Home Theatre PC Motherboard Shootout

February 5, 2008 | 11:55

Tags: #2 #690g #7050pv #am2 #benchmark #core #ddr2 #duo #g35 #hdhqv #home #hqv #htpc #igp #lga775 #results #review #theatre #tv

Companies: #amd #asus #gigabyte #intel #msi #nvidia

Blu-ray Disc Playback

For our Blu-ray playback testing, we used PowerDVD Ultra with the standard settings enabled and audio was sent over HDMI to our test monitor. The Casino Royale BD-DVD is one of the most popular Blu-ray movies to date and it is a high bit-rate h.264 stream, which makes it ideal for testing CPU usage.

We used five minutes of playback during a high motion action section with lots of panning – we recorded the average and minimum CPU usage during this section of the film.

BD-DVD Playback - 720p HD, h264

PowerDVD Ultra - Hardware acceleration enabled.

  • Asus P5E-VM HDMI
  • Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H
  • MSI K9AGM3-FIH
    • 95.7
    • 92.2
    • 96.2
    • 92.9
    • 90.3
    • 75.0
0
25
50
75
100
CPU% (lower is better)
  • Average
  • Minimum

BD-DVD Playback - 1080p HD, h264

PowerDVD Ultra - Hardware acceleration enabled.

  • Asus P5E-VM HDMI
  • Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H
  • MSI K9AGM3-FIH
    • 95.4
    • 89.8
    • 95.8
    • 91.4
    • 91.8
    • 70.2
0
25
50
75
100
CPU% (lower is better)
  • Average
  • Minimum

The MSI actually performs surprisingly well over the same section of video and it provides the best BD-DVD experience of the lot. That said, it's still just too slow to cope without breaking into a sweat, but it was much more watchable during panning and action than it was on the other boards – for the size of the chipset and cooler, the AMD 690G is one little beast. Comparatively, the Nvidia GeForce 7100 and Intel G35 fair quite a bit worse with clear jitters when panning and during action. The Intel G35 was the worst of the three because it was very slow and jittery for several seconds after skipping chapters, unlike the Nvidia GeForce 7100 which was a lot faster to pick up and start running.

It's worth noting that we could not get sound over HDMI when using the Nvidia board – it needs an S/PDIF loop-back which wasn't provided in the box and there's no clearly-labelled pins around the HDMI port that tell us where it should go anyway. In comparison all we had to do was disable the on-board audio on the MSI board for the IGP to route audio via HDMI instead and the Intel G35 was the easiest with no settings change on our part at all – the Silicon Image Sil1392 chipset automatically switches the output.

HD DVD Disc Playback

For HD DVD playback performance, we used PowerDVD Ultra again with the same configuration – standard software settings enabled and audio sent via HDMI. This time, we used V for Vendetta HD DVD, which is a medium bit-rate disc authored using the VC-1 codec.

Again, we used five minutes of playback during a high motion action section with lots of panning – we recorded the average and minimum CPU usage during this section of the film.

HD DVD Playback - 720p HD, VC1

PowerDVD Ultra - Hardware acceleration enabled.

  • Asus P5E-VM HDMI
  • Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H
  • MSI K9AGM3-FIH
    • 50.4
    • 36.8
    • 59.2
    • 44.6
    • 48.4
    • 39.9
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
CPU% (lower is better)
  • Average
  • Minimum

HD DVD Playback - 1080p HD, VC1

PowerDVD Ultra - Hardware acceleration enabled.

  • Asus P5E-VM HDMI
  • Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H
  • MSI K9AGM3-FIH
    • 57.6
    • 37.6
    • 74.6
    • 55.5
    • 55.2
    • 43.6
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
CPU% (lower is better)
  • Average
  • Minimum

All the boards handled this disc with relative ease, with the Asus and MSI performing about on a par and better than the Gigabyte this time around.

While most recent HD DVD disks are still VC-1, more and more are being authored using the popular h264 codec (regardless of market position since the beginning of the year). We played The Interpreter which is one of these h264 titles and it uses a decent bit-rate, but not that near Casino Royale.

HD DVD Playback - 720p HD, h264

PowerDVD Ultra - Hardware acceleration enabled.

  • Asus P5E-VM HDMI
  • Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H
  • MSI K9AGM3-FIH
    • 98.2
    • 95.3
    • 98.5
    • 96.1
    • 85.4
    • 78.1
0
25
50
75
100
CPU% (lower is better)
  • Average
  • Minimum

HD DVD Playback - 1080p HD, h264

PowerDVD Ultra - Hardware acceleration enabled.

  • Asus P5E-VM HDMI
  • Gigabyte GA-73PVM-S2H
  • MSI K9AGM3-FIH
    • 97.1
    • 89.8
    • 97.8
    • 89.8
    • 99.4
    • 97.4
0
25
50
75
100
CPU% (lower is better)
  • Average
  • Minimum

Again, h264 mullers all three chipsets, with only the MSI AMD 690G motherboard able to cope at 720p – none of the boards were fast enough to deliver smooth playback at 1080p. The other boards consistently sat in the high 90 percent, even at 720p. Of course, faster CPUs would have helped and the E4500 is some 400MHz faster than the E4300 we were using, but this doesn't bode well for the specific video acceleration of the chipsets that is meant to relieve the CPU of work, at least up to their rated specification.
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