Fun with AGP

Several months ago, I retook possession of a PC which I had built back in 2003 (I think—it’s been a while). It is based on an Intel D865PERL (Rock Lake) board and a Northwood 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 with hyper-threading (HT). I newly upgraded the machine to 4 GB DDR400 RAM, something I didn’t want to invest in back in 2003 but is affordable now.

Unfortunately the system had serious trouble with graphics. The machine was equipped with an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro (R300), a card I got as a freebie at an ATI event in San Francisco back in 2002 or so. The card served me very well for years (until it was replaced by a Radeon 1950 XT in a completely new system), but now it just tended to lock up a lot. Closer inspection revealed that at least one of the RAM chips on the card is almost certainly loose, which is not that easy for me to fix (BGA chips).

Radeon HD 3850, one of the fastest AGP cards.

Radeon HD 3850, one of the fastest AGP cards.

The Intel 865 chipset is more or less the pinnacle of Intel’s AGP support, with AGP 8x capability. The next chipset, the Intel 915, was already based on PCI Express. On the other hand, the Radeon 9700 Pro is old enough that it works even in older AGP 2x systems.

As an intermediate solution, I stuffed a fan-less Radeon HD 3450 into the system. That took care of the stability, but I wasn’t very happy with performance. I didn’t do direct benchmarks but the card seemed slower than the old Radeon 9700 Pro. Part of the problem was that years ago, I used an analog CRT and ran games in 1024×768 resolution. Now the system has a 1600×1200 IPS LCD hooked up, and that more than doubles the number of pixels the GPU needs to push.

The Problem

My test case was Half-Life 2. It’s a 2004 game (yes, that old!) and the 3.2 GHz Pentium 4 is a perfectly adequate CPU for it. But the HD 3450 graphics card was not. The game ran okay with reduced settings, but turning on the flashlight or encountering smoke brought the frame rate down to almost nothing.

Replacing the graphics card with something faster should take care of the slowdowns. But what to replace it with, that’s the question.

Fastest AGP Card

So what’s the fastest AGP graphics card? The consensus seems to be that it’s not an Nvidia. It’s either a Radeon HD 3850 or a Radeon HD 4670. The comparison between these two is interesting (see data on Wikipedia).

The HD 3850 (RV670 PRO chip) was introduced in November 2007. The HD 3000 series was the last one where the high-end models existed in both AGP and PCIe variants (except for the exotic two-chip models which were PCIe only). The Radeon 3850 AGP cards (Sapphire, PowerColor) come with 512 MB GDDR3 memory and use a 256-bit memory interface. The TDP is 75W.

Radeon HD 3850 AGP Boxes

Radeon HD 3850 AGP Boxes

The HD 4670 (RV730 XT chip) was introduced in September 2008. In the HD 4000 series, only a few lower-end models were available in AGP format, and HD 4670 was the fastest of the AGP models. The commonly available specimen is a HiS IceQ 4670 and comes with 1 GB GDDR3 memory on a 128-bit interface. The TDP of the graphics chip is 59W.

HiS Radeon HD 4670 AGP

HiS Radeon HD 4670 AGP

In short, it’s an older high-end card vs. a newer mid-range card. As it turns out, there’s very little difference in benchmarks. The HD 3850 may be slightly faster… or not. As these graphs show (text in German but the numbers should be clear), either a HD 3850 or a HD 4670 is faster, depending on the resolution and anti-aliasing settings.

The performance differential is not significant and the 4670 is newer, quieter, more energy efficient, and usually cheaper. So, for most practical purposes, let’s say the Radeon HD 4670 is the best AGP graphics card, with the HD 3850 being very very close.

I have not yet had a chance to try a HD 4670 in my old Northwood P4 system, but tests with an even older board (Intel D850EMV2 with 850E chipset, 533 MHz FSB, RDRAM) show that yes, the 4670 is massively faster than the 3450, even with a slow CPU. In terms of GFLOPS, the 4670 is about 10x faster than the 3450. Yes, it’s that much, and it shows.

Fastest AGP Board

Now that we have identified the fastest AGP card, more or less, the obvious follow up question is: What’s the fastest AGP motherboard? And the answer is not straightforward.

On the Intel side of things, the 865G or 865PE (or 875P) chipset is basically all there is. My old D865PERL is close to the fastest AGP motherboard sold by Intel (though see below). It is a Socket 478 platform which severely limits the CPU performance.

But there’s Intel and there are crazy Taiwanese board manufacturers. Someone realized that the 865 chipset can a) be used with the LGA775 socket, and b) can support Core 2 Duo and possibly even Core 2 Quad processors, and c) can be more or less reliably overclocked to 1066 MHz FSB (minus graphics in the 865G case).

