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Half Life 2: Lost Coast
Lost Coast plays extremely well. Ok, hardcore gamers are going scoff at the numbers, but this is onboard graphics we are using here, and running at 1280x768 (16:10 Aspect) with High settings, Reflect World, 2xMSAA, 4xAF. Pretty impressive for some 'lunch time at work' gaming.
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
ETQW runs well as long as it can maintain (or near to) 30 FPS. I've tested using my own config, as set up for an 8600GT at 1280x800. Medium settings through out, 2xMSAA, 4xAF. Nothing overly ambitious for an 8600GT and not all that much of a struggle for the MSI P7NGM Digital either.
Yeah, I must be mad. Crysis. The game that brings graphics cards to their knee's, and I'm trying to run it with onboard video. Everything set to low, 1024x768, but it wasn't quite enough. It was pretty close though. Perhaps with a faster CPU to back it, you might get Crysis into the playable range for the majority of the game, although no doubt the end levels, especially the mountain exit in the snow will be a slideshow.
Testing – Video playback
Test Setup: Intel E6420 (2.13GHz), 2x 1024MB Patriot DDR2 PC2-6400, Maxtor 500GB 16MB Cache HDD, Vista Home Premium SP1, Dell 2005FPW 20.1” Widescreen Monitor and/or Sony KDFEA12U 50” Rear Projection (720p/1080i)
Cyberlink's PowerDVD Deluxe 8 was used for playback while Vista's built in performance monitor provided real time indication of CPU usage.
HD MPEG2 – We used a 2 minute capture of Monsters Inc at 1080i, specifically the scene in the restaurant. Peak Mbps for this clip was recorded at 26.84Mbps and an average of 17Mbps. We recorded the average CPU usage during playback, lower numbers are better.
De-interlacing – We visually tested the effects of the cards de-interlacing capabilities with playback of the opening 3 minutes of Will Smith's I, Robot at 1080i MPEG2.
MPEG4 AVC – 1080p, 21.02Mbps Peak, while not exactly going to stress a system too much, The Dark Knight trailer 3 offers enough of a performance test for our purposes. Like the MPEG2 test, we recorded the average CPU usage, lower numbers are better.
HD MPEG 2 1080i – Monsters Inc
This test is a simple playback of the restaurant scene, a clip lasting 2 minutes. The MSI P7NGM Digital makes light work of it, with an average CPU usage of just 1.97% and peaking at only 3.37%. Additionally, this was using the highest available De-interlacing method. Using VLC and the CPU to playback (Interlacing set to X) and things change considerably. You really don't need a high performing CPU to pair with this board for 1080i playback at all.
I, Robot's opening scenes can be a real load when it comes to interlacing; the bubbles and the ceiling fan look horrific without proper De-interlacing. Again, the MSI P7NGM Digital's 9300 MGPU doesn't disappoint, providing a crisp, vibrant image without any visible lines or judder.
The Dark Knight (Trailer 3, 1080p) doesn't put a huge load on the system, but as you can see, at only 1.23% average load (never peaked higher than 4%), the MSI P7NGM Digital barely bothers the CPU at all. A near 30% CPU usage is recorded for the same clip playing via CPU.
The , based on the new NVIDIA GeForce 9300 MPGU, offers a jack-of-all-trades board for users on a budget.
While not doing the best in the synthetic tests, we've seen the keep up with and even occasionally surpass Intel P35's and P45's in many real world applications. Don't forget, a few functions of Adobe's Photoshop CS4 are accelerated by the board as well, which makes for a cheap workhorse setup for the office.
If multimedia is your thing, then the does very well, especially when it comes to High Definition playback. There are 3 options to choose from for display, one of which is a fully HDCP 1.3a compliant HDMI port providing a 1 cable home theatre solution. 7.1 Azalia sound (8 Channel LPCM Digital Audio) and upto 1080p playback of all the major HD formats can be done by the board itself, which means you can buy a cheaper, low powered CPU and skip on the graphics card completely. Couple that with DDR2 prices of late, and when it comes to price, the is on to a clear win as an HD HTPC base. Speaking of the display options, nView Multi-Display is supported as well.
Still the has more to offer with its gaming capabilities. Now don't get me wrong here; you're not going to get high resolution, full optioned gaming. What you are going to get is true playable frame rates at low resolutions and with limited (mid range) eye candy on todays games. Older or less graphically demanding games such as ETQW's or Source engine based games can be run at the 1280 to 1024 range of resolutions comfortably, and even with middle to high graphic options in the games, there is (depending on the game) often enough performance in the 9300 MGPU left over to allow for a little MSAA. DX10 Crysis performance sat a just a couple of frames behind DX9 performance as well, but considering we were having to run at lowest possible graphics settings, it didn't really matter visually if we used DX9 or DX10. I did try to play Racedriver GRID, but was unable to lower the games settings to get playable frame rates; it was close though, very close, and you may find a fast CPU could bring it into playbable range.
NVIDIA are also keen to point out that Hybrid SLI and Hybrid PhysX are supported, and whilst nice I can't see these being overly popular features. Hybrid SLI currently works with 8400GS and 8500GT cards, and let's face it; they're not power houses. If you're looking for a board like this, then the on-board graphics performance is more than likely going to be enough. If you want more, you will likely want more than an 8500GT has to offer. That said, budget gamers will like the price saving and performance games of the cheap combined with a cheap 8500GT. Hybrid PhysX is a much more appealing feature at first glance, but were still waiting for that 'killer game' that will really make PhysX desirable and there are caveats to using Hybrid PhysX (9400 or 9500 series cards work best, faster cards can actually degrade performance. You also currently need to be running Vista 32bit).
You get an awful lot in such a small board here, and the board itself has been a pleasure to use in the short time I've had to test it. I've not had any lockups, BSOD's or other issues, and apart from rebooting to adjust BIOS options or install drivers, it's been running solidly, loaded on and off during testing and retesting for the past 4 days. Also keep in mind that the drivers used are bound to mature as time goes on, potentially offering more performance.
If you're on a budget and you like to game, then the has a lot to offer. If you want HD Playback without the expense of a high performance CPU or Graphics card, then you can't go wrong with the . If you want a cheap workhorse board for the office that will perhaps help out during photo editing, again you are not likely going to find a better base for your system. Perhaps you want all the above; work from home during the day editing on a multi-monitor setup, and at night use the same PC for Blu-Ray playback and a little large screen gaming. The , based on the NVIDIA GeForce 9300 is the little board that could.