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. However, at the same time Intel prefers to equip their desktop processor modifications with a cut-down graphics core featuring only 6 execution units out of 16. In fact, only Core i7 and Core i5-3570K processors have fully-functional integrated graphics cores. The majority of desktop Core i5 CPUs from the 3000-series will most likely prove pretty slow in 3D graphics applications. However, it is quite possible that even the limited graphics functionality will be quite sufficient for some users who do not regard integrated graphics core as a replacement for a discrete 3D graphics accelerator.

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. Note that besides a full set of Core i5 processors with their respective integrated graphics cores we also included the results of a Core i5-3570K based system with a discrete Radeon HD 6570 graphics accelerator. This configuration will serve as a reference point that will allow us to rank Intel HD Graphics 2500 and HD Graphics 4000 cores among discrete graphics accelerators.

HD Graphics 2500 core that Intel uses for the majority of their desktop processors demonstrates 3D performance similar to that of the HD Graphics 3000. However, the top core from Ivy bridge processors, HD Graphics 4000, becomes a tremendous leap forward, as its performance is almost twice as good as that of the best previous generation graphics core. However, any of the existing Intel HD Graphics modifications still cannot deliver acceptable 3D performance for desktop uses. For example, Radeon HD 6570 graphics card that belongs to the lower price segment and costs about $60-$70 is still much faster.

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.

Overall, we see about the same situation in all games. The top modification of the Intel HD Graphics core integrated into Core i5-3570K delivers pretty good average fps rate (for an integrated solution). However, Core i5-3570K is the only processor in the third-generation Core i5 family that can deliver acceptable performance in most today’s games (provided you will agree to certain image quality restrictions). All other processors with the HD Graphics 2500 core inside that has fewer execution units run at almost half the speed, which is not enough by all means.

The advantage of the HD Graphics 4000 over the previous-generation HD Graphics 3000 core varies in a pretty wide range and is around 90% on average. The junior graphics core model from the Ivy Bridge family, which is currently used in a majority of desktop Core i5 processors, HD Graphics 2500, can easily compete against the previous flagship graphics core from Intel. As for the previous mainstream graphics core, Intel HD Graphics 2000, its performance in games now strikes as extremely low. Our tests show that it falls about 50-60% behind the new HD Graphics 2500.

In other words, 3D performance of the graphics core in the new Core i5 processors has increased significantly, but it is still way to low to compete against the fps rate that you can get from a discrete Radeon HD 6570 graphic accelerator. Even HD Graphics 4000 integrated into Core i5-3570K cannot become a worthy alternative to a low-end discrete 3D accelerator. The more common modification of the new Intel HD Graphics core is totally unfit for most games.

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. If previously Intel didn’t differentiate Quick Sync in CPU with different graphics core modifications, now everything has changed. The performance of this technology in HD Graphics 4000 has almost doubled compared with its speed in HD Graphics 2500. Moreover, regular Core i5 processors from the 3000-series equipped with HD Graphics 2500 transcode HD video with the help of Quick Sync at about the same speed as their predecessors. The only way you can actually see the performance boost is by Core i5-3570K, which features “advanced” HD Graphics 4000 core.

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