Summary: With support for ATI Avivo, dual digital outputs, dual-link DVI, HDMI and HDCP, AMD's 690 chipset brings more to the table than any other integrated chipset offering before it when it comes to features. But what about performance? Does AMD 690 have what it takes to dethrone NVIDIA's GeForce 6150 and how does it stack up against Intel's Core 2 Duo/G965 combo? Only one way to find out!
Despite this, AMD was never really able to take away any share from Intel. Revenues and profits were up thanks to high margins and strong retail sales (in fact AMD outsold Intel at retail during multiple quarters), but Intel maintained the lion’s share of the overall PC market. In other words, AMD just wasn’t growing like they wanted to. This must have been an incredibly frustrating experience for AMD executives.
Ultimately, the solution they came up with sent shockwaves throughout the industry: they’d buy ATI.
When AMD purchased ATI last year there was lots of talk about the synergy between the two companies. Executives from both companies were abuzz with talks about platforms and the seemingly inevitable merging of the CPU and GPU.
AMD had just learned from experience that having the best processor doesn’t necessarily guarantee success longer term in the overall PC market. AMD’s open ecosystem of partners had allowed them to remain more than competitive to Intel while using significantly fewer resources than if they’d done it all on their own, but what OEMs really wanted were complete platforms that are fully-packaged and ready to go so the OEM can ship as quickly and efficiently as possible. Intel provides this with their desktop and mobile platforms; their Centrino platform is practically a household name, and many consumers insist on using Intel chipsets in their desktop PCs.
By buying ATI, AMD felt they had the perfect partner, it also didn’t hurt that ATI’s mobile chipsets are highly regarded throughout the industry.
Today’s introduction of the AMD 690 chipset series is the first official product of ATI and AMD’s recent marriage.
The origins of AMD 690
Despite what we just said above, AMD 690 is not the first product born as a result of the combined AMD+ATI. The 690 chipset has actually been in development for quite some time under ATI’s roof. Codenamed “RS690”, the chipset predates AMD’s purchase of ATI, in fact it has been featured on ATI roadmaps dating all the way back to 2005.
PCI Express Interface
2D Acceleration Features
3D Acceleration Features
Motion Video Acceleration Features
Multiple Display Features
80-nm manufacturing process at UMC
Radeon X1250 Graphics
The rest of the chipset
AMD outfits the 690 chipset with 24 PCI Express lanes. 16 lanes are devoted for the PCI Express graphics slot, while an additional four lanes are available for expansion slots and/or components integrated on the motherboard (audio, LAN, RAID, etc). The final four lanes are used for the A-Link II connection, which links the 690 North Bridge with the SB600 South Bridge chip.
Already we’ve received AMD 690 motherboards from ASUS and MSI, the M2A-VM from ASUS and MSI’s K9AGM2.
For a micro-ATX motherboard, the M2A-VM boasts a wide range of options for overclocking, including bus speeds up to 400MHz in 1MHz increments and CPU voltage options up to 1.550V in BIOS (in 0.025V increments) and DDR voltages up to 2.1V (you can also adjust the chipset voltage), while you can find DVI and VGA connections on the motherboard’s back plane. The board also supports HDMI via an external riser card that sits in the PCI Express graphics slot.
MSI’s M2A-VM is notable due to its diminutive size – it’s so small it looks like it’s ready for use right now in one of MSI’s Mega PCs or any other small form factor system. Unfortunately due to its small size you lose two DIMMs, but all four SATA ports are still present, as well as two PCI slots, and x1 PCIe slot, and a PCI Express graphics slot. The M2A-VM also has an HDMI output located on the back plane of the motherboard, so you don’t need an external riser card to get that feature. MSI provides no options for overclocking in the M2A-VM’s BIOS
Both of these motherboards are expected to hit retail shortly, and should cost around $80 according to AMD. At that price, the 690 chipset is comparable to NVIDIA’s GeForce 6150 and about $40 cheaper than Intel’s G965 integrated platform. We’ll be testing all three chipsets in this article to see how the platforms stack up against each other.
