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Graphics Boosted: 790GX's Side-Port Explored

Graphics Boosted: 790GX's Side-Port Explored
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The last two years have been increasingly difficult for AMD. Although the company’s product portfolio is modern and powerful, Intel has had a hot hand when it comes to releasing new processors and platforms. The Core 2 Duo has dominated performance metrics since its introduction, and AMD is late with its own ultra-mobile, low cost platform to compete with Intel’s Menlow platform with its Atom processor. That said, AMD, post-ATI acquisition, is usually superior when it comes to the performance of integrated graphics chipsets. The current 790GX chipset, with its side-port memory option, aims to extend this leadership.

Since the high-end and upper mainstream desktop segments are out of reach for AMD, the firm had to look at optimizing the value of its mainstream and low-cost products. The results can be seen when comparing processor prices. There are hardly any AMD processors that cost more than $200 today, ensuring AMD’s products remain competitive from a price/performance standpoint. These improvements have had an influence on platforms, as AMD’s 790GX chipset (and the 780G) offer a side-port memory option, allowing motherboard manufacturers to add a limited amount of real graphics memory to complement the standard shared memory.

Platform Choices

Enthusiasts will not go for a platform with integrated graphics—they will typically install a full-blown graphics card for performance reasons. However, the capabilities of integrated platforms have improved impressively, especially when it comes to 3D performance and HD video playback. Although there still aren’t any integrated chipsets that can provide serious 3D performance for the latest game titles, they have become extremely versatile. The flexibility to install additional graphics cards to hook up more displays and options to increase graphics performance by utilizing ATI’s CrossfireX or Nvidia’s Hybrid SLI have made integrated graphics platforms by both companies excellent choices for the mainstream.

SiS and VIA effectively stopped competing for the mainstream, leaving most of this market to AMD and Nvidia. Nvidia has its so-called mGPUs, which are motherboard-integrated graphics processing units. The current models are the GeForce 8200 to 8300 types, which provide traditional integrated graphics, paired with DirectX 10 capabilities and Hybrid SLI graphics for performance enhancements, support for multiple monitors and potential power savings. AMD has had its 780G chipset, and it introduced the 790GX several months ago, upgrading the graphics unit from the Radeon HD 3200 to HD 3300 level and introducing its PowerPlay power-saving feature and the revised SB750 southbridge.

We will have a look at the graphics flexibility and performance of the 790GX in this article using a Jetway HA07 Ultra motherboard that comes with the side-port memory option.

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  • 12 Hide
    malveaux , December 9, 2008 2:18 PM
    *Sigh*

    Ok, I really liked the idea of the article. However, if you're going to test games, why not use some critical thinking and select games that are MORE LIKELY to be played by someone who's only using onboard chipsets and not seeking discrete higher end GPU options.

    CRYSIS is not a game someone who's buying a cheap computer with onboard video is likely going to want to play. Unless they utterly fail to read the box that says recommended reqs. Seriously. Testing Crysis doesn't show anything. It just shows how harsh Crysis is. Instead of that, why not show off games that are actually POPULAR and not just `internet benchmarks' that people who are buying these chipsets for GAMING would actually use them for? World of Warcraft comes to mind. Guild Wars even. Test MMO's for chrissakes! These are the games these onboard video people are more likely to play; hell, you should test them in ALL YOUR BENCHMARKS anyways because they're MORE LIKELY to be played by people using PC's for gaming. We don't need to see low end machines attempting to score 10fps in freak'n Crysis. That's pointless. Show us games more likely to be run!

    Critical thinking, tom's. Critical thinking. PLEASE.

    Cheers,
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    slomo4sho , December 9, 2008 4:53 AM
    Thanks for the write-up.

    I would have liked to know how the 790GX with the sideport memory compared to a 780G with a hybrid crossfired HD 3450. Or even better yet, how the HD 4350 in a G31 chipset motherboard compared to the 790GX with sideport since the G31 board + HD 4350 ends up being only around $90 as opposed to the 790GX which costs around $120 with the sideport. The extra $30 savings makes a E5200 build very comparable in price to a AMD build.

