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Professional Opinion: Gaming On Integrated Graphics

Gaming At 1920x1080: AMD's Trinity Takes On Intel HD Graphics
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Jon Bach started Puget Systems in 2000, a time when small, local system builders could wage war more successfully against the big brands through specialization and experimentation. Over the years, Puget Systems gained a reputation for high-end performance, including with HTPCs. By 2009, the company had its Serenity line, which relied on considerable design testing to achieve a finished product significantly more quiet than most competitors. Few, if any, system builders left in America have Puget’s experience in crafting fast PCs with the acoustics someone in a theater environment would demand. This is why we sought out Bach for his thoughts on gaming in the living room on an integrated graphics engine.

Puget Serenity 3Puget Serenity 3

Tom's Hardware: Let’s start with the big question: Are today’s HTPCs ready to tackle 1920x1080 gaming?

Jon Bach: There are all types of gaming, of course. There are those who are very casual gamers—a little Angry Birds here, a little The Sims 3 there. Integrated graphics today will handle those titles just fine. Even at 1080p, no problem. But then there’s higher-end gaming. Steam’s Big Picture is bringing a lot of attention to this space. I play some Battlefield 3 myself, and I wouldn’t even think of running that on integrated graphics, even at lower resolutions.

That isn’t to say HTPCs can't meet those needs. We build PCs for home theaters that can handle intense gaming. They just need a mid- or high-range discrete video card. We can build PCs like that and keep them quiet too. Even better, modern video cards have such low idle power draw that they work out very nicely, becoming nearly silent during movie and TV playback, and then spinning up as needed during intense gaming. Where we’ve hit more of an obstacle is actually in making sure the cabinet the PC is inside is cooled well. Not many people think about that, so we have to be very careful to bring it up, and help each client plan accordingly.

Tom's Hardware: Our initial gaming results with Core i3 and A8/A10 are pretty encouraging. We’re seem to be "getting there," assuming that integrated hardware evolves more quickly than the games over time. Do you see this happening? Will on-die logic accommodate ever more of the gaming field as we go forward?

Jon Bach: It’s all relative. Our customers wouldn't be happy with 30 FPS at medium settings. They want 60 FPS at Ultra settings. A big reason why people go to the PC platform for gaming is for the quality improvement. At Puget Systems, it is rare for us to sell a gaming-oriented PC with anything less than a GeForce GTX 560 Ti (now probably the GTX 660). People just want more. Of course, we serve the distinct niche of high-performance, high-quality PCs. To us, integrated chipset graphics are still a long ways off—even the new platforms coming up.

However, I will say that it is definitely moving in that direction. Back in 2008, you needed to spend $1000 in multi-GPU setups to run games at their highest quality settings. Today, a single GeForce GTX 670 does it with ease. You can see the trend. I think that, for the casual gamer, we’re getting very close. For the hardcore gamer, they’re going to be looking for more performance for quite some time to come.

In a way, isn’t this a microcosm of the PC versus tablet talk? Some people say, "Tablets are getting so powerful now, they can do almost everything I need." Then you have the other camp saying, "No way. I need a lot more processing power." Both are true. There is just a huge variation in the kind of performance that people want and need.

Puget Serenity 2Puget Serenity 2

Tom's Hardware: In building our test system in a SilverStone HTPC case, we had to make special consideration for the heat sink height, and our Blu-ray drive was too long to fit. Those are pretty obvious snafus once you’ve run into them. What are some of the less obvious design concerns that DIYers should watch out for when building HTPCs?

Jon Bach: The physical compatibility of the CPU cooler is a common issue, for sure. Proper airflow is another concern, especially for gaming. If you run a discrete video card, many HTPC chassis are not very good about getting fresh air to that part of the chassis. Height of the video card is another common issue. Many video cards now run the heat sink higher than the PCI Express slot, which conflicts with the top panel many times. Some motherboards have right-angle SATA ports coming off the side of the motherboard, and many HTPC chassis do not leave adequate room for this, leaving you only able to use one SATA port per row, and only with right-angle SATA connectors.

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Top Comments
  • 30 Hide
    luciferano , September 27, 2012 5:31 AM
    They both have graphics that have HD in their name, but AMD's HD graphics are more *HD*, lol.
  • 26 Hide
    digiex , September 27, 2012 6:27 AM
    This would do it, I don't play at 1920x1080 since my monitor is only at 1366x768.

    AMD really deliver stinging jabs at Intel with its APU's. I hope the pricing would be OK.
  • 26 Hide
    esrever , September 27, 2012 7:39 AM
    Personally I would rather run games at 720p with medium settings than at 1080p with low.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    confish21 , September 27, 2012 5:05 AM
    120 GB memory for an HPTC? outside of that good write up!
  • 9 Hide
    confish21 , September 27, 2012 5:08 AM
    HD...

  • 24 Hide
    azathoth , September 27, 2012 5:31 AM
    Seems like a perfect combination for a Casual PC gamer, I'm just curious as to the price of the Trinity APU's.
  • 30 Hide
    luciferano , September 27, 2012 5:31 AM
    They both have graphics that have HD in their name, but AMD's HD graphics are more *HD*, lol.
  • 14 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , September 27, 2012 5:39 AM
    Consoles set the bar for game developers. These iGPU's are comparable to the consoles and thats why games will run smooth here.

