Once we’d built all out test rigs we sat down for a quiet morning of putting Intel’s latest and hopefully greatest integrated graphics silicon through its paces. Things started positively too, as the i5-3570K CPU was capable of returning a solid minimum fps of 26 in Left 4 Dead 2 at 1,280 x 720 - a reasonable resolution if you’re running the game on a media PC that’s hooked up to a HD TV.
Admittedly it was comprehensively out-performed by AMD’s Radeon HD 6550D equipped A8-3870K, which returned a minimum result of 31fps, well above the 25fps we consider playable. The story was similar when we stepped the resolution up to 1,920 x 1,080, with the AMD offering again triumphing. It’s not all bad news for Intel though - the HD 4000 equipped i5-3570K was miles ahead of the older HD 3000 equipped i5-2500k, lending weight to its claim that the GPU portion of Ivy Bridge was ‘more than a tick’.
The impressive performance of the HD 4000 GPU continued in the plush surroundings of Dirt 3, with it again outperforming the HD 3000 silicon by up to 40 per cent. This is a huge leap, and is enough to take it above the discrete GPU we’ve used in our testing - surely this is another nail in the coffin of the low end discrete graphics card?
Again the HD 4000 was outperformed by the HD 6550D however, and by quite a margin at 1,280 x 720, but it’s important to note the higher TDP of the AMD processor. This isn’t a massive issue in a desktop PC (though we did distinctly notice the CPU cooler fan spin up less when testing the Intel chip, so a PC based on it should theoretically run quieter than one based on the A8-3870K) but is a serious consideration in mobile computing where both power and cooling capacity is much more restricted.
Surprisingly things weren’t as rosy for the Intel camp when we booted up Diablo III for a bit of testing, as the HD 4000 GPU really struggled with this game. It wasn’t an affliction that affected either the onboard graphics of the A8-3870K or the discrete HD 6450 however, so we found the roles of the HD 4000 and the HD6450 reversed from the first two games, with the latter outperforming the former, though neither could produce a smooth experience, even at 1,280 x 720.
It’s entirely possible that this result is because Diablo III is a very new game, so Intel could potentially be yet to optimise its driver for it. We’d shy away from using this as any kind of excuse for the poor performance though - the AMD driver didn’t see any major drop off in performance after all.
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We’re reasonably impressed with Intel’s new HD 4000 GPU, but it’s more because of where it could be used rather than by what we’ve specifically seen here.
What we mean by this is that as far as we’re concerned, if you’re going to be building a media PC or a small, cheap desktop and graphics performance is important to you, then an FM1 CPU is still the way to go. It outperformed the HD 4000 toting i5-3570K in all our tests and is cheaper to boot - you can’t even try and get clever and trade down a few notches on the Intel scale to balance the prices up a little, it’s only the £170 i5-3570K and the £250 i7-3770K that come with the improved HD 4000 graphics core, all the other SKUs in the line come with cut down HD 2500 GPU cores.
Arguably though this is a little bit of an unfair comparison - yes, Intel has launched the HD 4000 GPU in desktop chips, but it’s real home is in mobile processors. Here it will excel, thanks to its good performance and tidy TDP. This is something that can’t be said for the A8-3870K, as its high TDP means that it’s an exclusively desktop bound processor.
The HD 4000 may have come out second best in this testing then, but we can’t help feeling that it’s because Intel are focused on a battle elsewhere at the moment. Not that that will bother AMD of course, who can keep polishing their onboard GPU performance crown for at least a little while yet.