Intel HD Graphics: A Lot Better

With Clarkdale Intel has finally dropped the Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) prefix. Intel integrated graphics is now just called Intel HD Graphics.

The move to 45nm gave Intel the ability to beef up its graphics core a bit, but ultimately it’s the same architecture as the G45 - just faster. We won’t see Larrabee on a CPU for some years to come.

The GMA X4500 core from G45 had 10 shader processors. Intel HD Graphics bumps that up to 12. Apparently there are a number of internal tweaks and performance enhancements that should result in more than a 20% increase in performance though.

All integrated GPUs regardless of vendor, pretty much suck. Intel gets a bum rap because while other IGPs may offer 30+ fps in games at the lowest quality settings, Intel can often only manage single digit frame rates. It doesn’t take too much searching to prove that one.

Clarkdale does change that a bit. Intel has finally delivered an integrated graphics solution that is at least competitive with existing IGPs on the market. To show you how far it’s come I’ve pitted our Clarkdale based Core i5 661 against an AMD Phenom II X4 965 with 790GX graphics. Our 790GX platform had 128MB of on-board memory to drive performance even higher. If Intel can manage a win here, it'll be a convincing one.

I’ve also tossed in a G45 board for good measure. The only absent member is NVIDIA's GeForce 9400. We found in our 790GX review that AMD delivered roughly the same graphics performance (if not better) as the 9400 so any advantage/disadvantage here would apply to NVIDIA as well.

We’ll start off with Batman: Arkham Asylum. This is an Unreal Engine 3 based game. The first thing you need to remember about integrated graphics is that regardless of the game, you’ll want to go in and turn down every single quality setting at your disposal. In this case I ran Batman at 1024 x 768 with all quality options set to low.

That's Batman running on Intel HD Graphics

Batman doesn’t look half bad at the playable IGP settings. It’s surprising. Tim Sweeney once told me that a good looking game is half engine, half art. It looks like Batman just has that right combination of engine and art to make it look decent even on Intel’s integrated graphics. It’s not great by any means, but it’s not pixelated mush.

Batman - Integrated Graphics Performance

The performance is also halfway respectable. Intel’s fastest integrated graphics manages to tie AMD’s 790GX IGP at 35 fps. It’s also over twice as fast as G45. Even the lower end Core i3 CPUs should manage close to 30 fps here.

Next up is Dragon Age. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t look as good at its playable integrated graphics settings. It ends up looking like 3D Kings Quest played on a PS2.


Dragon Age Origins - Integrated Graphics Performance

Performance is respectable from the new Intel HD graphics. At 41.5 fps it’s actually faster than AMD’s 790GX chipset. Definitely more than twice the speed of the old G45. Keep in mind that we’re looking at the highest end IGP from Intel. The Core i3s will be appreciably slower, most likely at or below the performance of the 790GX.

Dawn of War II on Intel HD Graphics

Dawn of War II looks and plays like crap on Intel’s integrated graphics. Averaging 15 fps on the fastest Clarkdale, the minimum frame rates dropped as low as 3.4 fps. This is a huge improvement over G45, but definitely not what I would consider playable.

Dawn of War II - Integrated Graphics Performance

Intel is technically the leader here though. AMD’s 790GX only managed 12.1 fps. IGPs need not apply for this title at present.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is the first time that we see Intel losing. The game loses much of its visual appeal at the settings you need to run at in order to be playable on integrated graphics, especially on a larger screen.

Call of Duty MW2 - Integrated Graphics Performance

AMD’s 790GX is around 40% faster than Intel’s HD Graphics. Blech.

World of Warcraft is a very important title to perform well under and unfortunately Intel loses this one to AMD. However, we are running at the "Good" setting as opposed to bare minimum detail settings:

World of Warcraft - Integrated Graphics Performance


Our final integrated graphics game benchmark is HAWX.

HAWX - Integrated Graphics Performance

At 53 fps Intel falls behind the 790GX but it’s around 2x the speed of G45 and high enough that I’d consider it playable (albeit at the lowest possible settings).

Intel has taken a significant step forward with its integrated graphics. It's at the point where I'd say it's finally competitive with the best from AMD or NVIDIA. Intel has delivered on its promise to take integrated graphics more seriously, and I hope we will see even bigger performance gains with Sandy Bridge.

Intel took a big step forward to the point where it is no longer the laughing stock of the graphics industry. But it stepped into a position of mediocrity, joining AMD and NVIDIA. Integrated graphics has never been good regardless of the manufacturer. We honestly need to be at around 2x existing performance to deliver a reasonable gaming experience on integrated graphics. AMD is going to be shipping its 8-series chipsets later in the year and perhaps that will change things.

Idle Power Consumption - Integrated Graphics

Despite the 45nm on-package GPU, the Core i5 661 actually draws more power at idle than the old G45 with an E8600. It's still much more power efficient than the equivalent from AMD. If you're building something with integrated graphics, you want it to be a Clarkdale.

