ATI is something of an underdog in the motherboard chipset market and some of the early products had, shall we say, low appeal. However, with the introduction of the Radeon 9100 Pro IGP, ATI has gained a lot of ground in the mobile market.
ATI has shied away from AMD based motherboard chipsets for a while, but the recent launch of the Radeon Xpress 200 chipset, thatâ€™s about to change. This is also ATIâ€™s first attempt at a PCI Express chipset, so thereâ€™s a fair bit to talk about. To be honest, ATI has managed to put together quite a tempting package with the Radeon Xpress 200 chipset, for just about anyone considering an Athlon 64 or Sempron Socket 754 processor based machine.
There are two different versions of the Xpress 200 chipset available, the P and the G, with the G being the one on review here. The P version doesnâ€™t feature the integrated graphics of the G and to be honest, this is no great loss as youâ€™ll see from our performance numbers. But since ATI makes graphics cards as well as chipsets, there is at least one scenario where the integrated graphics will come in handy and this is with ATIâ€™s SurroundView. This allows the integrated graphics to work in conjunction with a PCI Express graphics card.
SurroundView gives you the opportunity to use an additional monitor, since the integrated graphics act as a second graphics card. If youâ€™re lucky enough to find a Radeon Xpress 200G motherboard with two outputs, you could possibly even use four monitors if you combine it with an ATI graphics card. Making things even easier is the fact that the Radeon Xpress 200G chipset uses the same drivers as all of ATIâ€™s Radeon graphics cards.
The motherboard ATI supplied for testing featured both D-SUB and DVI, but if weâ€™ll have to wait and see whether any motherboard manufacturers produce DVI equipped boards - but at least the support is there. One interesting feature that ATI has brought back from the dark ages of integrated graphics is onboard video memory, but with a twist. ATI refers to the integrated memory as SidePort and although I doubt weâ€™ll see it on any desktop motherboards, itâ€™s quite likely to appear on a lot of notebooks using the Radeon Xpress 200G chipset.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the SidePort. The advantage in a notebook design being that it should improve battery life, especially in general Windows usage. This is because the integrated GPU can access its local memory rather than having to go via the CPU. This means that there will be less load on both the CPU and memory. It can also be combined with shared system memory and increase the overall performance, which is the best way to utilise it if youâ€™re playing games.
The downside is that ATI is only using a 32bit bus for the SidePort memory, which isnâ€™t all that quick when you consider that the latest graphics cards use a 256bit bus. This means that the performance will be quite lacklustre and even an X300SE graphics card would outperform it.
However, ATI has added another feature that none of the other integrated graphics manufacturers offer â€“ the ability to change the allocated system memory share size in the drivers. This makes it far easier for the user to change the memory size on the fly, and itâ€™s ideal if you want to switch from say, photo editing to game playing.