Introduction

If desktop graphics hardware can be more than a little confusing, deciphering performance of mobile graphics parts can be (and has historically been) an absolute nightmare. Way back in the day it was at least fairly easy to figure out which desktop chip was hiding in which mobile kit, but both AMD and NVIDIA largely severed ties between mobile and desktop branding. They may not want to readily admit that, and in the case of certain models they still pretty heavily rely on the cachet associated with their desktop hardware, but it's by and large true. So to help you make sense of mobile graphics, we present to you the first in what will hopefully be a regular series of guides.

I started putting guides like this one together back at my alma mater NotebookReview, and they've always been pretty well-received. It's really not hard to understand why: while NVIDIA and AMD are usually pretty forthcoming with the specs of their desktop kit, they've historically been pretty cagey about their notebook graphics hardware. As a result, sites like this one have had to sift through information about different laptops, compare notes with other sites and readers, and eventually compile the data. Forums will light up with questions like "can this laptop play xyz?"

Thankfully, the advent of DirectX 11 drastically simplified my job. Whenever shader models or even entire DirectX versions were bifurcated, complication followed suit, but with DirectX 11 pretty much everybody is on board with the same fundamental feature sets, and AMD and NVIDIA both support their respective technologies across the board. Intel remains the odd man out, as you'll see.

We'll break things down into three categories. The first is integrated graphics, which interestingly has gone entirely on-package and even on-die over the past year. It's surprising how fast that change really occurred. Coupled with NVIDIA's exit from the chipset business, we're strictly looking at Intel and AMD here. The second and third are dedicated to AMD and NVIDIA's mobile lines. Wherever possible we'll also link you to a review that demonstrates the performance of the graphics hardware in question. And note that when we talk about the number of shaders, CUDA cores, or EUs on a given part, that these numbers are ONLY comparable to other parts from the same vendor; 92 of NVIDIA's CUDA cores are not comparable to, say, 160 shaders from an AMD Radeon.

Integrated Graphics

"Too Slow to Play" Class: Intel HD Graphics (Arrandale), Intel Atom IGP, AMD Radeon HD 4250
Specs aren't provided because in this case they aren't really needed: none of these integrated graphics parts are going to be good for much more than the odd game of Unreal Tournament 2004. Intel has had a devil of a time getting their IGP act together prior to the advent of Sandy Bridge, while AMD's Radeon HD 3000/3100/3200/4200/4225/4250 core (yes, it's all basically the same core) is really showing its age. Thankfully, outside of Atom's IGP, all of these are on their way out. As for gaming on Atom, there's always the original StarCraft.

Intel HD 3000 (Sandy Bridge)
12 EUs, Core Clock: Varies
With Sandy Bridge, Intel was able to produce an integrated graphics part able to rival AMD and NVIDIA's budget entries. In fact, in our own testing we found the HD 3000 able to largely keep up with AMD's dedicated Radeon HD 6450 and to a lesser extent the 6470, and NVIDIA's current mobile lineup generally doesn't extend that low (likely excepting the GT 520M and GT 520MX). That said, there are still some caveats to the HD 3000: while Intel's questionable driver quality is largely behind it, you may still experience the odd compatibility issue from time to time (when Sandy Bridge dropped, Fallout 3 had an issue), and more punishing games like Mafia II and Metro 2033 will be largely out of its reach. The clocks on the HD 3000 also vary greatly, with a starting clock of 650MHz for mainstream parts, 500MHz for low voltage parts, and just 350MHz for ultra low voltage parts. Turbo clocks get even weirder, ranging anywhere from 900MHz to 1.3GHz depending on the processor model. Still, it's nice to not have to roll your eyes anymore at the suggestion of doing some casual gaming on Intel's integrated hardware. (Sandy Bridge Review)

AMD Radeon HD 6250/6310 (Brazos)
80 Shaders, 8 TMUs, 4 ROPs, Core Clock: 280MHz (6250), 500MHz (6310)
In Brazos, AMD produced a workable netbook-level processor core and grafted last generation's Radeon HD 5450/5470 core onto it. The result is an integrated graphics processor with a decent amount of horsepower for low-end casual gaming, but in some cases it's going to be hamstrung by the comparatively slow Bobcat processor cores. That's perfectly fine, though, as Brazos is generally a more desirable alternative to Atom + NG-ION netbooks, offering more processor performance and vastly superior battery life. Just don't expect to do any but the most casual gaming on a Brazos-powered netbook. (HP dm1z Review)

