©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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