Feature Articles

Ivy Bridge: 3rd Gen Intel HD Graphics - Does It Really Matter?

Ivy Bridge: 3rd Gen Intel HD Graphics - Does It Really Matter?



Ivy Bridge: 3rd Gen. Intel HD Graphics - Does It Really Matter?

Third Generation Intel HD Graphics - Intel HD 4000 Scrutinized

Made up of about one-third of the 1.4 billion transistors found on the Ivy Bridge processor, the third generation Intel HD Graphics engine has more horsepower than its predecessors ever had. In fact, the integrated graphics upgrade is a big focus of Intel's new Ivy Bridge processors as these new 22nm process fabricated CPUs are geared towards the mainstream market where there is a rising need in decent graphics capabilities to enjoy multimedia experiences in proper. With AMD's Fusion momentum still going strong and casual/online gaming placing greater demand and attracting ever more people to participate in these recreational activities, Intel cannot afford to neglect the need to beef up its integrated graphics engine.

The new third generation Core processor family of processor will feature two grades of integrated graphics - Intel HD Graphics 4000 and 2500. If you haven't yet read much about the new processors, which GPU engine is used on the various CPU models and all its other features and performance aspects, here are some relevant articles:- 

The new integrated graphics engines are finally DirectX 11 compliant and can now handle hardware-based tessellation (a core feature of DX11) and accelerate DirectCompute APIs to support general purpose computing through GPUs. If you're a programmer who's interested in the details, Intel has written a comprehensive document on their DirectCompute capabilities on Intel Ivy Bridge CPU's graphics engine. In terms of the graphics engine's overall design, not a whole lot has changed from the previous generation's implementation, but Intel has equipped them with more firepower and improved their capabilities.

Taking the Intel HD Graphics 4000, it features 16 execution units (EUs) - four more than the older HD Graphics 3000 on Sandy Bridge processors. These EUs are touted to be much more efficient than its predecessor because a single EU on Ivy Bridge can perform two MADs (multiply + add operation) per clock - twice that of the EU on Sandy Bridge. Simply put, the HD Graphics 4000 will have more than twice the compute power of the HD Graphics 3000. As such, Ivy Bridge is expected to dramatically improve graphics performance. Since each current EU is more capable, even the HD Graphics 2500, which has the same number of EUs as the older HD Graphics 2000, is expected to offer noticeably more graphics performance. In this article, we put the on-die Intel HD Graphics 4000 to the test to ascertain the significance of the upgrade.

Test Setup

Using our Intel Core i7-3770K CPU, we can only test its Intel HD Graphics 4000 engine, but that should be good enough to make our point known if the third generation Intel HD Graphics can deliver some decent performance numbers. For comparisons, we've put together integrated graphics performance that we've gathered previously from the Intel Core i7-2600K and Core i5-2500 that feature the Intel HD Graphics 3000 engine. From the previous testing, we've also got results with a NVIDIA GeForce GT 220 (512MB) discrete graphics card to ascertain just how close or far off are the integrated GPU's capabilities against a low-end graphics card.

Of course, a GeForce GT 220 is only DirectX 10 capable, so we dug out a couple of low-end DirectX 11 graphics cards such as NVIDIA GeForce GT 520 (courtesy of an MSI N520GT-MD1GD3/LP with 1GB DDR3) and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 440 (using an ASUS ENGT440/DI/1GD5 with 1GB of GDDR5) to run with the new processor. Why two cards? Mostly because a GeForce GT 520 is one of the worst performing GPUs in many years that it grossly loses out to even the GeForce GT 220. As such, we brought something a step ahead of the old DX10 card which happened to be a GeForce GT 440. All in, this would be an interesting match-up to see how the Intel HD 4000 performs.

We also tried downclocked the Intel Core i7-3770K to the level of the Intel Core i7-2600K in order to create a level playing field of comparison for the integrated graphics performance comparison. However as we found out, all of our tests are so GPU constrained that the difference in CPU speeds didn't matter one bit - the differences were too negligible. As such, the results shown are with the default CPU clock speed.

Intel Core i7-3770K Test System Configuration

  • Intel Desktop Board DZ77GA-70K (Intel Z77 Express chipset), BIOS version 3000
  • 2 x 2GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 (CAS 9-9-9-27)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000 (Intel Graphics Driver 8.15.10.2696)
  • MSI N520GT-MD1GD3/LP 1GB DDR3 (ForceWare 285.62)
  • ASUS ENGT440/DI/1GD5 1GB GDDR5 (ForceWare 285.62)
  • Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps hard drive (one single NTFS partition)
  • Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit) with Intel INF 9.3.0.1020

The details of the older comparative test setups for the Intel Core i7-2600K and Core i5-2500 systems are found in our original review of the Sandy Bridge processors. Just for kicks, we've even included results from the first generation Core processor's original Intel HD Graphics engine. Note that for all three generations of Intel HD Graphics engines tested, we've set aside 256MB graphics frame buffer. There is no other granular option available other than to select maximum system memory, but it didn't make much of an impact..

To spice things up further, we we even included AMD's desktop Llano APU - the A8-3850 processor which has a built-in Radeon HD 6550D GPU engine. The AMD A8-3850 is definitely doesn't have the same amount of compute power as the Core i7 processors even though both are targeted at the mainstream user group - in fact they cater to two different spectrums of mainstream DIY needs. Despite their compute discrepancies, we thought it would be great to see how its stronger discrete-class integrated GPU stacks up against the brand new Intel HD Graphics 4000. You can find the test setup of this system here and note that it too was using a 256MB frame buffer.

Benchmarks

With the promise of DirectX 11 support on the new IGP, we wanted to include Futuremark's 3DMark11 as part of the benchmarking test suite. However, the Intel HD 4000 failed to complete running 3DMark11 and we had to exclude it from our test runs, which is quite a disappointing start. In any case, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was patched with the DX11 update and this should give us some insights to its basic DX11 performance. The following is the full list of benchmarks used to test the integrated graphics:

  • PCMark Vantage
  • 3DMark Vantage
  • Far Cry 2
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  • Blu-ray Playback Testing (Black Snake Moan, Superman Returns) using PowerDVD 10 (ver 2308)

So read on for the performance breakdown on the next page to find out if Intel's HD Graphics 4000 is any good!