Examples of this are the ASRock ConRoe865PE or ASUS P5PE-VM. Most such boards, with the exception of the ConRoe865PE, are limited in that they only have two memory slots and are hence cannot support more than 2 GB RAM. However, even (say) a 2.6 GHz Core 2 Duo with 800 MHz FSB (no overclocking) massively outperforms any Pentium 4 processor. And these boards should be able to support approximately 3 GHz Core 2 CPUs.

If we abandon Intel chipsets but not CPUs, there’s the ASRock 775Dual-VSTA based on the VIA PT880 chipset. I’ve never been a fan of VIA but the board supports AGP together with Core 2 processors and DDR2 RAM. It unfortunately does not support the faster Core 2 models with 1333 MHz FSB (it stops at 1066 MHz).

Things get more interesting if we go with completely non-Intel solutions. For example the ASRock AM2NF3-VSTA board is built around the Nvidia nForce3 chipset and supports DDR2 memory with up to 16 GB RAM, and according to ASRock, can use AMD Phenom II X4 processors up to 3.5 GHz. That should be a significantly more modern and faster platform than anything based on the Intel 865 chipset. The big downside of the nForce chipset is poor AGP support in newer Windows versions, especially 64-bit.

Based on my research, I currently believe that the AM2NF3-VSTA should be the fastest AGP board, but I have not put that to the test (since I don’t have one) and it is possible that there are others out there.

Addendum (NetBurst Sucks)

Over the last few days I had a chance to try the AGP Radeon HD 4670 in an Intel D875PBZ (Bonanza) board. That’s a close relative of my old D865PERL, using the higher-end (but nearly identical) 875P Canterwood chipset.

Intel D875PBZ (Bonanza) motherboard

Intel D875PBZ (Bonanza) motherboard

It is very obvious that the graphics card is not the weak point of the system. The problem is essentially that Intel ditched AGP together with Socket 478, and the Socket 478 platform is far too limiting. Aside from the very exotic Extreme Edition CPUs, the best Socket 478 CPU is a 3.4 GHz Prescott Pentium 4 with 1 MB L2 cache (doubled from Northwood’s 512 KB), and with 16 KB L1 cache (doubled from Northwood’s 8 KB). And like other NetBurst processors, it’s just Intel’s way of demonstrating that clock speed isn’t everything.

For example in 3DMark 2001 benchmarks, the HD 4670 achieves a score around 20,000 on the D875PBZ (with the said 3.4 GHz Prescott). That is very similar to what LGA775 Prescotts reach on the ASUS P5PE-VM. But on the same P5PE-VM with the same 865G chipset and the same DDR400 memory, Core 2 processors get to 30,000 or even 40,000 points in 3DMark 2001 (the latter with 2.93 GHz Conroe). Yes, NetBurst was that bad.

That is on the whole not very surprising given that the last Intel Socket 478 boards are from 2003 and the HD 4670 is from 2008, full five years newer. The takeaway is that Intel killed AGP quite a bit before its reached the end of its useful life.

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24 Responses to Fun with AGP

  1. raijinzrael says:

    Intel 865 without graphics core is for 20xx era, like the 440BX was for the 90’s. A very well engineered chipset which can even support far more upgrade that their manufacturer ever thought. Is very stable even with 775 Core2 CPUs, and very well supported by big player Linux and NT OSs. With 865 + certain ISA bridge chips, like ITE ones you even can get full ISA/PCPCI DMA support for those Yamaha and Creative soundcards and DOS games which require that. Since 865 was supported by Win98 both WDM and VxD drivers, you can set up it for any game and application which runs better under Win9x family, and it will work to full performance (with the right video card ofc). Some people even attempted to build 3dfx Vodooo SLI configurations with 865 chipset with a certain degree of sucess (although with P4 it had a reduction in performance as seems 3dfx doesn’t like Netburst, i wonder if that would be the same case with a Core2).

    In a few words, great chipset, and the real sucessor of the 440BX crown.

  2. random lurker says:

    I had the 775dual-vsta board and it was an incredible pain in the ass. I could not get it stable with either type of graphics card (agp or pcie). Tried everything, updating the bios, drivers, reducing agp and pcie options, etc. Even if you’re into tinkering, I recommend you steer far away from that piece of shit board.

  3. random lurker says:

    The big reason for getting a 775dual-vsta originally was so that I could upgrade to a Core 2 Duo based system without having to replace my AGP graphics card, but also have the option of upgrading to a PCIe based graphics card later. That was one of the big selling points of the 775dual-vsta. But in practice it didn’t really work and I had to ditch the system quite soon.

  4. Pavel Zagrebin says:

    You can significantly boost 478 board performance with Asus CT-479 adapter and e.g. Pentium M 780.
    Should be faster than any 478 Netburst maybe except Extreme ones.
    Slightly overclocked it can reach Core 2 Duo level of performance.

