New Intel Platforms

The 945G offers faster integrated graphics in the guise of the GMA950. Intel claims that this is twice as fast as the older GMA900 chipset, though to be brutal that’s not saying much. One new feature is support for wide aspect ratio, for watching all that lovely HD video - but only up to 1,080i and not 1,080p.

However, if you want to build a media centre you might want to hook up to a screen digitally. Fortunately Intel has a solution in the form of the new Media Expansion Cards (MEC). These will not only provide a DVI output for integrated graphics but also can contain twin TV tuners. This will provide a lower cost route for media centres, without having to go for expensive discrete graphics. The cards are low profile so will fit into small form factor systems and also feature passive cooling.

Also interesting is the support for new RAID levels, adding 5 and 10. With this in mind you'll be able to build a workstation with high performance data storage as well as robust data security.

Intel has also improved the chipset driver, adding support for the new features and improving its interface.

So let’s look at performance on our sample Pentium 4 670 (3.8GHz, single-core) and Pentium D 820 (2.8GHz, dual-core). I ran SYSMark04, and PCMark04 with the memory set at both 533MHz and at 667MHz to see if that brought any benefits. On the dual-core Pentium D I ran the POV-Ray benchmark as that makes real use of the two cores.

I then ran a number of intensive multi-tasking tests on both processors to try and get a real subjective sense of the benefits that dual-core might bring.

First of all in SYSmark and PCMark04 we can note that the 667MHz memory doesn’t seem to offer any difference in performance over 533MHz, which is a bit of a shame. Not surprisingly, in SYSMark we find that the Pentium 4 stays well ahead of the Pentium D, with 225 for the former and 201 for the latter. SYSMark is only dual-core aware in places so the huge 1GHz difference in clock speed would make its presence felt.

However, this was way off the 281 scored by the Athlon X2.

POV-Ray is the real deal though, with the render taking almost exactly half-the time when set up to use two cores rather than one – exhibiting an almost perfect performance correlation.

To give the 950 graphics a spin I ran 3DMark 03 and Half-Life 2 on the 3.8GHz Pentium 4. This is because these are not dual-core aware so the higher clock speeds would give it the best chance to shine. I tried 3DMark 05 but the performance was too low to make it worthwhile.

The integrated graphics only managed 1,974 in 3DMark and 12.2fps in Half-Life 2 at 1,024 x 768 at high quality. Not a very impressive showing - you’ll have to really drop the down the quality and resolution settings if you want to play any recent games on the 950GMA.

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