GPU Performance: Iris Pro in the Wild

The new iMac is pretty good, but what drew me to the system was it’s among the first implementations of Intel’s Iris Pro 5200 graphics in a shipping system. There are some pretty big differences between what ships in the entry-level iMac and what we tested earlier this year however.

We benchmarked a Core i7-4950HQ, a 2.4GHz 47W quad-core part with a 3.6GHz max turbo and 6MB of L3 cache (in addition to the 128MB eDRAM L4). The new entry-level 21.5-inch iMac is offered with no CPU options in its $1299 configuration: a Core i5-4570R. This is a 65W part clocked at 2.7GHz but with a 3GHz max turbo and only 4MB of L3 cache (still 128MB of eDRAM). The 4570R also features a lower max GPU turbo clock of 1.15GHz vs. 1.30GHz for the 4950HQ. In other words, you should expect lower performance across the board from the iMac compared to what we reviewed over the summer. At launch Apple provided a fairly old version of Iris Pro drivers for Boot Camp, I updated to the latest available driver revision before running any of these tests under Windows.

Iris Pro 5200’s performance is still amazingly potent for what it is. With Broadwell I’m expecting to see another healthy increase in performance, and hopefully we’ll see Intel continue down this path with future generations as well. I do have concerns about the area efficiency of Intel’s Gen7 graphics. I’m not one to normally care about performance per mm^2, but in Intel’s case it’s a concern given how stingy the company tends to be with die area.

The comparison of note is the GT 750M, as that's likely closest in performance to the GT 640M that shipped in last year's entry-level iMac. With a few exceptions, the Iris Pro 5200 in the new iMac appears to be performance competitive with the 750M. Where it falls short however, it does by a fairly large margin. We noticed this back in our Iris Pro review, but Intel needs some serious driver optimization if it's going to compete with NVIDIA's performance even in the mainstream mobile segment. Low resolution performance in Metro is great, but crank up the resolution/detail settings and the 750M pulls far ahead of Iris Pro. The same is true for Sleeping Dogs, but the penalty here appears to come with AA enabled at our higher quality settings. There's a hefty advantage across the board in Bioshock Infinite as well. If you look at Tomb Raider or Sleeping Dogs (without AA) however, Iris Pro is hot on the heels of the 750M. I suspect the 750M configuration in the new iMacs is likely even faster as it uses GDDR5 memory instead of DDR3.

It's clear to me that the Haswell SKU Apple chose for the entry-level iMac is, understandably, optimized for cost and not max performance. I would've liked to have seen an option with a high-end R-series SKU, although I understand I'm in the minority there.

Metro: Last Light

Metro: Last Light

BioShock: Infinite

BioShock: Infinite

Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs

Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider (2013)

Crysis: Warhead

Crysis: Warhead

Crysis: Warhead

GRID 2

 

These charts put the Iris Pro’s performance in perspective compared to other dGPUs of note as well as the 15-inch rMBP, but what does that mean for actual playability? I plotted frame rate over time while playing through Borderlands 2 under OS X at 1080p with all quality settings (aside from AA/AF) at their highest. The overall experience running at the iMac’s native resolution was very good:

With the exception of one dip into single digit frame rates (unclear if that was due to some background HDD activity or not), I could play consistently above 30 fps.

Using BioShock Infinite I actually had the ability to run some OS X vs. Windows 8 gaming performance numbers:

OS X 10.8.5 vs. Windows Gaming Performance - Bioshock Infinite
  1366 x 768 Normal Quality 1600 x 900 High Quality
OS X 10.8.5 29.5 fps 23.8 fps
Windows 8 41.9 fps 23.2 fps

Unsurprisingly, when we’re not completely GPU bound there’s actually a pretty large performance difference between OS X and Windows gaming performance. I’ve heard some developers complain about this in the past, partly blaming it on a lack of lower level API access as OS X doesn’t support DirectX and must use OpenGL instead. In our mostly GPU bound test however, performance is identical between OS X and Windows - at least in BioShock Infinite.

CPU Performance Storage & Fusion Drive
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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, October 07, 2013 - link

    Good call - unfortunately no, Crystalwell isn't reported there either. Reply
  • Dman23 - Monday, October 07, 2013 - link

    Great review! Thanks for taking the time to review the New iMacs. The Iris Pro 5200 looks extremely interesting. Reply
  • Guspaz - Monday, October 07, 2013 - link

    It's amusing to me that the 27" iMac is smaller and thinner than my Dell 27" monitor (the U2711), even though the iMac is a full comptuer while my U2711 is just a monitor. Reply
  • 1andrew - Monday, October 07, 2013 - link

    The iMac's have a great display and Target Display Mode is a cool feature. I would really like to see them expand it to non-Thunderbolt/Apple devices. I would love to play my 360 without needing a second display. Reply
  • twistedgamez - Monday, October 07, 2013 - link

    why don't reviewers test dota2? i know it's not a particularity intensive game, but lots of people play it (often 10 x number of players of the second game on steam) and lots of people would like to know how it performs, especially when you up the resolution, and lots of people only play dota2 so its not particularly easy to judge its performance when seeing metro/tr performance on lower resolutions

    but other than that, a great review!
    Reply
  • bluevaping - Monday, October 07, 2013 - link

    I know you guys wanted to get a review out, but I think you will see a jump in performance with the upcoming Os X to be released next month. I bet there will be better optimized drivers and support for Open Cl 1.2 and Open GL 4.0 Reply
  • jasonelmore - Monday, October 07, 2013 - link

    +$250 for nothing but a 128gb ssd for fusion drive is rape. Reply
  • repoman27 - Monday, October 07, 2013 - link

    Well, in the US, it's only a $200 adder. And it's a rather performant PCIe based SSD. Have you priced out an alternative that's as fast or faster for less money? Don't get me wrong, Apple maintains a 36% gross margin which is probably considerably higher than, say, Newegg's, but what were you really expecting for this type of CTO option? Reply
  • nerd1 - Tuesday, October 08, 2013 - link

    You can get 256 sata3 ssd at much less than 200. They are also charging 200 for extra 8gb of ram. Reply
  • repoman27 - Wednesday, October 09, 2013 - link

    Yes, you can get a considerably slower SSD with a crappy controller and lower endurance NAND for less money than Apple's offerings.

    The RAM is another matter entirely. It's unfortunate they made it such a hassle to upgrade the RAM yourself in the 21.5" model.
    Reply

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