1 October 2009
©2009 Intel
©2009 Intel

Alrighty, I just can’t stay quiet about this one. I’ve had enough.

I’m talking about Intel’s GMA 500 graphics chip. You know, the one that’s in all those Z-series (and soon Pine Trail-based) netbooks, the one that gets all the bad reviews, and the one that is generally regarded as less capable than even that ancient, stinking heap of a graphics core, the GMA 950.

Well folks, think again. In fact, the GMA 500 is capable of simultaneous decoding of two (yes, two) 1080p streams, 3D graphics, and DirectX 10.1 – and all that in a 2.3W power envelope (at least in the US15W “Poulsbo” chipset).

So why don’t you see this awesome performance on your netbook or MID?

It’s really quite simple…

Let’s see what’s in the news:

Latest GMA 500 Drivers For Windows 7 – Still Not Enough For Aero

The latest Intel GMA 500 graphics drivers are available for Windows 7 through the update panel under “optional updates”. Dated 8/27/2009 version

A few users on the MyDellMini forums are already discussing it on their Dell Minis and it appears that while the Windows 7 experience score for graphics get’s boosted there still seems to be little to no improvement in graphics performance. Windows Aero is still very sluggish. […]

So, it sounds like the GMA 500 sucks, right? That’s exactly what it sounds like. But there’s a problem… You see, at IDF 2009 last week, Intel announced their newest Atom CE4100 platform. It’s an Atom processor coupled with a nice graphics chip for embedded solutions like set-top boxes. Let’s see what all the fuss is about:

Intel Atom CE4100 Is a Beast of a Media Chip

Here at IDF, Intel introduced the Atom CE4100 media chip, which is likely coming to set-top boxes and Blu-Ray players. It’s got some serious power: We’re talking simultaneous decoding of two 1080p streams, 3D rendering and more.

The Atom CE4100 is pretty similar to the CE3100, except it replaces the CE3100’s Pentium M core with an Atom core (hence the name change). It also supports MPEG-4 and can actually capture uncompressed 1080p video, not to mention support for every high-end audio codec you can think of. We don’t know for sure where the CE4100 is headed, but it’s a fair chance that we’ll see it popped into high-end DVRs and media streamers at some point soon. […]

Well, damn! That sounds awesome! I sure wish they’d put one of THOSE graphics chips in a netbook or two – or maybe even in some laptops!

It just so happens that my wish has already come true according to Wikipedia’s entry on PowerVR:

Series5 (SGX)

  • PowerVR SGX (pixel, vertex, and geometry shader hardware)
    • next generation fully programmable universal scalable shader architecture
    • exceeding requirements of OpenGL 2.0 and up to DirectX 10.1 Shader Model 4.1
    • licensed to Apple Inc, Sony, Intel, Renesas, NEC, TI, MediaTek, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung, Sigma Designs, SigmaTel, SiRF and others
    • 8 variants announced:
      • SGX510 (discontinued)
      • SGX520 (7 MPolys/s, 250Mpx/s) for the handheld mobile market
      • SGX530/1 (14 MPolys/s) for the handheld mobile market
      • SGX535 and SGX540 (28 MPolys/s) for handheld high end mobile, portable, MID, UMPC, consumer, and automotive devices
      • SGX540 (1000M pix/s, 20-35M Polys/s), SGX545, SGX555

Products that include the SGX:


Intel CE4100SGX535 + Atom-based CPU Intel CE4130SGX535 + Atom-based CPU Intel CE4150SGX535 + Atom-based CPU

Well, isn’t that a daisy? The Intel Atom CE4100 uses the PowerVR SGX535 by Imagination Technologies. Here’s where it gets interesting: go to the above Wikipedia page and read the entry just above the one for the Intel CE4100:

Intel CE 3100SGX535(Intel GMA500) + Pentium M

That’s right, kids – the PowerVR SGX535 is the GMA 500. So, let’s see again what the GMA 500 is actually capable of:

It’s got some serious power: We’re talking simultaneous decoding of two 1080p streams, 3D rendering and more. […] It also supports MPEG-4 and can actually capture uncompressed 1080p video, not to mention support for every high-end audio codec you can think of.

And it is also DirectX 10.1 capable.

So now, someone explain to me how it’s possible that Intel’s latest GMA 500 driver isn’t running Aero smoothly in Win Vista and 7? Somebody explain to me why Intel’s peeps at IDF 2009 were talking about Pine Trail (which uses the GMA 500) in terms of “480p certainly, 720p maybe” when it’s clear to anyone with two eyes that the GMA 500 core can do simultaneous decoding of not one, but TWO 1080p streams?!

Granted, the clock speed of various implementations of the GMA 500 in different products may differ. But if a GMA 500 at 400MHz can do two 1080p stream decodes, then surely a GMA 500 at, say, 200MHz can at least do 720p and Aero reliably…

The only two possibilities I see here are:

  1. Intel’s driver crew is seriously inept at writing drivers for Windows, but they have no problem producing said code for an embedded demo
  2. Intel is purposefully not releasing good GMA 500 drivers because they want to push their other chipsets – in more expensive, CULV-based notebooks. In other words, they are crippling netbooks and MIDs on purpose to make more money off of you instead of giving you what you want.

I don’t know about you, but in either case, that pisses me off.

And I demand satisfaction!!! Who’s with me?!?!

UPDATE 16/10/2009:

Right, so I just read a rumor on FudZilla that the new Pine Trail graphics core will be a “GMA 3150”. The idea is that it’s basically a 3100 (or X3100??) slightly modified (read: turned into a piece of junk like the GMA 950). So, I guess both of my possibilities above may have been entirely wrong! It isn’t the driver people that are the problem – it’s everyone else at the company that has lost their mind! Sweet!

