Earlier this month Intel had announced the GMA X4500 series, which is their latest and greatest when it comes to integrated graphics processors. These IGPs were greeted by same-day Linux support (it had actually arrived before the chipset was announced), but it's still next to impossible to find motherboards using the G43 and G45 Chipsets that bear this IGP. Fortunately, however, our friends at Super Micro have come through and we have managed to get our hands on the C2SEA. The Super Micro C2SEA is an ATX motherboard that uses the Intel G45 Chipset in conjunction with an ICH10 Southbridge. This motherboard provides Intel GMA X4500HD graphics with VGA and HDMI interfaces. In this article, we are looking at the performance of this new Intel graphics processor under Linux.
In the GMA X4500 desktop series there are currently two variants, the vanilla X4500 and then the X4500HD. The GMA X4500 is used by Intel's lower-end chipsets, which is currently the G43 and soon-to-be-released G41, while the GMA X4500HD is found on the G45. Intel's IGPs are quite popular on the mobile front and for that they have introduced the GMA 4500MHD, which is the mobile variant to the X4500HD. In addition to the X4500, X4500HD, and X4500MHD, Intel will be introducing a fourth X4500 part in the coming months that will be a cut-down version of the X4500 and used by the forthcoming Q43 and Q45 Chipsets. The IGPs with the "HD" postfix are supposed to be able to handle full 1080p high-definition video playback along with Blu-ray Disc movies, at least under Windows.
The GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) X4500 series is Intel's second graphics solution that supports Microsoft DirectX 10.0 and Shader Model 2.0 (the first was the Intel GMA X3500). In addition, it presents support for Intel Clear Video Technology, HDMI capabilities, and DisplayPort capabilities. Intel Clear Video Technology presents full hardware HD decoding support for H.264, VC-1, and MPEG-2. It also includes HD and SD video post processing support. Unfortunately when it comes to video playback, the full capabilities of Clear Video aren't taken advantage of under Linux, at least not yet. Intel's Linux driver (xf86-video-intel) supports both X-Video and XvMC (X-Video Motion Compensation) for video playback. XvMC though is currently limited to MPEG-2 format (a generic limitation and not something Intel-specific).
It was brought up at FOSDEM 2008 (and reiterated last week at OSCON 2008) that Intel's Keith Packard mentioned bringing support for more formats over to this video acceleration interface. In addition, once Gallium3D goes mainstream with users they will be able to benefit from a generic GPU video decoding, which relies upon the graphics processor's shaders. Another option for users interested in enhanced video playback will be through VA-API (Video Acceleration API), but work on that seems to be stalled.
Some of the other specs for the Intel GMA X4500 series include 10 unified shader processors, hardware vertex shaders, 12.8GB/s of peak memory bandwidth, a maximum shared video memory capacity of 384MB, and OpenGL 2.0 support. The Intel Linux driver does now support both DisplayPort and HDMI connectors.
Intel's G45 MCH with ICH10/ICH10R Southbridge supports Intel Core 2 Duo and Intel Core 2 Quad processors, DDR2 or DDR3 memory with a maximum capacity of 16GB, PCI Express 2.0 graphics, six Serial ATA 2.0 ports, Intel High Definition Audio, Intel Matrix Storage Technology, Gigabit LAN, 6 PCI Express x1 lanes, and 12 USB 2.0 ports.
We will have a full review on the Super Micro C2SEA within the next couple of weeks, but this ATX motherboard uses the G45 and ICH10 along with sporting a Realtek ALC888 audio controller, Realtek RTL8111C Gigabit Ethernet, and a Winbond 83627DHG-P Super I/O ASIC. For those interested in using discrete graphics with this motherboard, the C2SEA has dual PCI Express x16 slots. Aside from the graphics support, the main Linux compatibility problem we have ran into with this new chipset combination is the disk controller. The Linux 2.6.24 kernel found in Ubuntu 8.04 LTS does not recognize the SATA 2.0 disk controller. We had to jump ahead to Ubuntu 8.10 Alpha 3 with the Linux 2.6.26 kernel for being able to install Ubuntu onto this G45 motherboard.