Intel has released more details regarding the integrated graphics hardware that will form part of its fourth-generation Core processor family, codenamed Haswell - and indications are that it's gunning for AMD's accelerated processing units (APUs.)
Intel graphics have traditionally been the butt of jokes in the enthusiast market. While the company has carried out some research into dedicated graphics cards, which would be abandoned in favour of using the techniques discovered to create many-core co-processor boards for high-performance computing applications, Intel has typically ignored the high-performance graphics market. While rivals AMD and Nvidia battle it out to win the hearts - and, more importantly, credit card details - of gamers, Intel has bimbled along quietly producing on-board and, latterly, integrated graphics products that meet the needs of the vast majority of non-gaming and non-workstation users. For office applications, web browsing, video playback, Intel's integrated graphics processors (IGPs) work just fine - only losing their lustre when gaming is brought into the equation.
Gamers are only too aware of this fact: even when purchasing Intel processors with integrated graphics, they typically buy one - or more - dedicated graphics cards and leave the IGP unused. Even in the laptop market, where space and power are at a premium, it's typical to find a manufacturer cramming in a mini-PCIe graphics board and using tricks like Nvidia's Optimus to ensure the IGP only gets used in light, battery-friendly scenarios. Casual gamers, too, are starting to pay attention to AMD's APU products, the most recent versions of which include graphics capabilities that easily outstrip those of rival Intel - even if the processor itself isn't quite so impressive. When Sony's APU-powered PlayStation 4 - and, if rumours are to be believed, Microsoft's next Xbox console - hit the market, this will only accelerate.
Intel's answer: Iris Pro, the name given to the company's highest-performing IGP to be built into the upcoming Haswell-based fourth-generation Core processor family. The Iris Pro 5200, to give the IGP its full title, is based on what the company calls a GT3e 'graphics level' - putting it right at the top of the company's line-up, and significantly above the HD 4000 series at GT2. Designed for use in high-end desktops and laptops, the Iris Pro 5200 IGP will be joined by the Iris 5100, a GT3 part, and the non-Iris branded HD 5000. The reason for the three differing levels? Power draw: packing different numbers of execution units (EUs,) each increase in level will require a corresponding increase in power allowance and cooling - making the lower-performing parts more tempting for laptop manufacturers.
For lower-end Haswell parts, there are IGP options below even the GT2: some models are to be available with HD 2000 IGP parts, which Intel describes as either GT1 or GT1.5 depending on which slide you're viewing from the company's surprisingly detail-light press pack. Full details of what makes the Iris Pro so special have yet to be shared, but the company is targeting a twofold or higher improvement in performance over the IGP found in Ivy Bridge chips. Previously released information points to Intel using multi-chip module (MCM) packaging for the GT3 and GT3e parts, packing 40 execution units and the rumoured L4 cache memory which can be accessed by both the IGP and the CPU cores.
Full performance figures for the parts have yet to be released, but Intel has shared a few 'normalised' benchmark results: compared to the 77W Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K, the 84W Haswell i7-4770K - its direct replacement, packing the Iris GT3 graphics hardware - manages a near-doubling of 3DMark11 performance, and almost 1.5x the 3DMark Vantage performance. Both, however, are eclipsed by the i7-4770R - which will replace the GT3 Iris IGP with the more powerful GT3e Iris Pro - which stops just short of tripling its predecessors 3DMark11 score and increases the 3DMark Vantage score by over 2.5x.
The result: a processor which, VR-Zone
has claimed based on a leaked and as-yet unreleased Intel performance comparative graph, will outperform a discrete GeForce GT 640 graphics board. Sadly, that performance comes with a catch: some in the industry are claiming that the R suffix that differeniates the Iris Pro-based i7-4770R from its Iris-based i7-4770K brother indicates that Intel will only be releasing the processor in a ball-grid array (BGA) package - meaning it will come bundled with a motherboard, to which the processor will be permanently attached.
With Intel expected to formally launch the Haswell family at Computex in June, it's certainly looking like AMD is going to have a fight on its hands - to the point where some analysts
are suggesting Intel could purchase its long-term rival, bypassing monopoly concerns thanks to the growing market share of ARM-based processors.