Gma 3100 video



Keywords: gma 3100 video
Description: The performance of Intel’s GMA X3100 is a question on a lot of peoples’ minds, at least if our forums here are any indication. And why shouldn’t people be curious? The GMA X3100 is

The performance of Intel’s GMA X3100 is a question on a lot of peoples’ minds, at least if our forums here are any indication. And why shouldn’t people be curious? The GMA X3100 is ubiquitous in retail stores, where it’s next to impossible to find a notebook with dedicated graphics for under a grand and a half. If you’re buying Intel, odds are pretty good you’re buying a GMA X3100.

When I went to the Game Developers Conference in February of 2007, I was pleasantly surprised by what appeared to be a renewed interest in gaming from Intel. They were very excited by their GMA X3000 series, which the X3100 is a part of, and why wouldn’t they be? Here’s the first graphics core they’ve made that’s actually designed to do something other than put an image on your screen or run Aero Glass. They demonstrated a real desire to make their integrated graphics competitive with the parts from ATI and nVidia, and to raise the bar for gaming developers so that the “lowest common denominator” they had to code for would be a good one. They even took me behind closed doors and demonstrated their IGP running Half-Life 2: Episode One at medium settings at 1024×768, very playably.

So GDC has come and gone, about ten months have passed and several new drivers for the GMA X3100 have materialized. The question becomes: has Intel made good on their promise?

To test the Intel GMA X3100, I’m using the HP dv2615us outfitted with 2GB of RAM. Specifications are as follows:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo T5250 (1.5 GHz, 667 MHz FSB)
  • 2GB DDR2-667
  • Intel GMA X3100 with latest drivers, version 15.7
  • 160GB 5400rpm Hitachi SATA Hard Disk
  • DVD-RAM w/ Lightscribe
  • Intel Wireless 3945ABG w/ Bluetooth
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit

The processor is one of the low men on Intel’s totem pole right now, but is nearly as common as the GMA X3100 in retail right now. It’s become a very popular baseline part, and that’s understandable: even at 1.5GHz, systemwide performance is formidable as I demonstrated in my last article where I pit it against a Turion 64 X2 clocked at 1.9GHz.

The GMA X3100 itself is theoretically a pretty formidable piece of technology, at least for an integrated graphics part. It is presently the only IGP to use the unified shaders specified by Microsoft for DirectX 10 support, featuring 8 scalar shading units that can process video, vertex, and texture operations. It’s also the first part from Intel that supports texture and lighting in hardware. While it doesn’t feature its own memory, it can address up to 384MB of system RAM for video memory, and it addresses the amount of RAM it uses dynamically to ensure maximum performance.

Presently, Intel’s most recent driver enables hardware vertex shader processing, though this can be switched to software using a really roundabout and frankly tedious and over-involved method. The drivers for this hardware have been under constant updating and improvement over the past ten months, so we’re going to see what these improvements have yielded.

As a sidenote, I’m handling this review a little bit differently than my last two IGP reviews. Here, I’m going to focus a bit more on the hard numbers I was able to glean out of this hardware, so feedback on whether you like this approach better or worse than my previous approach is appreciated. Part of the reason I’ve chosen to do this is because, frankly, there’s a lot of conflicting information on the forums about the performance of the GMA X3100 and I wanted to be able to just deliver straight facts.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you’re probably aware Doom 3 is one of my favorite whipping boys for graphics hardware benchmarks. Years after the fact, the very scalable (no, really, I’ve run it very playably on a Radeon 8500DV) Doom 3 can still offer a decent amount of punishment for hardware that’s not ready for it. At the same time, a lot of technology it uses has since become the norm (stencil shadows, heavy bump mapping, specular lighting).

For Doom 3, switching between software and hardware vertex shader processing yielded no difference in performance, which I find particularly interesting since anecdotally, it’s been my theory that the reason nVidia’s IGPs always murder ATI’s (even the recent X1200 series) in this game because ATI doesn’t include a hardware vertex shader like nVidia does.

All benchmarks were run with the game set to 640×480 Low Quality. As the game was completely unplayable with everything enabled, I toggled options to see how it would perform.






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