Mobile Sandy Bridge Gaming Performance

Sandy Bridge is clearly a faster CPU than the preceding Arrandale and Clarksfield offerings—that’s no surprise. The integrated graphics are also faster, but being faster than old Intel’s HD Graphics isn’t saying a whole lot. Then again, AMD’s old HD 4250 IGP isn’t much better and is long overdue for a replacement. We’ll talk about that in a second, but first here are the standard gaming performance results at our “Low” defaults. “Medium” detail will be on the next page.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2

DiRT 2

Left 4 Dead 2

Mass Effect 2

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

Average Gaming Performance

Let’s start by talking about compatibility problems with the Intel IGP: there were none! I know it’s been fashionable over the years to bash on Intel for horrible drivers that can’t run games, and the previous IGPs certainly still fall into that “too slow” category, but of our standard six test titles both Sandy Bridge and Arrandale IGPs loaded and ran every single title. That makes talk of performance meaningful, and that’s the bigger story by far.

Again, Sandy Bridge delivers playable performance in every single title at 768p and “Low” detail settings. What’s more, it actually surpasses the GeForce 320M in Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 in five out of six games (the exception being STALKER). Similarly, it beats the entry-level Radeon Mobility 5470 in four out of six games (STALKER and StarCraft II being the exceptions) and the G 310M in five out of six (SC2 came out ahead on the 310M).

All told, Intel’s HD Graphics 3000 checks in an average of 6% faster than HD 5470, 8% faster than GeForce 320M, 25% faster than G 310M, and a whopping 130% faster than both the previous generation HD Graphics and AMD’s HD 4250 (which are essentially tied in overall performance across the selected titles). Which is not to say it wins everywhere; even with a much slower Turion II P520 Processor, the HD 5650 still leads HD 3000 by 44%; shift the same GPU to an i7-640M to remove the CPU bottleneck and the 5650 beats HD 3000 by 130%. NVIDIA’s GeForce GT 425M also leads the 3000 by 46% on average, so discrete GPUs are by no means in danger of being replaced.

We didn't have time to do serious image quality comparisons, but subjectively there did appear to be a few games where the Intel IGP wasn't rendering at the same level of detail, but it's hard to say when you're not running at the native LCD resolution; we'll get into problems in a moment, but other than those mentioned we didn't have any serious complaints. After all, being able to run a game at all is the first consideration; making it look good is merely the icing on the cake.

Mobile Sandy Bridge QuickSync and 3DMarks Mobile Sandy Bridge Medium Gaming Performance
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  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, January 04, 2011 - link

    Definitely a driver bug, and I've passed it along to Intel. The HD 4250 manages 7.7FPS, so SNB ought to be able to get at least 15FPS or so. The game is still a beast, though... some would say poorly written, probably, but I just call it "demanding". LOL Reply
  • semo - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Thanks for mentioning USB 3.0 Jarred. It is a much too overlooked essential feature these days. I simply will not pay money for a new laptop in 2011 without a single USB 3.0 port. Reply
  • dmbfeg2 - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Which tool do you use to check the turbo frequencies under load? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    I had both CPU-Z and the Intel Turbo Monitoring tool up, but neither one supports logging so I have to just eyeball it. The clocks in CPU-Z were generally steady, though it's possible that they would bump up for a few milliseconds and then back down and it simply didn't show up. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    On the other Sandy Bridge article by Anand, right on the front page, it is mentioned that the 6EU GT1 (HD2000) die has 504M transistors, while the 12EU GT2 (HD 3000) die has 624M transistors. Yet here you are saying HD Graphics 3000 has 114M. If the 12EU version has 120M more transistors than the 6EU version, then does that not imply a total gpu transistor count well north of 200M? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    AFAIK, the 114M figure is for the 12EU core. All of the currently shipping SNB chips are quad-core with the full 12EU on the die, but on certain desktop models Intel disables half the EUs. However, if memory serves there are actually three SNB die coming out. At the top is the full quad-core chip. Whether you have 6EU or 12EU, the die is the same. For the dual-core parts, however, there are two chips. One is a dual-core with 4MB L3 cache and 12EUs, which will also ship in chips where the L3 only shows 3MB. This is the GT1 variant. The other dual-core version is for the ultra-low-cost Pentium brand, which will ship with 6EUs (there will only be 6EU on the die) and no L3 cache, as well as some other missing features (Quick Sync for sure). That's the GT2, and so the missing 120M includes a lot of items.

    Note: I might not be 100% correct on this, so I'm going to email Anand and our Intel contact for verification.
    Reply
  • mino - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Nice summary (why was this not in the article ?).

    Anyway those 114M do not include memory controller, encoding, display output etc. so the comparison with Redwood/Cedar is not really meaningful.

    If you actually insist on comparing transistor counts, semething like (Cedar-Redwood)/3 shall give you a reasonable value of AMD's SPU efficiency from transistors/performance POW.
    Reply
  • mino - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    "After all, being able to run a game at all is the first consideration; making it look good is merely the icing on the cake."

    If making it look good is merely icing on the cake, why bother with GPUs ? Lets just play 2D Mines!
    (While for the poor souls stuck with Intel IGPs it certainly is just the icing, for Christ's sake, that is a major _problem_, not a feature !!!)

    After a few pages I have decided to forgo the "best-thing-since-sliced-bread" attitude, but, what is too much is too much...
    Reply
  • mino - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Regardless the attitude, HUGE thanks for listening to comments and including the older games roundup.

    While I'd love to see more games that actually provide playable frame-rates (read: even older ones) on SNB-class IGPs like Far Cry or HL2, even this mini-roundup is a really big plus.

    As for a suggestion on future game-playability roundup on IGP's, it is really simple:
    1) Take a look at your 2006-2007 GPU benchmarking suites
    2) Add in a few current MMORPGs
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Anand covered several other titles, and most of the pre-2007 stuff should run fine (outside of blacklisting problems or bugs). Time constraints limit how much we can test, obviously, but your "reviewer on crack" comment is appreciated. 2D and 3D are completely different, and while you might feel graphical quality is of paramount importance, the fact of the matter is that SNB graphics are basically at the same level as PS3/Xbox 360 -- something millions of users are "okay" with.

    NVIDIA and AMD like to show performance at settings where they're barely playable and SNB fails, but that's no better. If "High + 1680x1050" runs at 20FPS with Sandy Bridge vs. 40FPS on discrete mobile GPUs, wouldn't you consider turning down the detail to get performance up? I know I would, and it's the same reason I almost never enable anti-aliasing on laptops: they can't handle it. But if that's what you require, by all means go out and buy more expensive laptops; we certainly don't recommend SNB graphics as the solution for everyone.

    Honestly, until AMD gets the Radeon equivalent of Optimus for their GPUs (meaning, AMD GPU + Intel CPU with IGP and automatic switching, plus the ability to update your Radeon and Intel drivers independently), Sandy Bridge + GeForce 400M/500M Optimus is going to be the way to go.
    Reply

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