AMD Radeon HD 6380G/6480G/6520G/6620G (Llano)
160/240/320/400 (6380G/6480G/6520G/6620G) Shaders, 20/16/12 (6480G/6520G/6620G) TMUs, 8/4 (6620G and 6520G/6480G) ROPs, Core Clock: 400-444MHz
Llano isn't out anywhere near in force yet, but we have a good idea of how the 6620G performs and expect the IGP performance to essentially scale down in such a way that the model numbers are fairly appropriate. The long and short of Llano is that the processor half pales in comparison to Sandy Bridge, but the graphics hardware is monstrous. Gamers on an extreme budget are likely to be well-served by picking up a notebook with one of AMD's A6 or A8 processors in it, with Llano promising near-midrange mobile graphics performance. (Llano Mobile Review)

AMD Radeon HD 6000M Graphics
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  • P_Turner - Wednesday, July 06, 2011 - link

    I feel the same way about Intel's mobile Sandy Bridge CPUs. I expect an i5 to have four physical cores without hyperthreading, but an i5-2410m has only two physical cores with hyperthreading.

    It turns out that the majority of mobile i5 parts have only two cores. Worse, even some of the mobile i7 CPUs are still just two cores.
    Reply
  • Belard - Wednesday, July 06, 2011 - link

    As a general guide, this is helpful and yeah, both AMD and Nvidia add their confusion.

    But for many people, basic graphics are fine for a notebook... but then again, its nice to have a bit MORE if you want to some gaming.

    An excellent site to keep track of notebook GPUs (and CPUs) that has amazing detail (a bit of overkill) and includes pretty much EVERY GPU ever existed (pre GeForce2go). goto notebookcheck.com

    Their charts list are here (GPUs on the right, first 3 items are most important) http://www.notebookcheck.net/FAQ-Tips-Technics.123...

    This is my favorite section: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Graphics-Cards...

    Check out their notebook reviews, very very detailed - much like AnandTech 10~20 page review of a new technology item, power supply or video card. Warning thou, the side tends to default to German, but it comes in 10 languages - click the UK flag to read. :P
    Reply
  • kasakka - Thursday, July 07, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the info. Damn, my Macbook Pro's 9400M is pretty awful nowadays. Still enough for most things tho. Reply
  • Pirks - Thursday, July 07, 2011 - link

    My wife's 4 year old Dell Vostro is still too fast for her needs, and I paid like $1000 for it new. Judging by this there's gotta be about 4-6 more years of life left in it. Dell FTW! Reply
  • burntham77 - Wednesday, July 06, 2011 - link

    I have noticed that the only way to get a notebook with highend AMD graphics is to get one paired with an Intel CPU. I would love to be able to buy a notebook with a high end mobile AMD CPU and high end mobile AMD GPU. Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, July 07, 2011 - link

    Amd's mobile CPUs lag intel badly in performance, which is why they only show up in budget laptops. I don't know if they're enough slower to actually bottleneck the GPUs, but the fraction of gamers willing to take that large a CPU nerf to save $100ish on a $1500-2500 laptop isn't large enough to justify making the product. Reply
  • Roland00Address - Wednesday, July 06, 2011 - link

    It should look like this.

    160/240/320/400 (6380G/6480G/6520G/6620G) Shaders, 12/16/20 (6480G/6520G/6620G) TMUs, 4/8 (6520G/6480G and 6620G) ROPs, Core Clock: 400-444MHz

    You originally had the TMU and the ROPs backwards. The 6620g has higher TMU and more ROPs than the 6480G and the 6520G
    Reply
  • velanapontinha - Thursday, July 07, 2011 - link

    "20/16/12 (6480G/6520G/6620G) TMUs" - don't you mean "12/16/20" instead of "20/16/12"?

    Cheers,
    Fernando
    Reply
  • Meaker10 - Thursday, July 07, 2011 - link

    GT555M "C"
    144 CUDA Cores, 24 TMUs, 16 ROPs, Core clock 450mhz, Shader Clock: 900mhz, 128bit Memory Bus, DDR3, Effective memory clock 1600Mhz

    As used by clevo and Acer and called a 550M when used by Dell.
    Reply
  • Bolas - Thursday, July 07, 2011 - link

    Nvidia states that the GTX 580m supports 3D vision.

    Really? On which laptop? I have not been able to find a laptop that supports 3D Vision and uses this card. Someone help me out here and point me to a laptop with GTX 580m and 3D Vision 120Hz screen please.
    Reply

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