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I gave Intel’s approach to integrated graphics on the desktop a real smack-down in Intel’s Second-Gen Core CPUs: The Sandy Bridge Review (specifically on page seven). The fact that the K-series SKUs come with HD Graphics 3000 was puzzling to me. Nobody spending extra cash on an unlocked processor cares if it includes integrated graphics. Meanwhile, the locked Core i3, i5, and i7 models are all handicapped with HD Graphics 2000, limited to six execution units (rather than 12).
Fortunately, the company’s workstation group doesn’t follow suit. All four Xeon E3-12x5s employ a form of the GT2 solution differentiated with a P, which turns into HD Graphics P3000. Hardware-wise, there is no difference between HD Graphics 3000 and P3000. So, why bother with the prefix? Intel says it’s making special changes to its graphics driver to give the P3000 solution optimized performance in workstations apps.
AMD and Nvidia do something similar. Both companies focus on a unified graphics architecture that serves desktop, mobile, and professional markets. Then they tweak the hardware and software for each application. The FirePro and Quadro drivers are what make those workstation solutions unique. Now Intel is dedicating a driver team to doing the same thing.
As a result, Intel’s representatives say that a workstation armed with a Xeon E3-12x5 processor should have the chops to contend with an entry-level discrete graphics card, like Nvidia’s $150 Quadro FX 580. If that’s true, Intel’s integrated graphics could be an enormous value, helping mitigate the higher cost of true business-class hardware.
Here’s our main concern: AMD and Nvidia have a lot of experience here. They know that it’s important to be transparent when it comes to the apps that get accelerated and the software for which the graphics hardware is validated. Both companies maintain explicit lists of ISV partners. If you’re a professional working in, say, Maya, you can hit up Nvidia’s site or AMD’s site and download the driver approved by Autodesk.
In comparison, this is Intel’s first time at the rodeo. It doesn’t host a list on its site (that I can find) with the optimized apps. And the most specificity I could get out of the company was that it had optimizations for Autodesk AutoCAD 2011, Bentley MicroStation, and Adobe Photoshop. Apparently, there are other titles being worked on, but none that it was willing to call out for our story.
Without a solid list of validations and optimizations, it’s impossible for a professional to know whether HD Graphics P3000 offers anything beyond Intel’s desktop solution. And as you’ll see in the benchmarks, the Core i7 and Xeon hardware performs identically in any title not explicitly targeted by Intel’s driver team.
|Bentley Microstation Benchmark|
|Intel HD Graphics P3000||Intel HD Graphics 3000||Nvidia Quadro FX 580|
|Drawing Test Name|
|Filled Hidden Line||26.1||25.4||121.2|
|Geometric Primitives (Anti-Aliased)||48.2||48.6||52.9|
|Element Dynamics||8760.5||8639.3||14 812.4|
|Occlusion Testing Disabled||24.2||17.0||38.9|
|Occlusion Testing Enabled||29.9||17.8||34.9|
Here’s the Bentley Microstation benchmark, tested on three configurations. As you can see, there are only a handful of subtests where the P3000 implementation outshines the desktop-class HD Graphics 3000.
Until Intel starts taking cues from its competition in the workstation graphics space, I don’t see professionals taking HD Graphics P3000 seriously. The same folks who spend extra on a system with ECC memory want assurance that saving $150 on an add-in graphics card won’t end up costing thousands in lost work down the road.