Integrated graphics and QuickSync video processing
After accomplishing what we did with our core CPU testing, we kinda ran out of time for really extensive testing of Sandy Bridge's integrated graphics and video processing capabilities. We did manage to run a few quick tests, though. First up is a look at QuickSync video transcoding, in which we're doing something very similar to what we did in our Windows Live Movie Maker test—transcoding the same 30-minute, 720P, MPEG2-format video into a 320x240 H.264 format. For this, we used a pre-release version of CyberLink MediaEspresso with QuickSync support.
The relevant number to see here is the drop in encoding time for the Core i5-2500K when QuickSync is enabled. The Core i3-2100 is similarly fast with QuickSync, even though its HD 2000 IGP has half the number of execution units (and those EUs are used for encoding, offering flexibility you wouldn't get with dedicated hardware alone).
Some other things: The Core i5-655K's IGP can't encode video, but it does have decode assist, and that seems to work nicely in unburdening this dual-core processor and speeding up the transcoding process—more so than I expected, I will admit. Also, although this program purports to take advantage of AMD's Stream hardware decoding and GPU encoding capabilities, only the decode ability was exposed in the interface as an option with the 890GX IGP, and when we enabled it, performance dropped. Furthermore, we had hoped to use Nvidia's CUDA and a GeForce GTX 460 to compare transcoding performance versus a discrete GPU, but that was obviously broken in this preview version of MediaEspresso, as well. We will have to revisit QuickSync transcoding in the future in more detail, but at least the nice drop in encode times on the Sandy Bridge chips should give you a sense of the possibilities.
We had considered using a range of casual and older games for our IGP tests, perhaps alongside those that we'd used in our earlier CPU tests involving a discrete graphics card, but then Intel decided to pull in the Sandy Bridge launch by two days, ruining those ambitions. Instead, we just punted and ran whatever we already had installed on the test systems. We expected various levels of failure from these IGPs, but Sandy Bridge had a few more surprises in store for us.
Amazingly, Bad Company 2 actually runs pretty well on the HD 3000 IGP. We had to turn down all of the game's IQ settings and drop the resolution to 1280x800, bit was darn nearly playable on the Core i5-2500K. We'd kind of expected the game to detect Intel's drivers, roll over, and die.
Heck, the Sandy Bridge IGP is substantially more capable than the Radeon HD 4290 in AMD's 890 GX chipset, based on these results.
From there, we got more ambitious, firing up StarCraft II and giving it a shot at 1280x800 with the game's "Medium" quality presets. Again, we used the same recorded game and time frames as in our big-boy CPU tests with discrete graphics.
OK, so maybe we pushed a little too hard. Any of these IGPs would almost certainly handle SC2 just fine at its lowest IQ settings, but man, does the game look awful then. If you want something a little prettier, you're almost reaching competency with the Sandy Bridge IGP, at least the HD 3000 version.
Dialing back the quality levels in both of these games to their lowest possible settings produced rather different results. F1 2010 doesn't look great, but it runs quite nicely on the HD 3000. Civ V is pretty much hopeless, regardless of which IGP you use.
This is a very small sample size, but the fact that the Intel drivers handled all of these relatively new games without crashing or producing obvious visual corruption feels like a step forward to me. That impression is underscored by the fact that the HD 3000 IGP is nearly twice as fast as the Radeon IGP in AMD's 890GX chipset. We're not getting our hopes too high, but all of the mobile variants of Sandy Bridge are slated to have HD 3000 graphics. Could it be that we'll see somewhat competent mobile gaming capabilities in the average laptop in 2011? That would be quite the development.
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