When building a new home theater computer, a common question is whether you should run off the Intel HD 3000 graphics or do you need a discrete video card.
In this comparison, you will learn the main differences between an integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics and discrete video card NVIDIA GeForce GT 430.
The testing methodology includes the following benchmarks:
- Windows Experience Index
- PCMark Vantage Benchmark
- XBMC Video Playback CPU Utilization
- Gaming Performance
- Video Transcoding Performance
Let’s find out which one is ideal for the home theater PC use.
Integrated: Intel HD 3000 Graphics
I used Intel Core i3-2105 with Intel HD 3000 graphics in my old HTPC system and it has an excellent price to performance ratio and it provided enough performance for media center tasks.
Discrete: GeForce GT 430
I chose Asus GeForce GT 430 with a cooling fan as a discrete video card for this comparison. While there are many newer GPUs available in the market, this card is still regarded as one of the best video cards for demanding home theater PC usage.
The GT 430 does not generate much additional heat with a cooling fan, but provides an audible fan noise. Some people may find the fan noise disturbing, so you should get a passively cooled version if possible.
Windows Experience Index
As you can see from the screenshots below, there is quite significant difference between the two contenders (45% overall improvement with the GT 430). The discrete GPU has a clear advantage in the desktop graphics, which means that you will get better performance e.g. when editing photos or videos.
While the gaming graphics score difference does not look that great on paper, there is quite big difference in gaming performance in practice. For example, the Dirt 2 Rally was barely playable with Intel HD 3000 while the GT 430 was able to play the game smoothly with full settings.
Intel HD 3000
GeForce GT 430
PCMark Vantage Benchmark
Futuremark’s PCMark Vantage is an excellent testing suite to see how well these two GPUs work in real-world user-scenarios such as playing movies, handling photos or playing games.
As can be seen from the test results above, there is no real difference in the video playback capabilities (TV and movies score), while the difference is much greater when editing photos (memories score) or playing games.
XBMC Video Playback
I tested video playback capabilities with XBMC Media Center using various kinds of media files. These files included 1080P Blu-ray, 576P DVD, 420P h264 compressed file, and MPEG2 live TV stream.
The main purpose of this test was to find out how much CPU performance these tasks consume and if there are any quality issues such as frame drops.
Overall, it seems that the Intel HD 3000 has enough performance for media center tasks, except for watching deinterlaced live TV with XBMC.
I did not see any noticeable difference in Blu-ray and DVD picture quality between HD 3000 and GT 430. The CPU usage was significantly higher on HD 3000 when playing 1080p video, but this did not show in the playback quality.
In live TV video, there were some minor differences. I was not able to use DXVA Best deinterlace setting with HD 3000 (because image freezes), so GT 430 had slightly better deinterlacing quality.
Furthermore, I’ve had occasional dropped frame and other macroblocking issues with HD 3000 when watching live TV through MediaPortal TV server in XBMC 11 Eden PVR edition. With GT 430, I had no dropped frame or other picture quality issues, so it improves live TV experience on XBMC.
However, I did not notice any dropped frame or macroblocking issues on other software such as Windows Media Center.
There was a significant gaming performance difference between integrated and discrete GPU. For example, as you can see from the video below, Colin McRae Rally Dirt 2 was barely playable with HD 3000 while it run smoothly with GT 430.
Video Transcoding Performance
Video transcoding refers to an activity where you convert a previously compressed video file into another format with e.g. different bit rate and video quality. I tested the video transcoding performance using Graysky’s x264 HD Benchmark 5.0, which allows to test how fast the GPU can encode a 1080p video clip into a high quality x264 video file.
Sandy Bridge CPUs such as 2nd generation Intel Core i3 use Intel Quick Sync Video technology to perform high-speed H.264 conversions. For this reason, HD 3000 has very good video transcoding performance and is about as fast as the NVIDIA GeForce (as shown in the chart above).
If you do not play games or need deinterlacing for live TV video, Intel i3-2105 with Intel HD 3000 is a perfect choice for you.
However, for those who need a little extra performance and do modest gaming like Colin McRae Dirt 2 or World of Warcraft, the GeForce GT 430 with a cooling fan or passive cooled version) is great value for your money.
If you want to see the latest graphics card options, be sure to check out my list of recommended components.