  • -1 Hide
    V3NOM , December 9, 2008 6:22 AM
    why not crossfire two 4830's or 4850's or something?
  • -6 Hide
    nihility , December 9, 2008 7:23 AM
    Seems like a very flawed product to me. Crossfire isn't working correctly with the onboard chip and you mention a lot of lockups and non-boot situations. Also it doesn't have digital audio and only 4 USB ports. Some very odd design decisions. Oh, and let's not forget that it completely refused to do crossfire with a stronger processor, what the hell is that about?
    I think you're understating how many problems this motherboard has. With so many bugs the user experience using it would be sub-par.
    They'd better fix all those basic usability problems before launch.
  • -1 Hide
    slomo4sho , December 9, 2008 7:44 AM
    Before launch? The 790GX chipset has been on the market for some time now...
  • 7 Hide
    salgado18 , December 9, 2008 10:25 AM
    Very nice article! The only thing that lets me sad are the benchmarks. Crysis on high details? World in Conflict on 1280? Supreme Commander on 1024?? Come on, this is an integrated graphics card! Anyone gaming on one of those is not supposed to be able to afford a descent graphics card! They are willing to reduce quality level to make their favourite game playable! Myself included, I've spent a lot of time using my GF6150 onboard graphics to play games, simply because I couldn't afford a new PSU to use my 7600GT. So I played nearly everything on low, even Oldblivion-like if needed. Please, review your benchmark goals, they're not realistic enough.
  • 5 Hide
    bin1127 , December 9, 2008 10:45 AM
    So hybrid doesn't work with the latest cards? I thought their intention is to provide a power saving/graphics enhancing feature when paired with the integrated graphics. The systems with the most power hungry cards stands to gain the most from using hybrid. I wouldn't mind turning off my 4780x2 when surfing the net.
  • -2 Hide
    zenmaster , December 9, 2008 11:33 AM
    ATI only supports Hybrid SLI and that only works with the lower end cards.

    NVIDIA has an AMD solution that can do Hybrid SLI or Hybrid Power.
    Again NVIDIA only does SLI with lower end cards.
    The Hybrid Power can shutdown higher end GPUs.

    NVIDIA's Intel Chipsets only do Hybrid SLI.
    I'm not sure if/when they are adding Hybrid Power.
  • -2 Hide
    jp182 , December 9, 2008 11:41 AM
    zenmasterATI only supports Hybrid SLI and that only works with the lower end cards.NVIDIA has an AMD solution that can do Hybrid SLI or Hybrid Power.Again NVIDIA only does SLI with lower end cards.The Hybrid Power can shutdown higher end GPUs.NVIDIA's Intel Chipsets only do Hybrid SLI.I'm not sure if/when they are adding Hybrid Power.

    what is considered low end and what's considered high end? Where is the middle of the road at? Because that's what I would purchase to try and SLI it with my integrated solution
  • 7 Hide
    MisterChef , December 9, 2008 11:50 AM
    Why bother to test games that it's obvious an integrated graphics solution can't handle? Why not throw in a last generation game just to see if this will do for playing older titles? Will a 3300 provide playable framerates in Counter-Strike: Source? I'll never know from reading Tom's Hardware.
  • 2 Hide
    philosofool , December 9, 2008 12:00 PM
    While I think that these benchmarks show that there's no significant performance increase from sideport memory in those environments, I can certainly imagine real-life scenarios in which this would improve the user experience. While multi-tasking on low end machines, memory issues can come up and having dedicated graphics memory means fewer performance issues in those situations.

    However, I just don't see this technology gaining market share. Are Acer or Asus, HP or Dell going to use this in their low end machines? I just don't see that happening. I suspect that sideport memory right now is really a stepping stone to more "serious" integrated graphics solutions, perhaps to become available with CPU+GPU chips that AMD is promising in the near future. If those solutions provide enough graphics processing power, memory bandwidth could become a bottleneck, making onboard GDDR useful.
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , December 9, 2008 12:05 PM
    "Running one additional Radeon HD graphics card (up to a Radeon HD 3470) allows the enabling of Hybrid SLI..."

