For quite a long time the attitude towards the chipsets with integrated video was rathernegative. To say that it was close to disgust will probably be too rough, but suspicion andmistrust were there for sure. And the one to blame for such "fame" was SiS company with itsintegrated video solutions. It's innovations performed so poorly and demonstrated such ashockingly low image quality that it totally discouraged every single user from paying his preciousattention to this market. SiS mainboards with integrated video were positioned as a very cheapsolution for extremely ignorant users, who need a PC mostly for typing texts in Winword.
In the recent time VIA is targeting this market with its MVP4, which has a built-in 3Daccelerator Trident Blade3D. The company seems very likely to change the general attitudetowards the integrated solutions, though MVP4 is not that promising. And the cause of suchpessimistic prospects is the architecture of the today's integrated chipsets, which impliesthe use of UMA (Unified Memory Architecture) technology in their graphic part. In other words,a part of the system memory functions as graphics memory, while the bus connecting the graphicscore with the memory can't boast a bandwidth required by most recent 3D applications.
Another downside of the modern chipsets is the use of a relatively slow PCI as a central bus.
But now Intel has entered this market. And this may result into two things. First, thecompetitors army represented by SiS and VIA should simply forget about winning the marketof the integrated Pentium II chipsets for the rest of their days. And second, the performancemay be quickly improved and the whole situation may change for the better. The new Intel 810chipset equipped with integrated graphics - also known as Whitney - is a low-cost solutionintended for Intel Celeron processors. This device has a revolutionary hub architecture, whichshould help to eliminate all the drawbacks of logic and integrated graphics sets. In other words,Intel 810 has nothing in common with a bunch of i440ZX+i740, though it seems so natural for amicroprocessor giant.
The Key Features
Compared to the previous generation chipsets i810 possesses the following distinctive features:
- Integrated AC'97 link for a software modem and a sound card;
- IDE interface support for Ultra ATA/66 disk drives;
- 66 and 100MHz system bus for Intel Celeron processors of the current and future generations;
- 4 or 6 PCI-devices support (the number depends on the form-factor of the mainboard);
- Integrated 3D graphics core with digital flat panel interface, DVD and TV-out support;
- No support for ISA bus;
- Synchronous and asynchronous memory interface supporting PC100 SDRAM and working at 100MHzfrequency (disregarding the system bus frequency value);
- Integrated hardware random number generator.
The use of hub architecture is one of the main innovations in i810. This means thefollowing. A three-chip i810 consists of three hub-microchips:
- Intel 82810 or Intel 82810-DC100 - Graphics & Memory Controller Hub (GMCH)
- Intel 82801XX - I/O Controller Hub (ICH)
- Intel 82802AB/AC - Firmware Hub (FWH)
In order to connect all its components (hubs) i810 uses as a main bus a specially designed closedbus, which bandwidth is twice as large as that of a slower PCI one - 266MB/s.
i810 is the first chipset with such architecture. All the further chipsets, including i820 (Camino)coming out in autumn and intended in the first place for one of the most long-awaited processors -Coppermine, will also be based on this progressive architecture. The PCI bandwidth, which used toconnect two components of the older chipsets - a memory controller and a ISA/IDE controller - is nolonger sufficient for the present day technology. However, the today's hub architecture provides anabsolutely unimpeded contact between the devices directly connected to a hub. And no speed dropsoccur! This is actually a key feature for all the present multimedia applications, which finallygot every opportunity to freely transfer large data streams from one sub-system to another.
Below you can see an i810 chart:
The diagram proves a very important thing: no buses in the architecture connecting vitallyimportant system components are working at 33MHz. A 33MHz PCI now occupies the same place somewhereat the system edge ISA used to have before it totally disappeared, and serves as an interface forexpansion devices. So, this architecture has almost no weak points and allows the components a freecontact avoiding the central processor.
Intel manufactures i810 in three different set versions so that to make it fit for differentsystems price groups:
|Intel 810-L||Intel 810||Intel 810-DC100|
| || || |
To provide this, various microchipsets may include one of the two available central hubs -GMCH-DC100 or a simplified GMCH, and one of the two I/O hubs - ICH or a cut version ICH0. Thedifference between them will be considered later.
We tested Supermicro 370SWD mainboard sample based on the fullest Intel 810 version i810-DC100with a 4MB display cache and Ultra ATA/66 interface support.