To test power consumption under load I fired up a 1080p x264 video using Media Player Classic Home Cinema and measured total system power consumption:

Load Power Consumption - Integrated Graphics

A CPU swap and some tweaking later and our AMD power consumption numbers now make sense. While playing H.264 encoded video the GPU does all of the heavy lifting and there's no power advantage for Clarkdale to rest on. When watching a movie the AMD system is indistinguishable from our Clarkdale test bed.

Clarkdale: The Perfect Home Theater PC AES-NI: Much Faster Encryption & Bitlocker Performance


View All Comments

  • Paladin1211 - Monday, January 4, 2010 - link

    On page 13, in WoW benchmark, the Core i5 750 outperforms the Core i7 870 by more than 30% (92.3 fps vs 70.6 fps). Anything wrong here? Reply
  • Crimson67 - Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - link

    WoW doesn't seem to like hyperthreading, it's the only explanation Reply
  • ereavis - Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - link

    is it using the hyperthread core on the 870 but a true core on the 750? That would certainly slow it down. If it's using a true core on both it should be better still. Reply
  • Dyzios - Monday, January 4, 2010 - link

    Remember NVIDIA Hybrid idea, to have two GPUs ? - one weak for 2D/light 3D graphics and powerful discrete GPU for gaming? Those CPU makes sense for this approach - however Radeon 5870 also has good point with optimized low idle power consumption. Maybe still there is point as even Radeon cannot go very low as GPU on-die. The only question is to have capability to switch HDMI output between on-die GPU and discrete.I wonder how this works currently - still needed to stick to DVI output from Radeon or can be combined? Reply
  • Zool - Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - link

    If the 40nm 5600 series cards will show the same improvments in power usage than the 5800 series than u can forget the intels GMA graphic.

    I think that for a 2D card/3D discret card u can buy a mobo with a dirty cheap intel GMA on it clocked much lower if u realy need.
  • silverblue - Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - link

    The graphics comparison isn't exactly fair but in the end, it's not something AMD should be too worried about. The i5-661, with its 900MHz 45nm GPU, is being compared to the old 790GX's HD 3300 which operates at 700MHz on a 55nm process. I admit, in the benchmarks we're talking the best i5 vs. the best AMD has to offer, but considering...

    a) the relative performance of the i5-750 as compared to the PII X4 965 which is usually manifested as an advantage
    b) the fact that the 32nm i5s can increase their core speed by 133MHz and 266MHz thanks to Turbo depending on the number of active cores
    c) most games still aren't designed to take full advantage of multithreading so four cores may not yield a tangible performance increase

    ...then AMD's still in the lead for IGPs. If the 3300 had been clocked at 900MHz, would it have lost even one of the listed benchmarks? I'm not sure it would have. What's more, we're still talking a 55nm part; we all know of TSMC's issues with the 40nm process and AMD going fablress, so is it unreasonable to expect that AMD could move their IGP production en masse to 40nm with TSMC or 45nm with GlobalFoundries?

    In closing, it's a big step forward for Intel, however if AMD came out with a higher clocked 40/45nm IGP then, Sideport or not, new tech or not, AMD would be far ahead, at least on gaming terms. Sideport does very little for the performance of current AMD IGPs, anyway.

    I just wish AMD were able to release a Clarkdale competitor sooner rather than later.
  • ruetheday - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    the IGP on Clarkdale isn't maxed out at 900Mhz; It too can be overclocked significantly. Here's an article on techgage showing an OC to 1133, for example.

    Remember that Intel is very conservative on binning parts to ensure no issues with reliability over time (compare vs nvidia mobile gpus).
  • silverblue - Friday, January 8, 2010 - link

    Maybe so, however a 40/45nm AMD part could reach similar clockspeeds. I just don't think that, clock for clock, the new Intel IGP on the Clarkdale die is as powerful as anything AMD or nVidia can produce on the same scale. It's a good step forwards, just not the leadership that some may have been expecting. Reply
  • silverblue - Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - link

    Slight mistake... second best 32nm i5 that Intel has to offer. However, I doubt the performance increase over the 661 will be very noticable with the IGP; won't it be clocked the same in both? Reply
  • Zool - Monday, January 4, 2010 - link

    The irony is the biggest drawback of these cpu-s is the 45nm intel graphic on other die with the memmory controler. The die savings from 45nm vs 32nm are quite big.
    If they would make just 32nm dual core nehalem with memory controler on die it would be still much smaller(and only litle bigger than the clarkdale without imc) than the GMA die with memmory controler.
    The whole thing would be solved with everything as one on 32nm.
    I think plenty of people just wait for 32nm quad core nehalems without the useless GMA graphic.
    Actualy what is the cost of dirty cheap GMA in penryn based 3 package boards. Like 5-10 dolars ?

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