Image quality comparison between GMA 950 (left) and GMA X3000 (right)

Intel G965 block diagram

A quick comparison of 945GM (left) and GM965 (right), specifications not final
DX9, Pixel Shader 3.0 and hardware T&L

DailyTech previously reported rough details of the integrated graphics core in the upcoming Intel G965 Express chipset—Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3000. Early roadmaps showed the graphics core as being Microsoft Windows Vista Premium compatible with support for Aero Glass. It was also said the graphics core would have Clear Video Technology to improve video playback.

DailyTech recently had the opportunity to pick apart some of the specifications for Intel's GMA X3000 architecture, and compare it to some of the other architectures available today. Perhaps the largest improvement of GMA X3000 over GMA 950 is the move away from a fixed function pipeline in favor of a programmable pipeline.  NVIDIA and ATI abandoned fixed function pipelines in 2001.

Intel’s latest motherboard update has more detailed information on the Graphics Media Accelerator X3000. DirectX 9 features such as Pixel Shader 3 and Vertex Shader 3.0 are supported. This time around the Vertex Shader 3.0 units are hardware based instead of the software based shaders found in previous GMA900/950 and Extreme graphics cores. A hardware transform and lighting engine has also been integrated and a significant improvement over the previous software T&L engine. High dynamic range is also supported for great realism in gaming. Lastly the GMA X3000 graphics core will be clocked up to 667 MHz -- quite a bit higher than current budget ATI and NVIDIA offerings.

Video output capabilities of the GMA X3000 are limited to a native VGA output. HDMI, DVI, UDI, component, composite and S-Video can be added through the SVDO port or with an ADD2 expansion card like the previous GMA900/950 graphics cores. This more or less indicates HDCP compliance will be left up to the motherboard manufacturer or ADD2 card manufacturer. GMA X3000 will support resolutions up to 2048x1536 including 720p/1080i/1080p in 16:9, 4:3 and letterbox aspect ratios.

Intel Clear Video Technology will provide algorithms and features to improve video playback. Clear Video Technology will have plenty of graphics power to simultaneously playback one high definition and one standard definition video stream for picture-in-picture. Hardware acceleration for high definition MPEG2 and VC1 is supported. However, it doesn’t look like Intel will offer hardware acceleration for H.264 at this time. An advanced de-interlacing algorithm is also integrated for improved video quality of interlaced sources such as DVD’s and cable programming. The built-in advanced pixel adaptive de-interlacing algorithm supports standard and high definition video content up to 1080i lines of resolution.

Intel previously had a single integrated graphics core for all of its integrated core-logic but this time around there are at least two different graphics cores. While the consumer level G965 Express receives the GMA X3000 graphics core, Q965 Express chipsets receive the GMA 3000 graphics core. Differences between the GMA X3000 and GMA 3000 include the lack of Intel Clear Video Technology on the GMA 3000. This isn’t too surprising as the Q965 is part of Intel’s Stable Image Platform Program aimed towards business and corporate users. Aside from the lack of Clear Video Technology the GMA 3000 graphics core retains compatibility with Windows Vista Premium with Aero Glass interface like the GMA X3000. There’s no word if the GMA 3000 graphics core clocked as high as GMA X3000.

One thing that is important to remember about the GMA X3000 family is that it is a completely programmable pipeline architecture -- meaning Intel only needs to update the microcode to add support for features like SM 4.0.  This opens the door to a few possibilities with where Intel can go with the architecture.  For example, since the Santa Rosa notebook platform is based on G965, but will not launch until next year, Intel may take the opportunity to add better features to the core.

G965 Express is expected to launch the last week of July with Core 2 processors while Q965 Express is expected to launch the first week of September with Intel’s vPro business platform.

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