Supermicro 370SWD mainboard in MicroATX format is equipped with a Socket370 and supports up to 512MBSDRAM, which can be placed into two DIMM slots. And don't be surprised at such a small number of DIMMslots, which is actually caused by i810 specific feature: it supports only 4 memory banks. Besides,there are three PCI-slots and one AMR-slot. The mainboard also has two serial and one parallel port,IR-connector, and PS/2 keyboard and mouse outs. It supports system monitoring, which controls 7 voltages,3 coolers, case open detector and CPU temperature. The mainboard is provided with wake on LAN feature. Besides,it also has AMI BIOS.
Among the main exterior differences, which catch your eye at once, the following ones are for sure worthmentioning here. Firstly, all the i810 based mainboards will have a new yet unknown expansion slot -AMR (Audio Modem Riser). It is linked to an AC'97 chipset output port and allows connecting asoftware sound card or modem (or both on the one and the same board simultaneously). The mainadvantage of this connection is the price of the Riser Card plugged into AMR-slot. Accordingto the preliminary estimates it shouldn't exceed $10. However, you have to sacrifice somethingelse for such incredible cheapness. In fact only analog parts of the corresponding devices willbe placed on this expansion board, while all the digital operations will be carried out by theCPU. It all means that sound playback and data transfer through a modem will cause additionalprocessor utilization, which is actually not that threatening for the today's CPUs. Even theyoungest Celeron model can boast a very high computing capacity.
The second distinction is a number of colored plugs of a parallel and serial ports, monitorout, etc. intended for connecting some external devices. The thing is that PC99 specification,which is being actively pushed through nowadays, is famous not only for its technical innovations,such as ISA-slots absence. It also provides higher comfort with your PC. For example, this specimplies a single colored marking for all the external outs, which was applied for all connectorsin our case.
The primary role in i810 architecture is given to the Graphics and Memory Controller -GMCH. The main component parts are shown on the chart below:
Here are the main specs of GMCH:
- Single-processor configurations support;
- 66 and 100MHz system bus;
- 64-bit 100MHz SDRAM interface;
- 2D/3D integrated graphics core;
- Hardware motion compensation support for MPEG-2 playback;
- Integrated RAMDAC 230MHz;
- Integrated digital video-output port;
- 4MB display cache support (only in i810-DC100).
So, i810 supports not only 66MHz system bus presently used in Intel Celeron processors but alsoa 100MHz one, which should find its way next year. However, all the mainboards on i810 are supposedto have a 66/100MHz switch, which is actually a very pleasing sign for overclockers. Besides, due to100MHz frequency support i810 should theoretically allow Socket370 for Intel Celerons as well asSocket370 electrically compatible Slot 1. Hence, it will hardly be a surprise if one day we comeacross a really cheap i810 mainboard for Pentium II/III.
Nevertheless, a GMCH built-in 64-bit memory controller supports only 100MHz PC100 SDRAM memory,i.e. i810 turned out Intel's first chipset with asynchronous memory bus. Let's compare i810 to, shallwe say, VIA, where asynchrony provides reversed compatibility and consists in supplying the memory buswith 66MHz, while the processor works at 100MHz. So, in our case we have an absolutely opposite thing.Even if the CPU gets only 66MHz, the memory keeps on working at 100MHz. This fact may slightly upsetthose of you, who have an older non-PC100 memory. However, together with the enlargement of the memorybus bandwidth to 800MB/s its average working speed has also increased. We compared the data transferspeed of the i810 based mainboard with that of ZX based one.
The testing systems used for benchmarking were configured as follows:
- Supermicro 370SWD (i810) and ABIT ZM6 (i440ZX) mainboards;
- Intel Celeron 433 processor;
- 128MB PC100 SDRAM
- Graphics card on Intel 740 chip;
- IBM DTTA-371010 harddisk.
Unfortunately, we failed to test i810 with 100MHz system bus, because the Supermicro 370SWDsample, we had, performed very unstably throughout all the tests.