    With next gen consoles coming out next year, game devs will target them. Hence the minimum standard for games will rise, making the next gen games much slower on the iGPU's. So both AMD and Intel will have to increase performance much more in the next 1-2 years.

    tl;dr : next gen games will run poorly on these igpu's as next gen consoles will set the minimum performance standard.
  • 14 Hide
    mousseng , September 27, 2012 5:50 AM
    Quote:
    tl;dr : next gen games will run poorly on these igpu's as next gen consoles will set the minimum performance standard.

    Keep in mind, though, that that's exactly what's going to allow AMD and Intel to advance their hardware faster than games will, as they were discussing in the article (first page of the interview). Look how far Fusion and HD Graphics have come over the past 3 years, and look how long the previous console generation lasted - if that trend is anything to go by, I'm sure integrated graphics could easily become a viable budget gaming option in the next few years.
  • -7 Hide
    falchard , September 27, 2012 5:52 AM
    Since when as AMD or nVidia actually taken on Intel graphics? Thats a bit insulting considering the disproportionate results time and time again.
  • 13 Hide
    dudewitbow , September 27, 2012 5:52 AM
    I'm actually liking the progression the igpu gets on the apu based chips.
  • 3 Hide
    luciferano , September 27, 2012 5:54 AM
    mayankleoboy1Consoles set the bar for game developers. These iGPU's are comparable to the consoles and thats why games will run smooth here.With next gen consoles coming out next year, game devs will target them. Hence the minimum standard for games will rise, making the next gen games much slower on the iGPU's. So both AMD and Intel will have to increase performance much more in the next 1-2 years.tl;dr : next gen games will run poorly on these igpu's as next gen consoles will set the minimum performance standard.


    Actually, the A10 and A8 have somewhat superior graphics compared to current consoles. Current consoles can't even play in 720p as well as these AMD IGPs played 1080p despite being a more optimized platform, so that this is true is kinda obvious IMO. Also, new games would simply mean dropping resolution for these APUs. They wouldn't be unable to play new games, just probably at 1080p and 16xx by 900/10xx resolutions too.


    Intel probably isn't very motivated by gaming performance for their IGPs and they're supposedly making roughly 100% performance gains per generation with their top-end IGPs anyway, so they're working on growing IGP performance. AMD also gets to use GCN in their next APU and I don't think that I need to explain the implications there, especially if they go the extra mile with using their high-density library tech too.
  • 10 Hide
    e56imfg , September 27, 2012 6:10 AM
    What about Intel i3's / APUs with the 6570 or any other hybrid compatible card?
    How about one more article with Ivy Bridge i3s and the 6570 on both setups. I want to see how much better gamin performance will be with AMD's hybrid cards.
  • 26 Hide
    digiex , September 27, 2012 6:27 AM
    This would do it, I don't play at 1920x1080 since my monitor is only at 1366x768.

    AMD really deliver stinging jabs at Intel with its APU's. I hope the pricing would be OK.
  • 16 Hide
    gondor , September 27, 2012 6:40 AM
    Can you run a memory-scaling test to see how Trinity responds to more bandwidth ? Llano was considerably faster when paired with faster RAM.
  • 0 Hide
    Menigmand , September 27, 2012 6:45 AM
    If intel/amd can convince most mainstream buyers that this is "good enough", and the next generation of consoles will run for 10+ years, could this be the end of dedicated graphics?

    With market share going down, there could be less economy of scale and less investment, leading to stagnation and very high prices.

    For some time, you will still be able to buy a dedicated GPU, but it will be a niche product that costs you an arm and a leg, and soon hardware support will dwindle as producers move to smaller form factors.
  • -1 Hide
    EzioAs , September 27, 2012 6:53 AM
    I like the performance improvement in graphics, but I wish it was a little better. Maybe 20% more, but hey, at least it's improving
  • 22 Hide
    jijibu , September 27, 2012 6:55 AM
    DDR3 1600 could limit AMD's performance. It would be better to see benchmarks with 1866 MHz and higher frequency kits and overclocking results, because they depend on RAM frequencies...
  • 4 Hide
    army_ant7 , September 27, 2012 6:57 AM
    Quote:
    Consoles set the bar for game developers. These iGPU's are comparable to the consoles and thats why games will run smooth here.

    With next gen consoles coming out next year, game devs will target them. Hence the minimum standard for games will rise, making the next gen games much slower on the iGPU's. So both AMD and Intel will have to increase performance much more in the next 1-2 years.

    tl;dr : next gen games will run poorly on these igpu's as next gen consoles will set the minimum performance standard.

    I'm not sure it's accurate to say that consoles play on a game's absolute minimum settings, disregarding resolution. With that in mind, the PC versions would still have graphics options to tune down compared to the what the console versions would have their settings configured, I would think. :) 


    I do wonder how good these Trinity APU's could typically overclock, and how they'd perform there, along with their RAM overclocked to a reasonable level to compensate for the more graphics processing power.
    More so, I'm wondering if the PSCheck method where you manipulate core P-states would have a substantial affect with mainly dual-threaded titles.
    Also maybe I'd like to see if Dual-graphics performs better (scaling) and has a wider compatibility range than Llano's.
  • 6 Hide
    luciferano , September 27, 2012 7:03 AM
    EzioAsI like the performance improvement in graphics, but I wish it was a little better. Maybe 20% more, but hey, at least it's improving


    They did what they could on their 32nm process node that they had to stick to. Kaveri, assuming that it is true that it has GCN, will make undoubtedly some much more huge improvements over Trinity than Trinity did over Llano.
  • 26 Hide
    esrever , September 27, 2012 7:39 AM
    Personally I would rather run games at 720p with medium settings than at 1080p with low.
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