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Intel DG33TL G33 Express chipset mATX motherboard

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The DG33TL is a micro-ATX model equipped with the fairly recent G33 Express chipset in Intel’s media series of motherboards. It’s on our test bench as we continue to seek out new boards with good integrated graphics and features suitable for home theater PCs.

December 5, 2007 by Lawrence
Lee

Product

Intel DG33TL
LGA775 motherboard

ManufacturerIntel
Street PriceUS$120

Intel branded boards are commonly known for their reliability, and unfortunately,
for their inferior integrated video subsystems. Throughout the years, many enthusiasts
have snickered at Intel’s so-called "Extreme Graphics." Their graphics
chips have traditionally been weak, supporting fewer features and
performing significantly worse than their competitor’s offerings. They were meant for corporate applications where integrated graphics tend to dominate. Yet, Intel is the biggest maker of intergated graphics cards in the world.

Today, the
PC is more than just a computer — it’s a complete entertainment system used
to exhibit music, pictures, and more and more frequently, television and movies.
With high definition content becoming popular, even the most basic of systems
are expected to support HD playback right out of the box and thus integrated
graphics have had to improve dramatically in this regard.

As more users connect their systems directly to big screen HDTVs, connectivity
also becomes an issue. For some time, both AMD and nVidia’s board partners have
been producing many full-fledged motherboards supporting both HDMI and DVI.
Just DVI alone was rare on Intel boards. The board
under review here is one of the exceptions: The Intel DG33TL based on Intel’s
G33 Express chipset.

Intel DG33TL: Specifications (from the
product web page
)
Form FactorMicro ATX (9.60 inches by 9.60 inches
[243.84 millimeters by 243.84 millimeters])
Processor* Support for an Intel® Core™2
Quad processor in an LGA775 socket with a 1066 MHz system bus
* Support for an Intel® Core™2 Duo processor in an LGA775 socket
with a 1333/1066/800 MHz system bus
* Support for an Intel® Pentium® Dual-Core processor in an LGA775
socket with an 800 MHz system bus
* Support for an Intel® Celeron® processor in an LGA775 socket with
an 800 MHz system bus
Memory* Four 240-pin DDR2 SDRAM Dual Inline
Memory Module (DIMM) sockets
* Support for DDR2 800, or DDR2 667 MHz DIMMs
* Support for up to 8 GB of system memory
Chipset* Intel® G33 Express Chipset
Audio

Intel® High Definition Audio subsystem in the following configuration:

* 8-channel (7.1) audio subsystem with five analog audio outputs and
one optical S/PDIF digital audio output using the Sigmatel STAC9271D*
audio codec

VideoIntel® Graphics Media Accelerator
3100 onboard graphics subsystem with Intel® Clear Video Technology
LANSupport Gigabit (10/100/1000 Mbits/sec)
LAN subsystem using the Intel® 82566DC Gigabit Ethernet Controller
Peripheral Interfaces* Twelve USB 2.0 ports (6 external ports,
3 internal headers)
* Six Serial ATA 3.0 Gb/s ports, including 1 eSATA port with RAID support
* Two IEEE-1394a ports (1 external port, 1 internal header)
* Consumer IR receiver and emitter (via internal headers)
* One Parallel ATA IDE interface with UDMA 33, ATA-66/100/133 support (2
devices supported)
* One serial port via header
Expansion Capabilities* One PCI Conventional* bus add-in card
connector
* Two PCI Express* x1 bus add-in card connectors
* One PCI Express* x16 bus add-in card connector
Microsoft Vista* Premium
Ready
With a PC built with Intel® Core™2
Duo or Intel® Core™2 Quad processors, and the Intel® Desktop
Board, you can experience a more responsive and manageable environment of
Microsoft Windows Vista* including a new visual sophistication of the Windows
Aero* interface.

The DG33TL has all the basic features you would normally see on a mATX motherboard,
though there are also a few surprises such as FireWire, 12 USB ports, support
for 6 SATA drives and multiple RAID schemes with said drives. One of the internal
SATA ports is actually designated for eSATA — not something you see every day.
eSATA offers a fast interface for transferring data externally and it’s a welcome
addition, especially on a mainstream board. Intel’s GMA 3100 powers the onboard
graphics.

PACKAGING & LAYOUT


The box’s design screams excitement.


The package contents.

The board ships with two SATA data cables of the perferred locking variety, but no power
adapters. Also included is an internal SATA to eSATA PCI bracket adapter for
use with the red SATA port designated for eSATA use. The documentation warns, "Do not use the red external SATA (eSATA) connector to connect to an
internal SATA drive," which is puzzling since normally any SATA port can
function for external use with a proper adapter (such as the one included with
the Antec
MX-1 eSATA enclosure
). It may be that Intel has wired this port and
the included adapter in some proprietary fashion.


The DG33TL layout.

The board’s layout is a bit of a mixed bag. We applaud putting the front panel
header well away from the bottom of the board (great for fat
clumsy fingers) and aligning the SATA ports vertically, but we absolutely hate
the placement of the IDE connector. There is a perfect space for the IDE port
beside the 24-pin ATX connector, but alas it is empty, housing only the traces
of a non-existent floppy port. A 4-pin fan header is located at the top edge
of the board for use with the CPU fan. Additional 3-pin headers are located
at the rear of the board just above the PCI-E 16x slot and on the opposite side
just above the SATA ports.


