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Intel's integrated GPU gaming experience

First INQpressions Good enough for basics but stick with home theatre use
Fri Feb 12 2010, 15:20

DURING MY INITIAL Intel Core i5 661 tests, Intel's first CPU plus northbridge and GPU combination in a single mainstream PC CPU chip package performed well on the CPU tests. After all, the 3.33GHz dual core 32nm CPU with multi-threading enabled was as fast as a 2.9GHz quad core AMD Athlon II 635 in many cases. However, I didn't cover GPU testing as there were some issues with using both the Intel and Asus H55 mainboards that were available at the time.

The updated drivers from Intel's website did solve some of the initial integrated GPU issues, and the playability in the 3D games I tried was okay even at resolutions up to 1600x1200, the limit of the monitor I used with the platform. As long, of course, as the effects in the games were in the entry to mid level, rather than complex. That's all fine for an entry-level platform, still being on average twice as fast in graphics runs as the previous Intel offering, the G45 chipset combined with the Core 2 8600 dual-core CPU. You've already seen a zillion different game benchmarks for the new CPUs all over the web, so I won't repeat them here.

While the 3Dmark Vantage scores were erratic on my system, even down to just a P950 score in Performance Mode, partly due to the memory limitations for graphics - and the Intel-recommended Entry mode didn't work at all even with the updated drivers - I tried Shadow of Chernobyl, Opposing Forces and a few other 3D intensive games, and all of them were perfectly playable with reasonably smooth frame rates at the above resolution. Even the CineBench 10 OpenGL score wasn't bad, as you see here, at one third of a GeForce GTX285 high end GPU:

Now, this chip will not replace the Nvidia GT240 or ATI 5570 entry-level discrete GPUs - those are still at least a couple of times faster. But it is good enough for primary school kids' 3D work, all home theatre and multimedia HD play, as well as any office work you can think of.

The important thing is that this is the first 'integrated' CPU and GPU product from Intel - or anyone else - on the mainstream desktop. It doesn't have the GPU on-chip with the CPU yet, but it's in the processor package that plugs into the socket along with the CPU.

This is new technology from Intel, however, so expect to see, and install, more frequent than usual initial driver updates, ironing out performance and feature issues or even occassional screen artifacts in the early releases. In my experience, the updated Intel drivers over the first month did give some speedup in the games tested, especially when the slider was more towards 'quality' rather than 'performance' in the Intel GPU utility, not to mention the added stability.

In summary, after using the Intel Core i5 'integrated' GPU (iGPU) platform and fine tuning it over the past six weeks, I'd say that the ideal low-power - less than 70 watts in actual use at the system level as measured at the wall - 3D enabled home theatre or mini PC is there. You could even have the mini-ITX versions built as a single unit mounted inside the display enclosure, as the heat can be channeled out. Just be ready to update the drivers as the platform gets fixed and refined at this early stage. However, I do hope that the Sandy Bridge iGPU in a year's time will be a whole lot faster. µ





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