    With PT880 you can go for Quad Extremes (not sure about 865, may be possible too) .
    That’s probably the best platform for AGP from Intel side.
    To reach this level on Phenom II with AN2NF3 extreme cooling is usually needed.

    PS There are some boards with 915 chipset that have AGP through PCI(?) bridge.
    Not recommended of course.

  5. Chris M. says:

    FWIW, ASRock still sells the 775i65G R3.0 brand new at least here in the US. Socket 775 and claims to support Core2Quads! Only two DIMM slots though and running 1066FSB CPUs requires overclockable CL2.5 DDR400 RAM and an AGP card as the onboard video won’t work!

    http://www.asrock.com/mb/Intel/775i65G%20R3.0/

    I’m half tempted to get one as I have a Pentium D and some sticks of DDR400 laying around.

  6. Michal Necasek says:

    Thanks for the heads-up (and thumbs-down). My experience with VIA chipsets has been in the unimpressive to bad range, so I can’t say I’m surprised at all.

  7. Michal Necasek says:

    I think that’s really really similar to my ASUS P5PE-VM, it has more or less identical restrictions. I’m quite happy with that board.

    Pentium D (except maybe for the lowest clocked Preslers) is one of the very few CPUs that require thermal paste to even boot. I’m not a fan. Then again with a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo (800MHz FSB) such a board performs very well, and with a ~3 GHz Core 2 Duo it’s even better.

  8. Chris M. says:

    Yeah, that Pentium D 820 was replaced by a Core2Duo E6700 for a reason. Instant speed boost for that machine for all of $12 (close to 2x!). 😛

  9. Yuhong Bao says:

    There is a reason why I asked about why they didn’t make Conroe drop in compatible. It would be more expensive back in 2006, but…

  10. zeurkous says:

    Yeah, VIA chipsets definitely suck. I think few with actual experience would disagree on that. But perhaps I’m naive .

  11. Sintendo says:

    I think you’ve mixed up 3450 with 4350 in a few places.

  12. Michal Necasek says:

    Indeed I did. Should be fixed now. Thanks for spotting that! It was a HD 3450, not that a 4350 would have changed much.

  13. ender says:

    I used 775Dual-VSTA in my home server for a while – worked fine for me, except I could never get an Intel PCIe network card to work, probably due to some chipset limitation when AGP slot was used.

  14. xrror says:

    I’m pretty sure that the ASRock ConRoe865PE existed due to the forced bundling by Intel of Atom processors with the (NM10? / 865) chipset. nVidia had it’s Ion chipset for Atom (which had considerably better graphics, and also PCI (e?) support) so any mobo maker making Ion chipset boards had a pointless Intel chipset they weren’t using.

    AsRock found a use for them =)

    I’ll try and source some info on this, NM10 might be too new but if you can dig up the history on the nVidia Ion chipset, note the Intel chipset that it would displace…

  15. Yuhong Bao says:

    NM10 is different from the 865 chipset.

  16. bhtooefr says:

    To expand on what Yuhong Bao said, NM10 is basically a southbridge for the second-gen (Pineview) and third-gen (Cedarview) Atoms, which had an on-die northbridge. (They still had a FSB, but it never left the chip.)

    Also, i865 doesn’t make sense in the Atom context, the older Diamondville Atoms were always paired with i945 chipsets, usually either an i945GC or i945GSE variant.

  17. JARED says:

    Listen here all you PUNKS

    I am so tired of all these young PUNKS pretending to know about AGP, like they have not just crawled out of their mothers’ basements and seen their first set of real titties. A bunch of low-life teenage LOSERS who wouldn’t know what to do with an AGP slot if they even saw one, which they never would because you have NO IDEA WHAT IT EVEN LOOKS LIKE.

    I have run a successful computer repair business for 32 years and every time one of you KNOW IT ALL TEENAGE PUNKS comes into my store, I tell them before they even say anything to me – LISTEN YOU LITTLE PUNK I do not have the patience to hear about your adventures in finding a video card for your RETRO AGP MOTHERBOARD. You have NEVER seen an AGP slot and you need to stop pretending. Your silly little stubble beard is not fooling me, you KNOW-NOTHING PUNK.

    All of my best performing PCs are 440BX chipset boards and I run SLACKWARE LINUX on them. Why do you need anything faster than that you are just a MORON PUNK TEENAGER and you need to move out of your mom’s basement and GET A JOB

    Maybe you would run a successful computer repair business like me but YOU DON”T KNOW ANYTHING, ESPECIALLY WHAT AN AGP SLOT LOOKS LIKE.

    I BET YOU HAVE NEVER EVEN TOUCHED A RIVA TNT2 WITH YOUR SLIMY RAT FINGERS

    Besides I do not have any AGP cards to sell you.

  18. Michal Necasek says:

    Thank you for the comic relief!

    For the record, I suspect most of the readership is a bit past their teenage years and more than a few may consider VL-bus graphics a new-fangled invention.

