Some of you may know that I recently built my own desktop machine (today is actually the 1 month anniversary of building it) but I don’t blame you if you didn’t know that, I haven’t quite posted pictures and talked about it yet. When mentioning building this new PC, along with other things, last month, I also spoke of moving. Turns out things didn’t really work out at the first place and I had to move twice, in two weeks! I just got settled down this week (and I’m glad I’m sitting on my chair and writing about various things HP and technology related!) but the real bummer is that my graphics card began to overheat after moving. It’s an AMD Radeon 7850 if you must know, and what happened was that I noticed a huge leap in temperatures, from idling in the 30’s to idling in the 50’s, and from 65 Celcius running intense games like Battlefield 3 to over 80 degrees! Something must have gotten undone (thermal paste holding the graphics board and heatsink, perhaps?) but Asus has been great and responsive in handling my RMA case so far.
And you’ve guessed it, now I’m stuck with a box with Intel Integrated Graphics, which I’m sure will make more than a few gamers and tech enthusiasts put on a weird face. But as unappealing as it may sound, Intel integrated graphics has actually come a long way since what the computing world has traditionally stereotyped ‘integrated graphics’ to be. I experienced the change firsthand back in 2010 when I could play Left4Dead 2 at the lowest settings but at a playable 20-30 FPS on a humble 12 inch EliteBook 2540p, and I’m reporting back this year, 3 Intel generations later, with much better results (albeit on a desktop processor, which can make results vary very slightly for certain games which take advantage of faster CPU speeds in addition to graphics speeds).
Despite this little test being run on a desktop processor, we can generalize and roughly tell how the upcoming Ivy Bridge laptops will perform with integrated graphics, since both desktop and mobile Intel processors share extremely similar integrated graphics specs on paper. The only difference is that the mobile variants can downclock graphics clock speed to 350 MHz (versus 650 MHz minimum on desktop chips)to save on energy for better battery life.
So here’s the outcome when playing using Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge HD 4000 integrated graphics: When playing games like Left4Dead 2, Batman Arkham City and Battlefield 3, I had resolution set to 1280 x 800 with medium settings. Left4Dead 2 did (gasp) rather excellently with very playable frame rates of 50 to 70 FPS while more modern games did just as well with frame rates hovering in the 30 to 50 FPS range. While I could not boost resolution further on the other games without frames dropping to an unplayable rate, I could up Left4Dead 2 to 1440 x 900 (still with Medium settings) and frame rate went down to a choppier but still usable 20-35 FPS. Fantastic! Fantastic for integrated graphics at least. Basically your average year 2012 laptop model (Intel or AMD) without a graphics card… nowadays, that’s mostly referring to those super-slim ultrabooks and MacBook Air competitors, is going to be able to run modern games on medium settings at good frame rates at native screen resolution! That was impossible without at least a low-end dedicated graphics card of some sort back in 2009!
I’m a bit of a car enthusiast and I would say, for gamers, that Intel Integrated Graphics is like the run-flat tires of computers. Not too many years ago, if your graphics card had problems or suddenly died, you would probably be stuck without the ability to play games or even run certain graphics software titles (unless you had the cash to run out and buy a new graphics card right away). Not anymore with today’s tech; you can easily play games at decent resolutions and settings at playable frame rates (important!) and even Photoshop accepts Intel’s graphics as a hardware acceleration solution! For regular folks and casual users, this is also great news since you can run games right off the bat without having to think about ‘what graphics card to choose’. That pretty much backs up Intel Corporate VP Mooly Eden’s statements at CES (I was there at Intel’s CES 2011 press conference!) and CeBIT last year when he mentioned Intel’s new integrated graphics would cater well to a large chunk of casual gamers. But it’s not just Intel processors that are getting this treatment, you could pull off the same with modern AMD processors with built-in graphics solutions (AMD calls this their APU processors; their latest being AMD Trinity processors for laptops).
Hopefully this means more folks will embrace gaming on their PC and laptop (perhaps even with their Windows tablets)! Yeah we hear the Xbox 720 might be coming out next year, but consoles have always had their place in the living room and are exclusively associated with ‘entertainment’ and ‘having fun’ (I’ve rarely come across anyone using a console as a worktool, except game developers!) while PCs and tablets are machines that we spend the most time with… for work, for school, when traveling, etc. I’m planning a trip to visit my family soon, and yes, after writing this article, I am now upset that I don’t have a fancy laptop that can play decent games during my long journey back!