The northbridge heatsink stands 38mm tall.


A closer view of the chipset heatsinks.

The northbridge cooler is very close to the PCI-E 16x slot, which may pose
problems with users who use video card coolers with hardware on the top (trace) side
of the card. The heatsink’s size is intimidating and confidence inspiring. The
retention clip is latched onto a plastic frame on each side of the heatsink,
which in turn, are attached to four metal hoops soldered directly
to the PCB. Replacing it just isn’t feasible. The much smaller southbridge heatsink
is comprised of many well-spaced fins and is held on in a similar manner, but
without the plastic frames. At first glance it appears chipset cooling will
not be a problem.


Board’s back panel.

The back of the board facilitates VGA and DVI connections as well as 6 x USB,
FireWire, gigabit ethernet, and both analog and digital audio (via an optical
TOSLINK connector). Note: The DG33TL is completely legacy free.

BIOS & FAN CONTROL

Intel has traditionally locked down their BIOSs to prevent frequency
and voltage manipulation (with their "Bad Axe" series being a notable
exception), and the DG33TL follows this tradition. The BIOS is simply crippled.
Aside from memory frequency, video memory, and fan control settings, it’s a
strictly a "look and don’t touch" experience. Voltages, CPU frequency
and multiplier, and memory timings are not just grayed out — they are not even
listed.

Video memory can be assigned or 128MB/256MB in a fixed or dynamic
setting. The latter option sets it as the maximum amount that can be assigned
by the DVMT (dynamic video memory technology), which varies the amount of memory
used depending on the application.


Fan Control menu.

The wording in the Fan Control section was cryptic. We tested how the "Processor
Zone Response" setting altered the automatic fan control on the system.
Using both the ‘Aggressive’ and ‘Normal’ settings, the fan on our Zerotherm
heatsink spun between 850 and 900RPM until the CPU temperature was pushed past
62°C, at which point the fan ramped up suddenly to 1700RPM. With the ‘Slow’ setting
the same drastic increase in fan speed was observed, only this time it warmed
up to about 72°C before the fan kicked it into gear. The fan’s maximum speed
is around 2500RPM.


Hardware Monitoring section of the BIOS.

The Hardware Monitoring section of the BIOS reports CPU, motherboard, and both
chipset temperatures. Though there are three figures for fan speed reporting,
the two 3-pin fan headers would not report the RPM of any fans connected to
them, only the 4-pin CPU fan header supported this function.

Hardware Monitoring Software

When we loaded up SpeedFan,
we were met with a mainly blank screen. Only the
core temperatures of the CPU were reported. SpeedFan 4.33 obviously does not supports the DG33TL
at the time of this review.

We decided to try Intel’s Desktop Utilities software. Surprisingly,
the functionality was quite good. All the available information from the BIOS
was presented in a simple and pleasing fashion. A small green circle indicated
that everything was nominal. There were also thresholds which could be selected
for monitoring various temperatures and voltages. When a threshold is exceeded
you have the choice of a blinking tray icon, a pop-up message, or an audio alert.


Intel’s hardware monitoring software.


Thresholds for sensor alerts are customizable.

Unfortunately, this utility turned out to be a pain in use. When it loaded for the first
time after reboot, the system basically stalled for over a minute. It placed
a small icon on the system tray, which when clicked, resulted in another long
pause before the program would actually display. Exiting Desktop Utilities resulted
in more of the same. It may have been a Vista-related issue; whatever,
it was unpleasant.

In the end we found that fan control was only available for 4-pin fans connected
to the CPU fan header, and only adjustable via the BIOS. There isn’t a whole
lot you can do when it comes to fan control, just play with the settings and
pray.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Test Setup:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Our test procedure is designed to determine the overall system power consumption
at various states, and to test the integrated
graphics’ proficiency at playing back high definition videos. Standard HD-DVD
and Blu Ray discs can be encoded in three different codecs by design: MPEG-2,
H.264/AVC and VC-1. MPEG-2 has been around for a number of years and is not
demanding on modern system resources. H.264 and VC-1 encoded videos on the other
hand, due to the amount of complexity in their compression schemes, are extremely
stressful and will not play smoothly (or at all) on slower PCs, especially with
antiquated video subsystems.

Since we did not have a HD-DVD or Blu Ray drive at our disposal, we instead
used a variety of H.264 and VC-1 video clips encoded for playback on the PC
for testing. The clips were played with Windows Media Player 11 and a CPU usage
graph was created by the Windows Task Manger for analysis to determine the approximate
mean and average CPU use. High CPU usage is indicative of poor video decoding
ability on the part of the integrated graphics subsystem. If CPU usage reached
extremely high levels and the video skipped or froze, we concluded the board
(in conjunction with the processor) failed to adequately decompress the clip.

Enhanced Intel Speed Step was enabled and Aero Glass was disabled during testing.

