The ability to cram in more and more transistors in a die has made it possible to have both the CPU and GPU in the same silicon. Intel's GPUs have traditionally catered to the entry-level consumers, and have often been deemed good enough for basic HTPC use. AMD introduced their own CPU + GPU combination in the Llano series last year. While AMD does have a better GPU architecture in-house, they could not integrate their best possible GPU for fear of cannibalizing their mid-range GPU sales. The result was that Llano, while being pretty decent for HTPC use, didn't excite us enough to recommend it wholeheartedly.

Today, Intel is taking on AMD's Llano with a revamped integrated GPU. We have traditionally not been kind to Intel in our HTPC reviews because of the lack of proper drivers and open source software support. Things took a turn for the better with Sandy Bridge. One of Intel's engineers took it upon himself to bring reliable hardware decoding support on Intel platforms with the QuickSync decoder.

As a tech journalist in the HTPC space, I spend quite a bit of time on forums such as Doom9 and AVSForum where end-users and developers interact with each other. The proactive nature of the QuickSync developer in interacting with the end-users was something sorely lacking from Intel's side previously. We have seen various driver issues getting quashed over the last few releases, thanks to the new avenue of communication between Intel and the consumers.

With Ivy Bridge, we are getting a brand new GPU with more capabilities. Given the recent driver development history, even advanced HTPC users could be pardoned for thinking that Ivy Bridge would make a discrete HTPC GPU redundant. Video post processing quality is subjective, but that shouldn't prevent us from presenting pictorial results for readers to judge. One of the most talked about issues with the Intel GPU for HTPC purposes is the lack of proper 23.976 Hz display refresh rate support. Does this get solved in Ivy Bridge?

In this review, we present our experience with Ivy Bridge as a HTPC platform using a Core i7-3770K (with Intel HD Graphics 4000). In the first section, we tabulate our testbed setup and detail the tweaks made in the course of our testing. A description of our software setup and configuration is also provided. Following this, we have the results from the HQV 2.0 benchmark and some pictorial evidence of the capabilities of the GPU drivers. A small section devoted to the custom refresh rates is followed by some decoding and rendering benchmarks. No HTPC solution is completely tested without looking at the network streaming capabilities (Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight performance). In the final section, we cover miscellaneous aspects such as power consumption and then proceed to the final verdict.

Testbed and Software Setup
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  • jwilliams4200 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Not really. I think HD4000 is just about right for an HTPC. Later, when the Ivy Bridge core-i3's come out, I think the i3-3225, with HD4000, will be the first choice for HTPCs.
  • shawkie - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    If the i7-3770T is actually ever available to buy then from a power consumption point of view it would also be a good choice (with plenty of CPU headroom for the times where GPU decoding doesn't work) . From a cost point of view it might be a bit on the high side I suppose.
  • flashbacck - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    As one of the few people still running a dedicated htpc, I appreciate the article.
  • anirudhs - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    You mean use your HTPC for all media, including HD-DVR and Blu-Ray? I am just getting into it now.
  • jwcalla - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Getting an i7 for an HTPC is like getting a Mustang GT500 to drive Miss Daisy. Come on now, is AT a review site for Daddy Warbucks types?

    Ok serious question though. What's the Intel IVB driver / HW acceleration situation on Linux? I couldn't imagine dropping $100 on Windows 7 for something as simple as HTPC functionality. For nvidia we're talking $10 Geforce card + VDPAU + lowest end CPU + least amount of RAM possible + linux = HTPC solution. Or a Zotac box. Can Intel compete with that?
  • ExarKun333 - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    This review is really testing the HD4000 implementation. When the dual-cores are released with the HD4000, the GPU will be exactly the same, so almost everything will be directly applicable there too.
  • anirudhs - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    If you plan on getting cable onto your PC you have no choice but Windows due to DRM issues. Some channels will not be recorded by MythTV.
  • CoffeeGrinder - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    With that P8H77-M config, if you use a double slot GPU in one PCIex16 slot (and so lose one PCIex1 slot) and use TV tuners in both on the remaining slots PCIex1 and PCIex16 does using the second PCIex16 slot result in the first PCIex16 running at x8 ?
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    If the second PCIe is occupied, then it will cause the first x16 to run at x8. Both these slots are electrically connected, so when you need even one lane, it takes eight away from the first PCIe slot for it.
  • Bluestraw - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    I see you didn't test madVR in Full Screen Exclusive mode - can you elaborate on the reason for this please? I read over at missingremote that FSE improved the situation significantly for madVR with the HD4000?

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