    Don't you mean Crossfire, not SLI?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 9, 2008 12:46 PM
    I can see that some of You have misunderstood the review.
    The Hybrid CrossFireX is useless with cards higher than HD 3450.
    Why? The IGP will slow down the whole rendering process in this pair.
    Just take a look on the charts with AMD 780G chipset:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/amd-780g-chipset,1785-11.html
    Single Radeon 2600 XT was faster than a pair HD3200 + HD3450...
  • 12 Hide
    malveaux , December 9, 2008 2:18 PM
    *Sigh*

    Ok, I really liked the idea of the article. However, if you're going to test games, why not use some critical thinking and select games that are MORE LIKELY to be played by someone who's only using onboard chipsets and not seeking discrete higher end GPU options.

    CRYSIS is not a game someone who's buying a cheap computer with onboard video is likely going to want to play. Unless they utterly fail to read the box that says recommended reqs. Seriously. Testing Crysis doesn't show anything. It just shows how harsh Crysis is. Instead of that, why not show off games that are actually POPULAR and not just `internet benchmarks' that people who are buying these chipsets for GAMING would actually use them for? World of Warcraft comes to mind. Guild Wars even. Test MMO's for chrissakes! These are the games these onboard video people are more likely to play; hell, you should test them in ALL YOUR BENCHMARKS anyways because they're MORE LIKELY to be played by people using PC's for gaming. We don't need to see low end machines attempting to score 10fps in freak'n Crysis. That's pointless. Show us games more likely to be run!

    Critical thinking, tom's. Critical thinking. PLEASE.

    Cheers,
  • 1 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 9, 2008 2:48 PM
    Test Sims 2, test Sims 2. If current IGP can run Sims 2 at native resolution with sufficient eye candies, it would make building a system for friends and family a lot easier.

    In any case, if I am going to build a cheap multipurpose computer that won't be totally outdated in 2 years, I am going E5200 + mGPU 9300/9400.
  • -1 Hide
    philosofool , December 9, 2008 3:08 PM
    Okay, so from the standpoint of geek knowledge, I get why we like this article. But why would anyone want to build a machine with a 790GX board? You can get a similarly featured board without integrated graphics and an HD 4350 for less than the cost of a 790GX. Obviously, the stand alone card provides better performance. There are weaker options for integrated graphics that will actually save you money over a stand-alone card, but this isn't one of them. It just involves a performance cost for no gain.
  • -1 Hide
    Onus , December 9, 2008 4:03 PM
    I think someone would build a machine with a 790GX for someone who is a casual or non-gamer who 1) wants the other features on a particular board, 2) may wish to upgrade to AM3, and 3) still wants the option of adding a discrete GPU. Someone please correct me if I am mistaken, but are any older boards upgradable to AM3?
  • 1 Hide
    leandromet , December 9, 2008 4:22 PM
    All that (onboard video and memory) looks great for a future board with 3 or 4 pci-e 16x plus the onboard video that one might use as primary display and other 3 or 4 cards for GPU computing only, as for this type of use you need all the performance of the buses and memory, while most of the times using only a terminal screen (meaning you don´t need much 3d power actually)... could be a start for mainstream supercomps like Tesla or Firestream.
  • 7 Hide
    voodooaddict , December 9, 2008 4:58 PM
    Poor choice of games to test with. I'd suggest the following older games which are still heavily played. Even by those of us with Crossfire 4850 setup.

    Warcraft 3
    World of Warcraft
    UT 2004
    Half-Life 2: DM / Counterstrike: Source
  • 5 Hide
    Dekasav , December 9, 2008 5:19 PM
    I'm pretty sure that the 780G and 790GX both will perform full bluray with a 2Ghz AMD X2.
  • 0 Hide
    lunyone , December 9, 2008 7:27 PM
    Where's the Team Fortress 2 graphs?? I know I'm not the only one playing the game, and if an integrated GPU can play TF2 pretty good, than you can setup a system for family that will play the game! I don't it asking too much to have the system play games that it's capable of doing. It's like asking a scooter go up a mud bog hill, it'll make it, but don't expect it to be quick or a thing of beauty. Probably a bad analagy, but you get my point.
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