Articles: CPU

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The CPU realm has changed over the last few years. Today, the majority of desktop CPUs sold are those with an integrated graphics core. It is such products that occupy the entry-level and midrange market segments, making people buy a graphics core along with a CPU when they build a new computer. Many users are not fond of the idea, but there’s no other way around. Meanwhile, modern graphics cores we find integrated into CPUs must be given credit for having rather advanced specifications and delivering performance that’s enough for quite a broad scope of applications, the sharp drop in popularity of cheap standalone graphics cards being the consequence. CPUs with integrated graphics can easily and completely substitute them. Moreover, we can even seriously discuss capabilities of today’s CPU-integrated graphics cores in terms of running modern DirectX 11 games at Full-HD resolutions. Of course, you have to drop some visual quality settings and disable various image enhancement techniques like full-screen antialiasing, but you do get a playable frame rate!

It must be noted, however, that the manufacturers of x86 processors didn’t purposefully target the market of low-end graphics cards in their race to endow their products with the new functionality. AMD and Intel have both come to their integrated solutions by listening to mobile users. Combining a CPU and a GPU inside one semiconductor die makes sense from the standpoint of platform miniaturization, cooling system simplification and energy efficiency. That’s why people who use compact notebooks and tablet PCs are actually very satisfied with the existing CPUs and their integrated graphics. Moreover, they have lower graphics performance requirements since mobile computers generally have a lower display resolution than typical desktop PCs.

Thus, CPUs with integrated graphics have come to desktop computers as the result of product unification AMD and Intel resort to due to the steady decline in the sales of desktop products and the explosive growth of all kinds of mobile gadgets. We can’t expect this trend to change anytime in the near future, so desktop users have to put up with adapted versions of mobile CPUs which have not only general-computing but also graphics cores. Well, we don’t want to sound as if such products have nothing useful at all to offer to desktop users. The integrated graphics core isn’t utterly hopeless and such CPUs have come to be employed in a wide range of applications. We don’t mean just office PCs or entry-level gaming configurations but also a whole new class of home media centers that are connected to large TV-sets for digital entertainment.

Besides, modern integrated CPUs have one important feature that may come in most handy in the desktop PC environment. They can use their graphics core not only to handle graphics proper but to do some computing as well. This heterogeneous computing concept has become a reality thanks to combined effort of CPU and software developers. The OpenCL framework designed specifically for such purposes is fully supported by all integrated graphics cores and its use is becoming a norm for many resource-consuming applications, especially those that deal with image or video processing.

So, a hybrid CPU with an integrated graphics core is an interesting and highly perspective product that calls for a change of perspective from desktop users. In this review we will try to carry out a comprehensive test of modern CPUs in order to not just highlight the highs and lows of the CPU and GPU cores individually but also to show the peculiarities of the hybrid CPU design in general as it is implemented by the two CPU developers. Therefore, besides conventional benchmarks of CPU performance, we will have specific tests such as parallel computing with the graphics core’s help, high-definition video encoding and decoding, and gaming. With this approach we will be able to give a just verdict to today’s so-called accelerated processing units or APUs.

We will consider the newest integrated-graphics CPUs offered by Intel and AMD in the under-$150 category. In other words, we’ll compare Intel’s dual-core Ivy Bridge processors with AMD’s Trinity series.

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