For years now, we have been telling you if you want to play games on your PC at all, you need to buy a dedicated video card. This goes back all the way to when we first started needing hardware 3D acceleration to play games like Quake GL. Back then, if you had the hardware, you could do amazing things like play Unreal in 1024×768 with beautiful lighting effects while people were playing GoldenEye 007 in 256×224 with a draw distance reaching about two feet from the player’s view.
But today, console games are drastically holding 3D graphics detail back, diminishing the need for expensive video cards. Games like Mafia II and Crysis II notwithstanding, if a game is designed to be played at sub-720p resolutions and low detail at 30 frames per second on the XBOX 360 and PS3, chances are it will run smooth as butter on any PC built in the past 3 years with a decent video card installed with similar settings.
But the question is, has this lull in 3D visuals given integrated graphics a chance to catch up? There is no question that any integrated video card made before 2010 is going to be useless, but what about the very latest? And what if we just looked at games that came out during the current console generation?
To find out, we took the latest integrated graphics products from both Intel and AMD, and ran a few benchmarks. On the Intel side, we are using the Core i5 2500K, which is based on the brand new Sandy Bridge platform. The graphics chip is integrated into the CPU rather than the Chipset, and there are actually various models depending on which CPU is being used. On the 2500K, we are using the second fastest version of the “HD3000″ GPU. This one has 12 execution units, and a top turbo speed of 1.1 GHz (this is only available if the CPU turbo isn’t fully engaged…). The i7 2600K also has an HD3000, but its turbo ramps up to 1.35 GHz.
There is also the HD2000 which you’ll find on Core i3 series Sandy Bridge chips. These have similar support features, but only have half the EU’s and a much lower clock speed. For today, we’ll just be using the Core i5 2500K.
The newest IGP from AMD is unfortunately nearly a year old now. It is the 890GX chipset, which contains a Radeon HD 4290 GPU. We first experienced this chipset March 2010 when we reviewed the MSI 890GXM-G65 motherboard. To call this a 1 year old chipset is somewhat misleading however, as the Northbridge is almost identical to the 785G which was first announced in August 2009. That chipset had the Radeon HD 4200, which as you can guess is functionally the same but clocked slightly lower.
So while this “AMD vs Intel” is really comparing GPUs that are roughly 1.5 years apart, it’s what we have to work with today.
So let’s get right to the benchmarks shall we?