Intel’s Generation 9 Graphics

On the graphics side of the equation, the information comes in two loaded barrels. For the media capabilities, including information regarding Multi Plane Overlay, Intel’s Quick Sync and HEVC decode, head on over to Ganesh’s great one page summary. Some of that information might be reproduced on this page to help explain some of the more esoteric aspects of the design.

First let us look at how Intel’s integrated graphics has progressed over the generations. It has been no secret that the drive to integrated graphics has eaten almost all of the low end graphics market save one or two cards for extra monitor outputs. For Intel, this means slowly substituting a larger portion of the die to more execution units, as well as upgrading how those units process data.  From the graphics above, and as we’ve noted before, Gen9 takes Gen8’s concept but with an added element at the top – GT4, which incorporates a new slice of EUs. As mentioned on the previous page, the eDRAM will come in 64 MB arrangements for GT3e (Iris), and 128 MB for GT4e (Iris Pro).

Intel’s graphics topology consists of an ‘unslice’ (or slice common) that deals solely with command streaming, vertex fetching, tessellation, domain shading, geometry shaders, and a thread dispatcher. This is followed up by either one, two or three slices, where each slice holds three sub-slices of 8 EUs, separate L1/L2/L3 caches and rasterizers, texture caches and media samplers. With one slice, a GT2 configuration of 24 EUs, we get the video quality engine (VQE), scalar and format converter (SFC) and a multi format codec engine (MFX). Moving to GT3 adds in another MFX and VQE.

Intel Gen9 HD Graphics
GPU Designation Execution Units GT eDRAM? YUHS Example
Intel HD Graphics 12 2+1 - Y 4405Y
Intel HD Graphics 510 12 2+2 - U S G4400
Intel HD Graphics 515 24 2+2 - Y 6Y75
Intel HD Graphics 520 24 4+2
- U i7-6600U
Intel HD Graphics 530 24 4+2
- H S i7-6700K
Intel HD Graphics P530 24 4+2 - H E3-1535M v5
Intel Iris Graphics 540 48 2+3e 64MB U i7-6650U
Intel Iris Graphics 550 48 2+3e 64MB U i7-6567U
Intel Iris Pro Graphics 580 72 4+4e 128MB H -

In each of the SKU lists, Intel has both the name of the graphics used as well as the base/turbo frequencies of the graphics. To synchronize both the name and the execution unit arrangement, we have the table above. At this point we have no confirmation of any parts having the GT1.5 arrangement, nor are we going to see any 23/24 EU combinations for Pentium/Celeron models similar to what we saw in Haswell.  For the 12 EU arrangements, this means that these have a single slice of 24 EUs, but half of them are disabled.  We questioned Intel on this back with Haswell, regarding of the EU cuts are split to 4/4/4 from the 8/8/8 sub-slice arrangement, and the answer we got back was interesting – there is no set pattern for 12 EU arrangements. It could be 4/4/4, or 3/4/5, or 3/3/6, or any other combination, as long as the performance is in line with what is expected and the EU count per sub-slice cannot be user probed. Despite the fact that a 3/3/6 arrangement might have L2 cache pressure in some circumstances, Intel feels that at this level of performance they can guarantee that the processors they ship will be consistent. It’s an interesting application.

Part of Intel’s strategy with the graphics is to separate all of these out as much as possible to different frequency planes and power gating, allowing parts of the silicon to only be powered when needed, or to offer more efficiency for regular use cases such as watching video.

The geometry pipe in the un-slice is improved to improve the triangle cull rate as well as remove redundant vertices, which aids an improved tessellated that creates geometry in a format (tri-stips) that can be resubmitted through the triangle cull when needed.

As we noted at Skylake-K launch, Gen 9 graphics also features lossless image compression allowing for fewer data transfers across the graphics subsystem. This saves both power and bandwidth, and an upgrade to the display controller allows the image format to be read in a compressed format so as not to uncompress it before it gets sent out to the display.

16-bit support has been a key element to discrete graphics in 2014 and 2015, affording faster processing when less accuracy is required by dumping extra significant digits. This is doubly beneficial, resulting in less power consumption for the same amount of work – Intel is exposing this to a greater degree in Gen9 for its shaders.

Intel’s big push on power for low-power Skylake is part of the reason why we did not see much difference in our Skylake-K review. Being able to shut off more parts of the processor that are not in use allows the available power budget to be applied to those that need it, hence why both power gating and frequency domains on the silicon, while they take up die area to implement, contribute to power saving overall or allow work to complete quicker in a race to sleep environment.

Multiplane Overlay (MPO)

One of the features I’m most particularly interested in is Multiplane Overlay. In a typical environment, a user might be looking at content that is stretched, rotated or distorted in some way. In order to perform this transformation, the image information is loaded into memory, siphoned off to the graphics to perform the mathematics, moved back into memory and then fired off to the display controller. This in and out of the DRAM costs power and battery life, so an attempt to mitigate this with fixed function hardware is ultimately beneficial. This is what MPO does.

