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by Rory Buszka on September 29, 2008 in Intel Motherboards

We’re taking a look at Intel’s first attempt at a full-featured media center motherboard, the DG45ID. It’s also our first look at their new G45 Express chipset, which promises to finally bring DX 10 support and hardware-accelerated HD video playback to their integrated graphics offerings. Can the DG45ID prove itself a worthy choice for your HTPC?

Introduction

Since we first reported on the arrival of Intel’s 4-series “Eaglelake” chipsets, quite a bit of review coverage has been given by the tech press to motherboards based on the P45 chipset. This makes sense; after all, the P45 is the successor to the wildly-successful P35 “Bearlake” chipset.

Though the X48 chipset had surfaced some time earlier, we saw a similar phenomenon as was seen between the X38 enthusiast chipset and the P35 performance chipset in Intel’s 3-series – with many enthusiasts (and many PC tech news sites) discovering that the affordable “P” chipset provided most of the performance of the more expensive “X” enthusiast variant.

Though the P45 has been the darling of the PC enthusiast press lately, the real news with the 4-series chipsets comes with the G43 and G45 integrated-graphics models, which feature Intel’s first DirectX 10-capable graphics core, the GMA X4500.

The G45 chipset receives a GMA X4500HD graphics core, which includes hardware acceleration for H.264 HD video decompression and playback at a resolution of 1920×1080 (1080p), offloading that functionality from the CPU. In addition to the introduction of the revamped X4500 IGP, the G43 and G45 chipsets have also undergone a process shrink from 90nm to 65nm, to decrease power usage and heat output.

Intel remains one of the last motherboard core logic chipset makers that still manufactures its own motherboards using those chipsets. The only other one we know of is VIA, which recently announced that it would cease the manufacture of motherboard chipsets for CPU platforms other than its own.

Many of their CPUs are designed to be soldered directly onto a motherboard, and VIA sells a complete integrated motherboard solution directly to the public, a practice that Intel has adopted for their Atom-based desktop products. (Of course, system builders like ASUS can still build custom motherboards for Intel’s Atom or Via’s Nano, and use the CPUs and chipsets in their own products.) With the ability to control not only the quality of the CPU and chipset, but the motherboard components as well, it’s no wonder that Intel motherboards have long held an excellent reputation for long-term stability and reliability.

The recently-announced Intel DG45ID motherboard breaks new ground for the company’s motherboard lineup, being designed from the ground up to showcase the graphics and multimedia capabilities of the G45 Express integrated-graphics Media Controller Hub (what Intel has begun calling its chipsets as of late). It’s a Micro-ATX design that has clearly been designed to live inside a home theater PC, as evidenced by its HDMI video output and optical digital output for multichannel audio.

We’ve received a pre-production sample of Intel’s DG45ID motherboard, and in this article, we’ll put it through its paces to determine exactly how excited you should be about Intel’s newest integrated-graphics chipsets.


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