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?
From a purely functional standpoint, the Intel DG45ID offers a remarkably well-rounded feature set for anyone who’s looking to build a competent media center PC, or to integrate a home theater PC into their living-room setup. Its G45 Express chipset offers hardware acceleration for HD video decoding, which is a first for any Intel integrated-graphics chipset, and it also improves upon its predecessor’s 3D gaming performance.
The board itself is thoughtfully laid out, and there are other nice touches, such as a completely legacy-free I/O complement, and plenty of PCI Express slots. It manages to pack a great deal of componentry onto a Micro ATX board, without ever seeming cramped.
While the DG45ID’s feature set is impressive, however, we were still somewhat underwhelmed by the motherboard’s performance when compared to a third-party motherboard based on Intel’s last-generation top-end integrated graphics chipset, the G35 Express.
The G45′s onboard GMA X4500HD graphics core is the first from Intel to support DirectX 10, but we’re a little dubious as to its value after witnessing the way the chipset still struggled to play demanding DirectX 9 games at resolutions that aren’t altogether unreasonable when one considers that even most 20″ widescreen monitors sold today have a native resolution of 1680×1050. Of course, the trouble we ran into with the G45′s immature video drivers when trying to play Half-Life 2: Episode Two was simply unacceptable, but we have faith that Intel can get its drivers up to speed before too long, just as they did with G35.
Throughout our application testing, the DG45ID motherboard demonstrated that another Intel tradition is alive and well – motherboards that perform just a hair shy of their third-party competition. In testing that was unrelated to 3D gaming or video playback, the G45 Express chipset seemed to offer no real performance advantage over the G35 Express chipset on our reference ASUS motherboard, which suggests that the core logic part of the G45 northbridge has remained virtually unchanged from the G35.
However, the G45 Express chipset pairs the G45 northbridge with an improved storage controller, the ICH10R, which offered some performance improvement in benchmark tests that tended to stress the storage subsystem more heavily. One thing we were pleased to see was that on the DG45ID, there wasn’t a marginal Realtek integrated anything to be found – the integrated IDT audio and Intel Ethernet controller were both of higher quality than we’re used to seeing on a motherboard in this category.
The Intel DG45ID represents Intel’s latest take on what an ideal home theater PC motherboard should be. The G45 Express chipset shows quite a bit of promise, with its functional hardware acceleration for HD video playback, and its support for DirectX 10. The DG45ID melds the G45 chipset with an enticing array of integrated peripherals, and Intel’s legendary reputation for stability and build quality.
However, we can’t help but feel that perhaps Intel’s third-party board partners may be able to obtain better performance from the G45 chipset. Perhaps, at least in the enthusiast market, Intel should consider stepping aside and allowing its motherboard partners to deliver more highly-tweaked solutions based upon its chipsets in the future.
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