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THG spends a lot of time covering the latest and greatest graphics cards, CPUs, memory and other components required to bring you the best gaming experience that money can buy. However, the very best of the best simply doesn't make sense for everyone.
Consider that while many of us would love to invest over a month's salary in a bleeding-edge machine, we can't - or at least common sense dictates that we shouldn't - spend that much on a system that will only be considered a LAN party dinosaur in a few months.
Similarly, there are budget-minded customers who seek decent but not great graphics performance, without the added expense of a graphics card. There are folks who have several PCs in their houses, perhaps for children who want to play games, and don't have the money to spend to add a graphics card for every PC. Finally, consider the road warrior who travels with a notebook and wants to play Doom III.
The usual solution in these cases is integrated graphics. But many feel that in the past they have been burned when Intel claimed that its integrated graphics processors (IGPs) were good enough to run their favorite 3D games without the added horsepower of a graphics card. The results were often disappointing at best, due to driver compatibility problems, or a lack of graphics processing power needed just to get some games to run.
With the launch of newer devices, such as Intel's GMA 950 integrated processor and 945G chipset, have times changed? The short answer is that Intel's latest-generation integrated processors have shown a lot of improvements compared to their predecessors. They can at least get you started with graphically-intensive games such as Doom III or the latest GTA when played at low resolutions.
As we showed earlier this year, games can in fact be played with integrated graphics, but not very well. Our tests of the Dell Latitude D610 with the 900GMA integrated graphics core and 915GM chipset showed that smooth gaming above VGA resolution was not possible when playing Doom3 or Farcry. But at least you can get some of the newer, graphically-intensive games to run without a graphics card - which wasn't always the case in the past.
Despite the improvements, Intel representatives say that the company's developers continue not to focus on gaming when they design next-generation graphics parts. Game play is an important criteria when it comes to integrated graphics processor designs, but other issues, such as cost and power consumption, are viewed as more essential.