Benchmark Results: Without Discrete Graphics
We know from personal experience and stories we've published in the past that AMD's APU generally offer passable 3D graphics. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the HD Graphics engine in Intel's Pentium and Celeron processors, which is even slower than the Core i3’s HD Graphics 2000. Naturally, we wonder how the Intel-based builds will fare in our gaming benchmarks. We have to use DirectX 9-based tests because Intel's graphics hardware is not DirectX 11-capable.
Integrated Graphics Benchmarks
We’re looking at several game-based metrics to get a general idea of what we can expect from our entry-level builds. In Crysis 2, the machine hosting an AMD A8-3850 is almost able to deliver playable performance. However, it slows down appreciably in large battles. The game is simply unplayable on the other three builds.
We used two different maps for our StarCraft II benchmark. As long as the scenario isn't CPU-limited, meaning it has fewer units on-screen, integrated graphics are our bottleneck. As soon as there are a lot of units on the map, the CPU holds up performance. Interestingly, this effect is much more pronounced on AMD's APUs, indicating that Intel’s Pentiums and Celerons are better able to cope with StarCraft II, but constrained by their anemic graphics (something we've seen many times in the past).
The performance story will get even more interesting, we suspect, when we start looking at the results with a discrete card installed.
For now, StarCraft II is playable on the AMD-based builds when there aren't too many units on the map. It's barely tolerable on the Intel-based configurations.
We witnessed a few glitches from the systems with Intel's Pentium and Celeron processors in DiRT 3 (transparent textures, for example). Other than that, the game ran on our Sandy Bridge-based setups. That doesn't mean they were playable, though. One again, AMD's two APUs did quite a bit better.
Last, we went back to a DirectX 9-based classic: Grand Theft Auto IV. Despite its reputation as a processor-limited title, AMD’s A8-3850 is the only contender able to generate playable frame rates.
AMD’s A8-3850 makes it possible to play certain games at up to 1280x720. The other three candidates fall short.
Even though Intel’s graphics drivers have come a long way to improve image quality, stability, and game compatibility, the company's entry-level hardware (especially) just isn't good enough for gaming. So, if you're looking for a basic build with even some 3D potential, Intel's Pentium and Celeron processors on their own are simply insufficient. In fact, even AMD's A6 is a little light on gaming performance. Instead, the A8-3850 is the way to go.
Maybe Intel's offerings will fare better complemented by discrete graphics, since HD Graphics seem to be the design's weakest attribute (as we saw in StarCraft II).