Company of Heroes 1.3
3DMark 06 – Direct3D
F.E.A.R. – Direct3D
Oblivion – Direct3D
HL2 Lost Coast – Direct3D
Company of Heroes – Direct3D
Quake 4 – OpenGL
Thanks to Radeon X1250, AMD 690 can drive two digital displays simultaneously. And as we mentioned previously, the integrated graphics engine supports dual-link DVI; the chipset had no problems running Dell’s 3007WFP at 2560x1600. This is great news for IT professionals in an environment with a wide range of PCs, the integrated graphics engine inside AMD 690 is so versatile it can drive any display, whether it’s a 10-year old 15” CRT running off VGA, or the latest 30” LCD off DVI.
Meanwhile, home theater PC users will appreciate the fact that both HDMI and component video outputs are also supported, provided the motherboard provides the right connections. And with the addition of Surroundview, just pop in a Radeon graphics card and you’re ready for up to four displays! Media center PC users will also appreciate the addition of Avivo, we ran a quick test of HQV and confirmed that the 690 chipset is capable of delivering a score of 80. Now technically the GeForce 6150 with Purevideo is capable of slightly higher scores, but Purevideo isn’t always bundled with NVIDIA hardware and starts at $19.99 for the Bronze version. With AMD 690 you’re getting good video quality out-of-the-box for free.
AMD’s 690 chipset also outperformed GeForce 6150 in our gaming tests. AMD 690 outran the GeForce 6150 in all of the games we tested, with the 690 chipset running nearly two times faster than GeForce 6150 in Company of Heroes and F.E.A.R. at 1280x1024. The GeForce 6150 platform ran faster in our DivX conversion and Windows Media Encoder 9 tests though, as well as Cinebench 9.5 and PCMark 05. Both PCMark 05 and HDTach also revealed a slight performance advantage in the storage subsystem for GeForce 6150. The GeForce 6150 platform was also more power hungry than AMD 690, particularly under load.
And how did AMD 690 stack up against its archrival, Intel’s G965? Here we’re giving AMD 690 the edge once again in gaming, although the encoding tests favored the Intel platform. Let’s explain…
Intel’s G965 platform was able to outrun AMD 690 in two of our gaming tests, Quake 4 and 3DMark 06, but we’re giving the edge to AMD due to its overall compatibility, in addition to its 3D performance. The G965 platform had serious performance and rendering problems in Half-Life 2 Lost Coast, and couldn’t even run Oblivion – every time we attempted to launch the program we got an error message. Intel’s G965 platform has run into so many issues Intel has to provide a webpage outlining which games do and don’t work with G965. In comparison, with AMD’s 690 chipset it’s simple – everything just works.
Where Intel’s platform shines however is in the encoding tests. These tests are basically testing the CPU more than the chipset itself, and here Intel’s Core 2 Duo E6400 essentially outran the X2 5000+ we used for testing. AMD would argue that since the AMD 690 platform is $40 cheaper than G965, that money can be spent on a faster CPU like the X2 5200+, which runs anywhere from 3-5% faster than the 5000+, we believe the money saved though would be even better spent on a discrete graphics card like the Radeon X1350LE or Radeon X1550.That’s the real value of AMD’s platform right now in our opinion.
Overall AMD’s got a nice product on their hands with the 690 chipset, but they could have had a killer product had they shipped back in Q3 or Q4 of 2006. The AMD 690 chipset has got all the right features, including the most versatile array of display options on the market, as well as very good 3D performance -- it’s the best integrated platform for gaming right now, but this really could have been huge had it been available when ATI originally intended. In a matter of months the 690 chipset will be going up against Intel’s next-generation Bearlake-G chipset, which is rumored to have DVI and HDMI just like AMD 690, as well as DX10 graphics, and NVIDIA is also expected to have integrated chipsets of their own later this year.
In other words, AMD’s got the best integrated platform today, but this is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary upgrade from the previous bar that had already been established with GeForce 6150. If they want to remain on top, they’d better not rest on their laurels…
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