Here you can see the results obtained:
As we see here, the data is being saved to memory significantly faster due to the memorybandwidth increase from 533MB/s to 800MB/s (compared to i440ZX). The read speed hasn't got anyfaster because of the remaining restriction in the system bus bandwidth, which connects GMCHwith the CPU. Besides, we have to make a reservation that the board on i810 we managed to test -is an engineering sample based on a far not final chipset version. That's why the results obtainedwith the mass products later on can vary from the ones we offer you right now. However, all thevariations are expected to be quite positive.
i810 Graphic Features
GMCH has an integrated graphic core of a new Intel 752 graphics processor, which is actuallynone other than another enhanced version of a popular low-cost Intel 740 solution. But incontrast with all the usual graphics cards i810 system memory serves as a graphics memoryas well. Intel suggested this UMA architecture for use in its i430VX in 1996 already.Then it failed to find broad application, however.
And now Intel took into account its whole life experience and that of its chipsetcompetitors as well, and suggested two new integrated video technologies: Direct AGPand Dynamic Video Memory Technology (D.V.M.T.). Both of them are aimed at making thechipset integrated graphics work faster, primarily due to higher memory operating speeds.All the today's average graphics cards provide graphics memory speed of about 2-3GB/s, andmemory access through AGP bus currently used in all integrated chipsets is possible onlyat 533MB/s. That's why Intel took it upon itself to increase the speed, at which the graphicscore works with the memory. And the task was successfully solved!
Direct AGP architecture is simply a new UMA generation, which allows the graphics core toutilize the system memory for its purposes directly through the system memory controller,avoiding AGP. That is why i810 can boast a much higher graphics core speed while working withmemory than all the other integrated chipsets with a standard AGP interface. Its speed equals800MB/s compared to 533MB/s of a standard AGP.
D.V.M.T. provides the memory as far as it is required. It helps to achieve maximum flexibilitywith system memory usage, i.e. to spend it reasonably and to avoid wasting it for nothing.When you start your PC the system BIOS provides you with 1MB for a standart VGA support.It means that in either case 1MB of system memory becomes unavailable for usual purposes.When the operation system is getting started, the graphics driver requests additional 4MBfor screen resolutions support up to 1024x768. If your system activates 3D, it receives another2MB of memory for the commands buffer and 4MB for a Z-buffer. In case your system uses GMCH-DC100hub (instead of a simple GMCH one) supporting 4MB display cache, Z-buffer is located in it. So,i810 can easily deprive the system memory of up to 7 or 11MB depending on the display cache.However, Intel 810 can do without special texture memory: 3D-textures are stored and can be pickeddirectly from the system memory. While working in 2D regime, the optional display cache operating at400MB/s serves only for buffering.
And this is exactly the cause of a certain 2D performance increase compared to that of i740(the results are given for 1024x768@16bpp):
230MHz RAMDAC provides a rather clear-cut image in all resolutions up to 1024x768, which isenough to satisfy the owners of 15" monitors.
As for the image quality, provided by GMCH 3D part, which supports all the required 3Dfunctions, it is beyond praise. However, this is true only in terms of 16-bit color. 32-bitcolor depth remains unrealized, as it is by i740 as well. The screenshot below was taken in3DMark 99 MAX and can help us imagine the whole picture in full:
We carried out 3DMark 99 MAX benchmark for our Supermicro 370SWD mainboard to check i810performance in 3D graphics:
As you can see, i810 performs even better than i440ZX based system with i740 graphics card,but greatly falls behind if the latter is replaced by an nVidia Riva TNT one. However, unpretentioususers may be quite satisfied with the way i810 performs in 3D games at 640x480 or sometimes at800x600.
Of course we simply couldn't stay indifferent to such an important question as a real performanceof Direct AGP. To evaluate the performance increase provided by this new technology, we measured theperformance of i810 chipset with the textures of different size:
The results obtained are - to say the least of it! - quite weird. There is hardly any theoreticalgain in texture transferring, besides, there is also a very noticeable performance drop when operatingwith textures of 16MB and up. It is probably the incomplete drivers or the prerelease chipset versionset on the mainboard, which are to blame for such poor results here, because no objective reasons forsuch strange outcome come to our mind.
And in conclusion we would like to mention that although i810 has an i752 graphics core, youcan't judge the latter by the results obtained here. i752 based graphics cards will have localgraphic memory, which will guarantee a much greater bandwidth and hence an almost equal to RivaTNT 3D-performance.