This slides shows a good way on how MPO works. The current implementation splits the screen into three ‘planes’ (app, background, cursor, or any combination therein) which are fired off to the desktop window manager (DWM). In a standard method, these layers are worked on separately before being composited and sent off to the display (the top model). With MPO, each of the planes fills a buffer in fixed function hardware on the display controller, without touching the GPU and requiring it to be put into a high power mode. MPO also allows for data in NV12 format to be processed on the fly as well, rather than requiring it all to be RGB before it is recombined into the final image (which again, saves power and bandwidth).

There are some limitations to this method. Currently, only three planes are supported, and there is no z-hierarchy meaning that if an app is obscured by another but still requires work, and then it does not get discarded as it should. For non-OS work that takes full-screen environments, it also requires the necessary hooks to the FF hardware otherwise it will assume it all as one plane and go back through the GPU. Intel is planning to improve this feature over time, as we might expect.

Intel’s data showed a 17% power saving increase overall while watching a 1080p24 video on a 1440p panel. Given the march to higher resolution displays and the lack of high resolution content, I can imagine this being an important player in future content consumption or multitasking.

There are a number of other media specific functions also new to Skylake, especially evolving around RAW processing in the fixed function units of the video quality engines to save power, other memory compression techniques and the encode/decode of specific formats such as HEVC and VP9. For this information, I suggest heading over to read Ganesh’s piece on Intel's Skylake GPU - Analyzing the Media Capabilities.

Skylake Core Microarchitecture and eDRAM Analysis The Long March to Power: Intel’s Assault on Battery Life
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  • jimmy$mitty - Thursday, September 3, 2015 - link

    Is it your love of AMD that makes you say this? Think about it. The XB1 uses DDR3 for its GPU. This will use DDR4. The XB1 has a small eDRAM cache. Skylake has a small eDRAM cache. The XB1 has a very weak AMD Jaguar based CPU. This will have a much stronger Skylake based CPU.

    So why is it so far fetched to think that Skylake could get close to matching the XB1? It wont outright beat it, not this one maybe the next one, but it could get close with proper optimizations and DX12.

    Haswell beat the top end AMD APU at the time and Broadwell makes the current A10 look even worse.

    AMD is great if you are on a budget. But if you are looking simply for performance they are lagging behind in a lot of ways.
  • JKflipflop98 - Sunday, September 6, 2015 - link

    Ah, I wondered who would make an actually well-reasoned posting. I am not surprised to see it's you.
  • tipoo - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    I didn't say it was a good value. Just interesting how times have changed, that Intel integrated graphics are this close to a two year old console already.
  • eddman - Thursday, September 3, 2015 - link

    Yes, they "could" care less.
  • MobiusPizza - Friday, September 4, 2015 - link

    As ArsTechnica and TechReport ( has noted, eDRAM has performance advantage even for people with discrete GPUs
  • anubis44 - Tuesday, September 8, 2015 - link

    "I guarantee it that anyone interested in PC gaming could care less about Intel's IGP as any serious gamer will be getting a Skylake laptop with a Maxwell and next year a Pascal GPU."

    I would argue that anyone interested in PC gaming will avoid laptops like the plague and buy/build a desktop PC so they can replace graphics/ram/CPU easily and pay a lot less for a DX12 card, and on that note, anyone wanting to build a DX12-ready gaming machine right now will be getting a Radeon 290/390(X) series card and skipping Maxwell altogether, as it doesn't support hardware asynchronous shaders.
  • ered - Sunday, February 14, 2016 - link

    Well, when the Macbook gets it, you can stream your screen to the Apple TV connect an Xbox One/PS4 controller and play like you're on console. Having similar graphics and at the same time a computer for school etc. But of course these devices are not competitors to consoles, it's just interesting what is possible.
  • TallestJon96 - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    You actually make a great point. Despite the fact that on a desktop an i5 paired with a $200 dollar gpu will crush integrated graphics, on a laptop a 72 EU cpu could do some serious work. This paired with ddr4 could kicked integrated graphics up a notch, which is good for everyone, as it raises the lowest common denominator.

    Like you say, it probably won't be long until integrated graphics catch up with the Xbone, especially as they have a CPU advantage in many cases, and with ddr4 they have VERY similar system memory. It'll be a few more years after that til ps4 is caught up with. I would add that tablets will probably catch the xbone before the end of this generation. It could be an interesting future, where games could come to tablet, pc, and consoles simultaneously.
  • Stochastic - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    "... as it raises the lowest common denominator." That's the important bit. One reason there aren't more PC gamers is simply that there aren't that many people who have modern PCs powerful enough to run today's games. This limits the technical ambition of PC games as developers have to keep in mind the wider PC audience and not just us tech enthusiasts. If integrated graphics can continue improving generation to generation, in a few years time even $600 laptops will be capable of running games at comparable fidelity to the Xbox One. Adding substantive amounts of eDRAM to all integrated GPUs would go a long ways towards making that dream a reality.
  • flashpowered - Wednesday, September 2, 2015 - link

    I am hoping to replace my Arrandale laptop with an ultrabook, and really hope that the 15w or 28w Iris with eDRAM can give me something with a high resolution display and smoother running UI than Retina Haswell/Broadwell.

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