  19. JARED says:

    I remember the VESA bus well you foul-mouthed PUNK

    In fact I still say only YOUNG PUNKS need more than 256 colors.
    Any more than 256 colors just says to me, you are not getting any REAL WORK done.

    When I repair a computer in my shop (which I have owned for 32 years) I always set it to 256 colors, it is best for the KNOW-NOTHING customer.

  20. Michal Necasek says:

    What do you mean “I remember the VESA bus well”? That sounds like you’re not running VLB anymore!

  21. JARED says:

    I reserve all of my 486-based VLB motherboard systems to control the automated sewing machine that we use for my wife’s SUCCESSFUL quilting business, but you would not know anything about running a successful business so don’t ask me to give you any tips. Nor would you know anything about what it takes to LAND A REAL WIFE. Especially a PROFESSIONAL QUILTER.

    While not running my successful computer repair shop of 32 years, I have found time and again that VLB gives the best graphics throughput for my wife’s Windows 3.1-based quilting software. This is QUALITY software which uses only the most dependable software timing loops to ensure the BEST quilting. It will not run on a PENTIUM CPU because of the SABOTAGE that Intel and Microsoft and Lotus performed on software loops inside the PENTIUM CPU.

    Also you do NOT need more than 256 colors to plan and execute a QUALITY quilt, so a VLB Diamond Stealth 64 is the ultimate in quilting graphics. Nor do you need any Microsoft Windows 95 garbage getting in the way of the software that controls the machines. SO DO NOT TALK TO ME ABOUT NEEDING 2MB VRAM ON THE STEALTH 64 YOU YOUNG CHILD.

    I do not want to hear about any silly USB garbage, this quilting machine is SERIAL ONLY and I do not trust a VLSI 16550 UART to produce quality quilts, ONLY A GENUINE 16550 UART WILL DO, but you PUNKS would never even know what I am talking about.

    I bet you have never even seen a VLB I/O card, and if you did you would probably connect a 500MB hard drive to it and RUIN EVERYTHING with your measly overclocking attempts to get the VLB bus to 50MHz. Just to MAKE YOUR MOMMY PROUD. Well I have news for your, your MOM DOESN’T CARE ABOUT A 50MHZ VESA BUS because she is too busy working to support your lazy anime collecting hobby.

    If you want to talk QUALITY QUILTS you know where to find me.

  22. aazard says:

    I bought both a Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition/AM2NF3-VSTA and a Intel® Core™2 Extreme Processor QX9650/4CoreDual-VSTA (and used bios here for the 4CoreDual-VSTA: http://pctreiber.net/asrock-bios-downloads?did=103 to enable 4gb ddr2 support)

    tested both using windows 10 x64, amd driver version 15.201.1151.1008-151104a-296217E on the HiS IceQ 4670 1gb card, the amd board 16gb ddr2 1066mhz, the intel one 4gb ddr2 667mhz). both max bios agp aperture

    tested doom 2016 open GL, 1152×648, low preset, all the fancy stuff set to off %0% scaling:

    intel system: average FPS 17 (standing still 1st room you start in) 15 fps moving

    AMD system: average FPS 33 (standing still 1st room you start in) 27 fps moving

    … game is too much, switching to COD Black ops, maxxed settings 1680×1050:

    intel system: average FPS 49 in game play

    AMD system: average FPS 62 in game play

    other than that the amd system kicked butt in zip extracting, speed of boot, general responsiveness…

    $562 CND$ poorly spent 😉

  23. Michal Necasek says:

    Thank you! You’re a hero 🙂 I just ordered the AM2NF3-VSTA board and a Phenom 9850.

    So… apparently the 4CoreDual-VSTA board really sucks. The QX9650 really shouldn’t be slow, after all it’s close to the most powerful desktop Core 2.

    Any chance you could run some traditional benchmarks like 3DMark 2001 SE or 3DMark 2006? The former strongly depends on CPU speed but not so much on multiple cores; the latter shows better multi-core performance too. Also if you could run the quick benchmark in CPU-Z that would be great (it’s easy and doesn’t depend on graphics at all), just to get some basic idea.

    Another of my benchmarks was HL2 Lost Coast, since Half-Life 2 was what started the whole thing. If you’re interested I can give you the numbers I got with the Intel 965 chipset.

  24. Offordef says:

    Fun topic! Comments are even better.

    I dare to say it, HD4670 AGP is faster than HD3850 AGP on newer shader intensive software however even in that case there is not much between them.
    Recently I ran into some serious compatibility issues on my Tyan Tiger K8W and HD4670 where the HD3850 AGP s totally fine.

    And to Zeurkous about VIA chipsets.
    Yes, you are a bit naive. I am one of the few with experience and disagree 🙂
    Check my VIA based Dual Pentium III with HD4670 running Crysis on Youtube.

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