Intel's 900-Series Chipsets: PCI-Express and LGA775
Posted on: 08/13/2004 05:00 AM

Intel High-Definition Audio

The prospect of high-quality onboard audio certainly had me excited. I listen to a lot of music on my PC using headphones, and there aren't a lot of things that will expose a sketchy sound card faster than a good set of headphones. Well, that was certainly true in the case of Intel's HDA. Perhaps it was the Realtek audio codec that HDA was paired with on our Intel desktop boards, but high-definition audio sounded much closer to my nasty old C-Media 8738-based Maxi Sound Muse than it did to my new weapon of choice - a Creative (ick) Audigy 2. High-Definition Audio sounded every bit as muddy as most onboard audio solutions do. I didn't even need to do any listening tests with hapless family members - all I had to do was fire up any mp3 on my hard drive and then cringe as indistinct sounds oozed out of my Sennheiser HD570s.

I suppose it's always possible that High-Definition Audio itself isn't the problem and that one motherboard manufacturer will manage to make it sound decent. I wouldn't hold my breath if I were you, though.

Intel GMA900 Integrated Video

Our 915-equipped motherboard came with Intel's new GMA900 integrated video. Yeah, what is there to say about integrated video, really? GMA900 sounds really great on paper - 4 pixel pipes, 333 MHz core clock, Pixel Shader 2.0 support...all fed by a small portion of the mere 4 gb/sec of system memory bandwidth. Even if the entire 4 gb/sec of memory bandwidth were available to the integrated graphics (ignore the fact that that's never going to happen in the first place), modern video cards sport upwards of 30+ gb/sec of memory bandwidth. Even a moderately capable video controller is going to need a dedicated 8 or so gb/sec of memory bandwidth to allow decent performance. In real-world usage, I'd bet that's about 8 times what the integrated graphics will actually have available to it.

The other item that concerned me was 2D image quality, specifically at higher resolutions on an analog display. This has been an issue for integrated graphics in the past, so you know I had to crank my old Dell 2026T up to 1600x1200 to see how the GMA900 handled it. I'm pleased to say that I didn't notice the obvious dive in signal quality that I was half expecting. Whether those of you with truely high-end monitors will be happy with the GMA900's output is a question I cannot answer, but I can say that it doesn't have any obvious issues with 2D image quality. Good show.

Intel Matrix Storage Technology

Now here's an interesting technology that hasn't gotten all that much attention.

Matrix Storage is a very clever, and, given the huge capacities of today's Serial ATA hard drives, a very timely idea.

I'm sure you're all familiar with how a regular RAID array works. Take two drives of the same capacity, plug them into yon RAID controller, and set them up in either a RAID1 (mirrored) or RAID0 (striped) array. This uses the entire capacity of the drives to create the array. This was all well and good in the days of 80 gb hard drives, but now that we're seeing 200+ gb drives drop to very affordable levels, I don't think that I should have to stuff my case with 4 hard drives just to get a mirrored array for my data and a striped array for my games.

What if instead of dedicating entire disks to arrays, you could just assign part of a drive's capacity to an array? That would allow you to divy those two 200 gb serial ATA screamers into a 40 gb mirror for you OS and apps, a 40 gb stripe for ripping, I mean backing up your DVDs, and a 120 gb mirror for your pr0n really important data.

And that's what Matrix Storage allows you to do, assuming that your motherboard is packing the ICH6R. Booyeah. Unfortunately, I only get to talk about Matrix Storage. The two 250 gb, 16 mb cache Maxtor hard drives that shipped with Intel's press kit dissappeared from said kit during its stop-over at the casa de Jim. Not that I would have given them to me if I'd wanted them back either ;) Anyway, bug Jim if you want to see Matrix Storage in action.

[Ed - A separate article detailing Intel's Matrix Storage Technology can be expected in the near future.]

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