Articles: CPU

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Graphics Core Performance

When talking about contemporary LGA 1155 processors it is important to pay due attention to the integrated graphics cores, which has become faster and more advanced with the introduction of Ivy Bridge microarchitecture. This is particularly relevant for the Core i3 processors, which affordable price often places them into systems without external graphics accelerators.

Intel also understands this, and therefore they apply slightly different approach to the graphics core distribution in the Core i3 processor family than they do with quad-core CPUs. For example, desktop Core i3 processors may feature a “simple” Intel HD Graphics 2000 or HD Graphics 2500 as well as more advanced HD Graphics 3000 or HD Graphics 4000 modifications, which are common in mobile and overclocker CPUs from the K-series. Therefore, some desktop Core i3 processors, namely Core i3-2125 or Core i3-3225, could be, in fact, considered APUs, like AMD Llano with a Radeon HD graphics core inside.

We decided to start testing integrated graphics with 3DMark Vantage benchmarks. 3DMark scores are a very popular way of estimating average gaming performance of the graphics cards. And we chose Vantage suite because it uses DirectX 10 supported by all the participating graphics accelerators including integrated graphics in Core processors with Sandy Bridge microarchitecture.

Although new Intel HD Graphics 4000 core developed by Intel specifically for the Ivy Bridge processors has 16 execution units, it is still unable to catch up with the integrated graphics in the AMD A8-3870K processor. According to 3DMark Vantage, Core i3-3225 graphics is more than 25% behind the graphics of AMD Llano. So, looks like Core i3 processors cannot yet be considered a good choice for an entry-level gaming system.

However, Intel’s integrated graphics cores have indeed made colossal progress. HD Graphics 2500 in Core i3-3240 and Core i3-3220 processors is just as good as the previous generation HD Graphics 3000 core from Core i3-2125. And the Core i3-3225 CPU equipped with HD Graphics 4000 is twice as fast.

In addition to the synthetic 3DMark Vantage we ran a few real gaming tests. We used low image quality settings and 1650x1080 screen resolution, which in our opinion is the lowest acceptable screen resolution for the majority of desktop users these days.

The gaming 3D performance of the graphics cores integrated into processors is very similar to what we have just seen in 3DMark Vantage. AMD A8-3870K processor is at the top of all charts unattainable for Intel’s dual-core (and even quad-core) products. Its Radeon HD 6550D graphics core has the highest 3D speed of all integrated cores (and it will remain so until AMD A10 series processors come out). And even Core i3-3225 with Intel’s fastest integrated graphics accelerator can’t defeat the AMD competitor.

Nevertheless, in some games Core i3-3225 can generate quite acceptable graphics performance, which will provide decent fps rate for those gamers who do not chase superb image quality in 1650x1050 resolution and can do just fine with low image quality settings. In any case, while we could find quite a few games that worked fine on Intel’s integrated graphics from the Sandy Bridge generation, now the number of such games should be even greater. However, all this is only relevant to HD Graphics 4000. The “lite” graphics core modification, Intel HD Graphics 2500, can’t boast acceptable gaming performance. it yields to HD Graphics 3000 in games, so if you are looking for a dual-core LGA 1155 processor with fast graphics core, consider Core i3-2125 and not Core i3-3220.

However, not all users regard Intel’s integrated graphics cores as gaming 3D graphics accelerators. Many users are attracted to HD Graphics 4000 and HD Graphics 2500 for their multimedia capabilities, to which there is absolutely no alternative in the low-end price segment. Here we first of all mean the Quick Sync technology intended for fast hardware video transcoding into AVC/H.264 format, which second version has been implemented in Ivy Bridge processors. Since Intel promises that new integrated graphics cores will offer much higher transcoding speeds, we paid special attention to testing Quick Sync this time.

During our test session we measured the time it took to transcode one 40-minute episode of a popular TV-show from 1080p H.264 with 10 Mbps bitrate into a format compatible with Apple iPad2 (H.264, 1280x720, 3 Mbps). We used Cyberlink Media Espresso 6.5.2830 utility that supports Quick Sync.

The situation here is radically different from what we have just seen in games. The AMD processor we tested today doesn’t have any tools that could accelerate HD video transcoding for it. Therefore, any CPUs on Core microarchitecture supporting Quick Sync are several times faster than their competitors from AMD. Among Intel products the leadership belongs to Core i3-3225 with HD Graphics 4000 core inside. It is significantly faster than all of its dual-core counterparts as well as quad-core Core i5. In fact, there is nothing surprising about it: Intel HD Graphics 2500 modification not only has fewer execution units, but also has a slower media engine. That is why all other Core i3 and Core i5 processors with HD Graphics 2000, HD Graphics 2500 and HD Graphics 3000 take about the same time to transcode HD video, which is almost 1.5 times longer than it takes Core i3-3225.

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