The second significant hub in the described architecture of i810 is ICH responsible forinput/output operations and combining IDE, PCI, AC97, LPC I/F, SMBus and USB controllers.This hub is available in two versions: a cheaper ICH0 and a richer in different features ICH.Here is the list of its main features:
- Supports 33MHz PCI-bus, compatible with v.2.2 specification;
- Supports up to 4 PCI-slots in ICH0 and up to 6 slots in ICH;
- Provides power management control;
- Fulfils the functions of DMA and IRQ controllers as well as those of a timer;
- Has an integrated IDE-controller with Ultra ATA/66 interface support (ICH), and Ultra ATA/33support (ICH0);
- Supports 2 USB-ports;
- SMBus compatible with most I2C devices;
- Has a special out port for AC'97-compatible audio and modem codec;
- Supports LPC (Low Pin Count) interface;
- Supports FWH interface;
- ICH allows wake on LAN feature.
The first thing that strikes is the lack of ISA-controller. Well, i810 became the firstchipset without the built-in ISA-bus support, which should be eliminated according to thePC99 spec. But it doesn't mean, however, that i810 mainboards cannot have any ISA slots.Nobody can stand in the way of a mainboard manufacturer, who decides to connect an additionalISA-controller to a PCI-bus. Though we should bear in mind that an additional external controllerwill cost some additional money, which can hardly contribute to creating a really low-cost solution.
And as far as a floppy drives and ports controller is concerned, it used to be connected to theISA bus according to a certain tradition, so to say. And now the same thing is achieved through aspecial 4-bit 33MHz LPC bus, which is actually none other than an ISA with limited features, however.
And now a few words about the IDE-controller. i810 is also the first Intel chipset supportingUltra ATA/66 interface, which allows data transferring from the harddisk to ICH at 66MB/s comparedto 33MB/s provided by Ultra ATA/33. However, such enormous bandwidth can hardly be fully utilizednowadays, because today's IDE hard disk drives read speed from the surface reaches maximum 25MB/s.That's why the only case when you can really feel that the data is transferred from your harddiskmuch faster than it used to before, is a multiple access to the data stored in the harddisk buffer.
And in fact, the currently available i810 harddisk controller drivers do not support UltraATA/66 that is why all you can do is take our word for granted, because there is no chance topractically prove the statements of the previous paragraph.
And as for the AC97-codec, which has somehow fallen out of consideration, it allows installinga software modem and sound in all the possible ways: through AMR-slot and by means of theirintegration on the mainboard. All the cons and pros of an AC97 have already been discussed above,so have a look there to refresh your knowledge.
FWH is the third and the smallest hub. It is a small microchip with the integrated 4- or 8-Mbitflash-memory, which serves for storing system and graphics BIOS and has a hardware random numbersgenerator developed basing on a real physical process. FWH is connected to ICH through a specialPCI-synchronized 33MHz bus.
Of course, we have also tested the general performance of the system on i810 to compareit with the performance shown by other chipsets based systems, and with that of i440ZX inparticular. To test the general performance in office applications we took the Winstone 99benchmark:
Well, here i810 proved up to the mark. It performed even better than the i440ZX based systemwith an i740 graphics card. It managed to surpass its main competitor due to a faster 2D-core andmemory operations, which turned possible only with a 100MHz memory bus.
Moreover, we ran a Quake2 massive1-demo on both systems at the resolution equal to 800x600,so that to get an average gaming performance. However, a more detailed investigation here seemsnot worth it, because all we have at hand is just a test sample of a Supermicro 370SWD on abeta-version of i810 chipset:
Here we notice that i810 in Quake2 turned out a bit slower than that of the i440ZX+i740 system.But anyway, the obtained performance is enough for running practically all the gaming applicationsat 640x480 with a quite acceptable fps level.
So, Intel offered a new standard of the low-cost integrated chipsets architecture. The hubarchitecture and a number of some newly introduced technologies, such as Direct AGP, D.V.M.T. andAMR, provide a rather sufficient performance of i810. And besides, an i810 based mainboard withan integrated graphics and sound makes about $50-60. So, everyone will agree that the price-to-qualityratio is Intel's main trump here.
As for the pure performance, it evidently turns out incapable of satisfying extreme gamers'demands. However, it is more than enough for Internet browsing, main office applications, DVDsoftware decoding and most games. In other words, i810 as a low-cost chipset can hardly be competedwith, and an i810 based system with a Celeron processor is a good choice for a $500 PC.