there isn't a huge amount to choose between the two IGPs. Curiously enough G45 wins in the graphics element of PCMark05 while GeForce 9300M wins big time in 3DMark06. It's a safe bet that the graphics drivers play a part in all of this and Nvidia was very specific about the installation routine we should use for our Asus board.
First we had to install the nForce 20.07 chipset drivers but had to uncheck the graphics drivers and then we had to separately install GeForce 178.13 graphics drivers. It also listed a number of features that add some whiz to its new chipset; for instance we are told that Adobe Photoshop CS4 has a GPU acceleration feature that zips along on 9300M/9400M but which doesn't work with G45. It is unclear if this is a feature of the drivers or whether Adobe has shown some special love to Nvidia but we don't have Photoshop CS4 so the point is moot.
During the briefing we had on 9300M/9400M Nvidia stressed that its new chip is superior at gaming as G45 suffers from various incompatibilities or is forced to use lower quality settings. We also saw a long list of games that includes Crysis and Assassin's Creed but it had never occurred to us that anyone would play those games on integrated graphics. One point that was spelled out was that 9300M/9400M looks far better than G45 mainly thanks to its ability to display water properly and we happened to have a copy of Far Cry so we gave it a try with both IGPs. The game played surprisingly well at 1,024x768 and we had no trouble using either High or Very High quality settings. We took screen grabs with both the 9300M and G45 and cannot tell the two apart.
Nvidia also stresses that the new chipset supports Cuda acceleration and video transcoding to convert video from one size/format to another e.g. for your iPhone. Fair enough, if you intend to use your integrated PC for relatively serious work you will probably find that 9300M/9400M has an advantage over G45 but the rest of us would find it incredibly difficult to distinguish between the two chips.
nVidia's new 9300M brings some good features to the motherboard table but nothing that blows us away. With regards this particular Asus model, it's fairly basic with a stripped down feature list yet the price is uncomfortably high.