Intel has formally introduced its 4-series chipsets at Computex, after months of talk about what will be Intel's last chipset to use the traditional Front-Side Bus Architecture. The series consists of the P45, G45, P43 and G43 Express chipsets and Intel says that, together, they will help to turn the PC into "a centre of high-end entertainment and communications."
G45, which features the GMA X4500HD graphics processor, is the first Intel IGP to feature hardware-accelerated decoding capabilities for Blu-ray and HD video playback in h.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 formats, which should make it great for using in a Home Theatre PC. And because of this new feature, Intel is now able to use the graphics engine to perform post processing on the content to improve the visuals.
Several of Intel's partners have been showing G45's video decoding capabilities off on the show floor and the demos were slick, with video quality being good-to-high. Obviously, demonstrations on a packed show floor in Taipei aren't the best way to evaluate video quality - that's something we'll have to do once G45 boards arrive in the TrustedReviews office.
3D graphics performance is said to be improved by a factor of two to three times G35, but since G35 was generally inadequate for gaming in our experience, we're not expecting a great deal to change on this front with G45 (three times nothing is still nothing).
G43 supports a similar feature set to G45, although it has been costed down for lower price points. It still features Intel Clear Video technology, but it doesn't feature the hardware-accelerated video decode functionality, meaning that it won't be quite as good as G45 when it comes to high-definition Blu-ray playback.
P45 replaces the excellent P35 chipset and builds on its successes, while correcting a few misdemeanours along the way. It now supports PCI-Express 2.0 and it's also possible to split the single x16 lane into two x8 slots for better dual graphics card support. Both P35 and 965P both supported dual graphics cards, but the PCI-Express x16 lane could not be split - instead, motherboard manufacturers had to use the four PCI-Express lanes in the south bridge for the second PCI-Express slot and that was limited to just PCI-Express x4.
Because of this, performance with two graphics cards installed was often lacklustre and it also meant that all other PCI-Express devices had to be disabled - there have only been four PCI-Express lanes available in Intel's recent southbridges. That limitation is now gone though, so motherboard manufacturers can get back to integrating all of the features they want, rather than having to make compromises along the way.
Details of P43 have been fairly scant and Intel documentation doesn't really talk about the chipset's features at all. However, having looked around the show and seen various board designs, it looks as if motherboard manufacturers are only implementing a single PCI-Express x16 slot, meaning there'll be no dual graphics card support. For most people, that'll be fine, but it does limit upgrade opportunities in the future.