Summary: ATI's original RADEON 9100 IGP turned lots of heads when it was first introduced. Not only was it the world's first DX8 integrated chipset for the Pentium 4, it also offered one compelling feature no other chipset could match: triple display support via SURROUNDVIEW. Now ATI its successor to RADEON 9100 IGP, the RADEON 9100 IGP PRO. ATI's newer IGP offers improved performance and more features. Read all about ATI's newest chipset in this article!
Since ATI was granted a Pentium 4 license in January of 2001, gamers and enthusiasts on a budget have anxiously awaited the arrival of ATIís integrated solution for the Pentium 4 platform. This wait turned out to be a long one, as ATIís first integrated products eventually found their way into notebooks and, ironically enough, AMD Athlon XP-based systems. It literally got to the point that many began to speculate that ATIís license agreement with Intel didnít include desktop PCs. ATI ultimately didnít enter the Pentium 4 desktop market until the introduction of the RADEON 9100 IGP last summer.
The first wave of these RADEON 9100 IGP boards first hit the market late last year, with ASUS recently unveiling its P4R800-V Deluxe which we reviewed last month. We found the integrated performance of the RADEON 9100 IGP chipset found within the P4R800-V Deluxe to be second to none in its class. In fact, we were able to game in titles such as Unreal Tournament 2004 and Halo with adequate performance, and thanks to SURROUNDVIEW, had a system that was capable of driving three independent displays.
The only limitations we found with RADEON 9100 IGP was its lesser performance in comparison to other Pentium 4 chipsets when a discrete graphics card was used, and the outdated nature of its South Bridge, which lacked some of the critical features found on todayís Pentium 4 chipsets such as native Serial ATA and RAID support.
ASUS was able to make up for some of these shortcomings by integrating external controllers for Serial ATA, RAID, and PCI-based Gigabit Ethernet, but many micro-ATX RADEON 9100 IGP-based motherboards donít have room for these features. In fact, ASUSí own micro-ATX RADEON 9100 IGP motherboard, the P4R800-VM doesnít provide Serial ATA hard drive support. This puts RADEON 9100 IGP motherboards at an extreme disadvantage in comparison to Intel 865G platforms when it comes to a features perspective. ATI needed an answer, and it appears they have may have found it in the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP.
Billed as ATIís last AGP chipset, the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP is meant to address the RADEON 9100 IGPís biggest criticisms: the 9100 IGPís outdated South Bridge and its lackluster performance when an external graphics card is used. In addition, ATI has also prepped a Pentium 4 chipset for the value space, the RADEON 9000 PRO IGP.
With the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP serving the performance crowd while the RADEON 9100 IGP and 9000 IGP service the mainstream and value integrated markets, ATI hopes to have all its bases covered going into the crucial back-to-school season when countless PCs are sold.
But how do these chipsets differ from their competitors and what new features have been added? Letís explore the changes, starting with the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP.
SIDEBAR: ATIís codename for the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP was RS350.
One of the key ingredients that encompasses the North Bridge of a system chipset is its memory controller. AMD users saw this firsthand when the first DDR platforms for the Athlon were introduced a few years ago. AMDís own AMD-760 chipset offered better performance and stability than VIAís KT266, mainly thanks to its superior memory controller. NVIDIA has enjoyed the same advantage more recently with the dual-channel Twinbank memory architecture found in its nForce2 lineup. In our testing with the ASUS P4R800-V Deluxe, we found the 9100 IGP trailed competing Pentium 4 chipsets from SiS and Intel by as much as 16% in memory bandwidth, hurting overall platform performance.
So when it came time to optimize the performance of the original RADEON 9100 IGP, the first area ATI looked was the chipsetís memory controller.
The controller used on the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP has been optimized for added performance as well as compatibility with a wider range of DDR400 memory modules. ATI found that the original controller had problems with DDR400 modules from lesser known manufacturers than the Crucials, Corsairs, and Kingstons of the memory world. The RADEON 9100 PRO IGP should work just fine with these memory modules (for best performance, we still recommend purchasing a high quality memory module, as often these DIMMs can run at lower timings than more generic modules). Like the original RADEON 9100 IGP, the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP supports up to 4GB of memory, supports Intelís latest 800MHz processors (as well as previous 533MHz and 400MHz chips) and can operate in single-channel or dual-channel mode.