Video Test Suite


1280×720 | 24fps | ~6.1mbps
720p H.264: BBC’s
HD in Full Bloom
is encoded with H.264. It features time-lapsed
photography, mainly of various flowers blooming with vibrant colors
and high contrast.

1920×816 | 24fps | ~9.9mbps
1080p H.264:
Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1
is encoded with H.264. It has a good mixture
of light and dark scenes, interspersed with fast-motion action and cutaways.

1440×1080 | 24fps | ~7.5mbps
WMV3 VC-1:
Coral Reef Adventure trailer
is encoded in VC-1 using the WMV3
codec (commonly recognized by the moniker, "HD WMV"). It features
multiple outdoor landscape and dark underwater scenes.

1280×720 | 60fps | ~11.9mbps
WVC1 VC-1: Microsoft Flight Simulator X trailer
is encoded in VC-1. It’s a compilation of in-game action from a third
person point of view. While the source image quality is poor compared
to the other videos in our test suite, it is encoded using the Windows
Media Video 9 Advanced Profile (aka WVC1) codec — a much more demanding
implementation of VC-1.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption & CPU Usage
Test State
Mean CPU Usage
Peak CPU Usage
(Either Core)
System Power (AC)
Core 0 / 1
Average
Off
N/A
N/A
N/A
2W
Sleep (S3)
N/A
N/A
N/A
3W
Idle
0%
0%
0%
52W
720p H.264
18% / 11%
14.5%
44%
~55W
1080p H.264
15% / 35%
25.0%
60%
~58W
WMV3 VC-1
32% / 25%
28.5%
60%
~58W
WVC1 VC-1
51% / 53%
52.0%
79%
~71W
Prime95
100%
100%
100%
96W

Impressively, the system plowed through the video tests with ease. CPU usage
remained under 50% for the majority of playback. The most stressful video, the
WVC1 clip caused CPU usage to peak at 79% on Core 1 — still plenty of headroom
for even more complex decompression. It may be that the Core 2 Duos are simply
very efficient at decoding high definition videos. We would have liked to lower
the CPU speed to see what effect it would have had on our test results, but
due to the Orwellian BIOS, this just wasn’t possible.

Comparison: System Power Consumption (AC)
Test State
M2A-VM +
X2 BE-2400+
DG33TL + C2D E6400
Idle
35W
52W
720p H.264
~52W
~55W
1080p H.264
~57W
~58W
WMV3 VC-1
~58W
~58W
WVC1 VC-1
~65W
~71W
CPUBurn / Prime95
84W
96W

The last motherboard we reviewed, the Asus M2A-VM HDMI paired with a X2 BE-2400+
processor, idled at only 35W, a difference of 17W, so the overall power consumption
during idle on this platform was quite a bit higher. When you take into account
that the Intel E6400 processor has a TDP of 65W compared to 45W for the AMD BE-2400+, it isn’t surprising. During video playback however, power
consumption, the Intel setup managed to close the gap, with only a 6W difference
during the WVC1 clip.

As expected, the massive northbridge heatsink stayed lukewarm throughout testing,
but the southbridge heatsink was definitely put to task, getting very hot to
the touch. This isn’t too surprising as most passive chipset coolers we’ve seen in the past heat up just as much.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Intel DG33TL has a good set of features including eSATA, which is
usually found on premium boards. Power consumption is relatively low and high
definition playback was surprisingly excellent — the best we’ve seen so
far for integrated graphics. It has an enormous northbridge heatsink and a well-designed,
low-profile southbridge heatsink. Everything it does, it does well. You could even turn it into a gaming rig by tossing on a good 3D graphics card but…

…with a stripped down BIOS, and atrocious fan control, it’s hard for
us to recommend it to either gamers or silent PC users. Not to get too metaphysical, but the
board lacks personality — it simply has no soul. There’s no doubt it is
a good performer, but throughout the review we never felt excited playing with
it as there were no points of intrigue or interesting features that made it
stand out. The DG33TL (along with the majority of Intel boards)
is more suitable for business or workstation environments, where no tinkering
is expected where it simply has to work, and absolutely nothing else. You could toss on a gaming graphics card and turn it The price
also makes it one of the most expensive mATX boards. For $120 we would like
HDMI to be included seeing as there are AMD 690G and nVidia-based Geforce 7150 motherboards
with HDMI retailing for $30~50 less.

It’s a shame but the DG33TL could have been so much more — the design
of the board is great and physically it has almost everything in needs to be
a champion. Sadly, it takes itself so seriously that it makes it hard for us
to appreciate it. In the end, the DG33TL is a robot, a grunt, a simple but extremely
effective soldier. Welcome to Sparta.

PROS

* Impressive set of features (including eSATA)
* Excellent high definition playback
* Low power consumption
* Large northbridge heatsink

CONS

* BIOS is locked down tight
* Severely limited fan control
(that requires a PWM fan)
* High price
* Lacks HDMI

Our thanks to Intel
for this motherboard sample.

* * *

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Hiper Media Center Barebones PC
Albatron KI690-AM2: A Mini-ITX Powerhouse
AOpen i945GTt-VFA m-ITX C2D motherboard


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