Despite marketing claims, today’s consoles are most certainly not “HDTV”. Sure, they output HD resolutions, but only after being upscaled by the systems’ hardware. Most games actually have native resolutions around the 720p range (1280×720), with the 360 versions often having antialiasing since it is considered ‘free’ due to the hardware design. The more graphically intense games run even lower than this (for instance, CoD: Black Ops runs at 1040×608 on the XBOX 360 and 960×544 on the PS3, both with 2x antialiasing).
So what does this mean for PC gaming? We’re going to take the standard “1024×768” resolution that sort of sits in the middle of the common 720p res and all the lower ones that are often used. Image settings will usually be turned down as well, not just to match console settings, but to give these integrated GPUs somewhat of a chance. We won’t be using antialiasing at all, since it is certainly not “free” for this hardware.
As for benchmarking scores, if you see an average of 30 fps, you are looking at what most console games run at these days. There are some 60 fps games, and those are infinitely more fun to play, but unfortunately they are few and far between. Personally, I will do whatever it takes to run a game at a steady 60 fps with no dips, and vsync on. To me, that represents the perfect playability at a reasonable price point – smooth enough for my eyes, and no screen tearing.
In case you’re wondering, we’re using a Phenom X6 1100T on the AMD platform (not that it matters; these games are going to be completely limited by the GPU even at low settings) and the latest drivers for both systems. Price-wise, it matches up pretty well to a Core i5 2500K with an H67 motherboard.
First up is F1 2010, the gorgeous racing sim by Codemasters. These guys have tuned the EGO engine fairly well by this point. F1 2010 uses a newer version than the one that powered Dirt 2 and Grid, and the results are amazing. However with these integrated graphics, we had to use the “Low” preset (there is even an “Ultra Low which we didn’t bother with) at a resolution of 1024×768.
It looks to me like the 890FX is almost playable – maybe using the “Ultra Low” settings will get you there, but don’t expect to be blown away by the visuals. The HD3000 is able to maintain a framerate above 30 fps the whole time, which means you might even be able to turn things up a bit to aim for a 30 fps average. To me though, racing games are the most important genre of all to have as high a framerate as possible.
This sleeper hit runs on a heavily modified version of the Unreal 3 engine, which is as ubiquitous as it gets these days. Thankfully, it doesn’t fall into the trap of looking like every other UE3 powered game (though to be fair, it’s not as bad as it used to be). We’re using low quality graphics here, in 1024×768. After slogging through this on the PS3 already, I can tell you that these chips don’t have to do much to match up to the console versions.
This time the HD3000 barely scrapes by, but does make it to 30 fps. The 890GX doesn’t fare so well though, and would probably need to be played in 800×600.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
BF:BC2 runs on DICE’s own “Frostbite” engine, which has powered all their Battlefield games since Battlefield 1943 in 2009, and the Medal of Honor multiplayer mode. We cranked down all the options as low as they would go, and set the resolution to 1024×768.
Once again, the HD3000 barely squeaks by with a ~30 fps average. There are certainly some dips in the heavier scenes, but this is considered playable especially if you are already used to playing FPS games on consoles.
Far Cry 2
This under-appreciated gem runs on its own custom engine, based on CryEngine which powered Far Cry 1. Although it is not used in any other games, parts of it have subsequently been integrated into other Ubisoft titles like the later Assassin’s Creed games. Again, we’re using 1024×768 with the lowest settings possible here:
Well look at that! The HD3000 does a fine job at playing the game at low console-like settings, and you could probably even turn things up a bit. Even the 890GX manages a 30 fps average.
Now let’s forget about consoles for a while, and see what one of the more taxing PC-exclusive games does to these poor unsuspecting integrated GPUs. For this test, we are running the built-in Late Game Benchmark, which runs a scene of what a game might look like near the end of a game. Basically, there are a ton of units and cities on screen at once.
Ouch. If this doesn’t tell you what console games have done for PC graphics, nothing will. The HD3000 is not playable at all here, even though it managed a 30 FPS average on most of the non-exclusive titles.
Just for fun, let’s look at another PC exclusive, although it’s well over 3 years old now, it is still one of the more beautiful games out there. And it just gets better as graphics cards get faster, and we can turn up the settings higher. For these GPUs though, we’ll be keeping it at “low” which does not do the game justice at all, and it’s easy to see why they never bothered porting CryEngine 2 to consoles.
Well would you look at that! The HD3000 has plenty of room to spare to turn the details up a bit and remain over 30 fps. The 890GX, not so much.
If you were expecting horrible numbers in the <20 fps range, you probably underestimated Sandy Bridge! Instead, we are seeing 30 fps average in most of the mutliplatform games, in settings that are probably slightly lower than console settings. If we go back to our original question of whether integrated graphics can power today’s hardcore games at a playable level… Not quite.
To be fair, Intel’s own marketing only mentions HD3000 as a “casual gaming” solution. They know full well that hardcore gamers cannot depend on their products for their graphics needs (for now). We’ll definitely have to investigate this further though, that’s for sure. Stay tuned for part 2 of this article! Click here to subscribe to our RSS feed.