Finally, ATI has also enhanced the performance of their AGP 8X interface. This should could as welcome news to those of you who would like to pair a RADEON 9100 IGP PRO motherboard with an external graphics card like the RADEON 9800 XT.
The integrated graphics itself remains unchanged, sporting a 2x1 architecture clocked at 300MHz.
On the southern end of the motherboard, ATI has incorporated a brand new South Bridge, IXP 300. ATIís IXP 300 chip provides native Serial ATA drive support, a key feature that was lacking on previous ATI chipsets. Support for up to two drives is provided natively by the IXP 300 South Bridge. The new South Bridge also provides RAID support. RAID Levels 0 and 1 are available.
The final addition ATI has incorporated into the IXP 300 is in the form of a more robust USB 2.0 controller. While IXP 200 was capable of driving up to six USB 2.0 devices, ATI has increased that figure to eight devices in IXP 300, matching the specifications of Intelís ICH5 used in 875P/865G.
RADEON 9000 PRO IGP
For entry level value systems, today ATI has introduced the RADEON 9000 PRO IGP. While the name is a little different, the RADEON 9000 PRO IGP is built on the same fundamental architecture as the RADEON 9100 IGP, the chipset supports Intelís 800MHz system bus as well as the older 533MHz bus just like the original RADEON 9100 IGP. ATI also uses the same integrated graphics core.
On paper, ATIís RADEON 9100 PRO IGP is poised to provide a solid alternative to Intelís 865G chipset. We already know that ATI has Intel outclassed in graphics performance and graphics feature set, with hardware shader support providing DX8.1 graphics (although keep in mind that ATI has removed the hardware vertex shader from its RADEON 9000, so this functionality is provided by the CPU) and SURROUNDVIEW. In fact, ATI was so confident in their graphics subsystem that no changes were made in the PRO model. Intel isnít standing still though, both Grantsdale and Alderwood are right around the corner, and itís rumored that Intel will be debuting a new integrated graphics core with built-in shader support.
The real question mark lies in the performance of the new memory controller. ATI claims a 10% overall performance advantage over 865G in SiSoft Sandra and an 11% lead in PCMark 04. Both of these figures suggest that ATI has resolved the performance questions that existed with RADEON 9100 IGP. In addition, the new features provided by the IXP 300 South Bridge put ATI on somewhat equal footing with Intelís latest chipsets. The only big ticket item thatís missing is native Gigabit Ethernet. Of course, based on the markets ATI is targeting, this may not be too big of an oversight.
The addition of ATIís new IXP 300 South Bridge canít be overstated enough. Motherboard manufacturers now have native support for Serial ATA and RAID, both of which are now considered standard features in any competent chipset. This means that external controllers donít have to be used to provide this functionality, which keeps costs down for motherboard manufacturers and frees up more room on the motherboard itself for additional features. This will be especially important on micro-ATX designs and small form factor systems, where free space is at a minimum.
ATIís RADEON 9100 PRO IGP is in full production now, with the first wave of motherboards due to hit retail shelves around the middle of this month. Already ASUS, FIC, Gigabyte, Jetway, MSI, Sapphire, Shuttle, and SOYO have signed on to produce products based on the 9100 PRO IGP (although none of the aforementioned companies currently have plans for a full-sized ATX board), so ATI has picked up a number of board partners since the RADEON 9100 IGP was first launched last year. We canít give you specific products names, as they havenít been officially announced, but it looks like MSI, Jetway, and Shuttle will have small form factor systems available that are based on the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP. Meanwhile, three companies have plans to produce RADEON 9000 PRO IGP boards, PowerColor, Sapphire, and Shuttle.
As always, weíll be eager to see how the final product holds up under our usual battery of tests. Weíll be conducting testing on a RADEON 9100 PRO IGP reference board to see how the paper specs compare to our tests. After all, there can be a huge difference between theoretical numbers on paper and the realities of the real world. As it stands now though, it certainly looks like the RADEON 9100 PRO IGP could be the ideal platform for a wide variety of end users, especially those of you looking to build a home theater PC.
SIDEBAR: Are you drooling over the thought of a RADEON 9100 PRO IGP small form factor system? Perhaps youíd like to see someone step up to the plate with an ATX board? Share your thoughts on this chipset, and the Pentium 4 platform in general in the news comments!
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