In fact, if the new Pine Trail graphics core is NOT a GMA 500, why on earth is Intel dumping money into making a good Vista/7 driver for it now? There aren’t even that many netbooks running Windows Vista/7 out there that have the 500, and apparently there may not be many more coming… Something doesn’t add up.

In any case, I still demand satisfaction!

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The Truth About the Performance and Capabilities of Intel’s GMA 500
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12 thoughts on “The Truth About the Performance and Capabilities of Intel’s GMA 500

  • Pingback: New Intel GMA 500 Driver out for Windows 7

  • 21 June 2010 at 20:02

    The GMA500 has been a real drag. You can’t even run OLD games that ran on laptops 5 years ago. The support just isn’t there. Display Video isn’t the only beef, you can’t run ANYTHING on a GMA500 machine except the most basic windows software. And BTW … the Major of users STILL prefer windows XP. Windows XP HOME is STILL the fastest starting, slimest and best performing operating system on the market today. MILLIONS will not switch to Win 7 because the Software Libraries that they have been building for YEARS and YEARS will not work on Win 7. Both MicroSoft and Intel are just alienating MILLIONS of once happy users. The machines are getting slower not faster. Take any 5 year old laptop lenovo/dell … running XP Home and sit it next to a modern this year standard laptop running Win 7, Start em up and and fire off a 3 year old PC game …. The Winner will be the Win XP Home laptop and it will run the software better too. You probably won’t even get the software to work on the Win 7 laptop. The GMA 500 has ruin Intels Image … this hyped up dog has forced users to go out and download drivers from sources that are …. well QUESTIONABLE. Great job intel now every one has to ask a hacker to help get their laptop to play a game.

  • 17 September 2010 at 04:20

    GMA… i have an EEE pc and guess what! i cant even play 420P videos. All those bad ratings about Intel GMA is less than true, its actually A LOT WORSE than they say it is. Cheers

    • 17 September 2010 at 11:53

      Well, that would depend on on which EeePC you have. I have gotten 420p vids to play on a EeePC 4G running Linux. It’s the one with the 630MHz underclocked Celeron processor and a REALLY pokey GMA900!

      If you have an EeePC with the GMA500 or the GMA950, you absolutely should be able to play 420p vids without a problem. Of course, there are all kinds of things that can prevent this from happening, like crappy slow antivirus software that’s installed by default. Or media playback software that isn’t optimized and/or doesn’t take advantage of the graphics chip at all. Or crappy drivers. Or about a thousand other things!

      Any netbook with an Atom processor should not have any problem at all playing standard def vids. That said, even a newer Atom ain’t even close to a Core 2 Duo in raw computational power!

  • 5 December 2010 at 17:51

    My Intel GMA500 is awesome… It decodes 1080p no problem on my Asus EeePC 1101HA. You must be doing something wrong Lynch.

  • 13 January 2011 at 16:04

    My MSI Wind u110 has an Intel GMA500 and I can play 1080p videos as well with no problem in Windows 7. I can’t play any 3D games though.

  • 2 February 2011 at 05:30

    Mine is Asus eeepc 1101HA windows 7 starter with INTEL GMA500, driver ver. dated 10/10/2009, runs1080p videos and can play 3d games as well. haven’t encounter any problems yet..

  • 21 January 2012 at 08:47

    I just thought I’d throw my 2c in here. I currently have an Acer Aspire One 751h. It has a 1366X768 display, and Pretty much fromt he start it has barely been able to run Microsoft Word, much less play any YouTube videos even at lowest quality. It had Vista preloaded when I bought it, which probably didn’t help much.

    However, I finally got HD videos to play pretty smoothly, but only, and I mean ONLY with Cyberlink Power DVD. No WMP or VLC, just powerdvd. Worked fine for a while, and only with certain codecs.

    Well, after giving up on it when school ended (didn’t need it for class anymore), it sat around on my shelf for a few months, then in a drawer somewhere, and ended up in my camper, totaling about a year’s worth of minimal Google searches.

    But about a month ago, I decided that I just can’t let it go to waste, I mean the screen is just so beautiful for an 11.6″. So I caved and put Windows 7 on it. I… was speachless, to say the least. I can now play 1080p video, in just about any codec, absolutely lag free at 60fps, while the computer is connected to a second monitor, watching a YouTube video, WITH NO PROBLEMS AT ALL. I mean, it’s truly like a new computer! It’s super reliable, super snappy, and will run just about anything, aside from most 3D games Halo Combat Evolved or better.

    ANYONE who has a GMA500 would absolutely END the frustration with Windows 7. It’s still nothing like it should be, but you know what, being able to play 1080p videos and 480p youtube videos at the same time on a computer this small is just beautiful in my book.

    • 21 January 2012 at 12:11

      Absolutely!! I just upgraded a friend’s lappy. It has a Core 2 Duo and 3GB of RAM. It was kinda old, but it had Vista. I put Win 7 on there, and WOW there is a huge difference. I’m pretty sure even Win 7 still doesn’t have full support for the GMA500, but that may have changed with various Windows/driver updates since I wrote this post. I would encourage anybody – no matter what kind of puter you have – to ditch Vista and go with 7 like yesterday.

      Anyway, I’m glad to hear that somebody got their GMA500 to perform well without having to resort to backflips and magic tricks!

  • 20 November 2012 at 02:17

    My intel gma 500 can play half life one at steady 25 fps and play 720p youtube video great can also play gta vc gta 3 battlefield 1942 also max payne 1 and 2 the thing hirman codename 47 flat out 2 can be palyed with gma 500 look up flatout 2 netbook on youtube. One of those vids will be playing with it!! So its great and not bad ur guys is defective or something.


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