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Intel Xeon E3-1275 Review: Sandy Bridge Goes Professional

Graphics: Meet HD Graphics P3000

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.

HD Graphics P3000 enables Advanced Settings, though add-in cards offer even more options here.

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 P3000Intel HD Graphics 3000Nvidia Quadro FX 580
Drawing Test Name
B-Spline Surfaces97.396.6103.6
Filled Hidden Line26.125.4121.2
Geometric Primitives56.557.288.7
Geometric Primitives (Anti-Aliased)48.248.652.9
Pattern Fill45.942.875.7
Raster19.119.044.4
Shaded Mesh36.823.936.3
Text102.7103.0111.3
Shadows Comparison
Shadows Disabled321.8323.1977.7
Shadows Enabled86.385.9172.4
Buffer Tests
Copy Buffer348.4350.81607.8
Element Dynamics8760.58639.314 812.4
Walkthrough Diagnostic
Occlusion Testing Disabled24.217.038.9
Occlusion Testing Enabled29.917.834.9

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.

  • one-shot
    Stop teasing and give us a six core Sandy Bridge CPU!
    Reply
  • dragonsqrrl
    one-shotStop teasing and give us a six core Sandy Bridge CPU!Sandy Bridge-E, LGA 2011 X79, Q4 2011.
    Reply
  • agnickolov
    Finally a compilation benchmark! Now please make it standard in your test suite for CPUs and storage so there's a real benefit from it all for actual comparisons.
    Reply
  • memadmax
    They still make xeons?
    Reply
  • DavC
    Thanks for this review Chris, very well covered. I'll probably be refering back to this when it comes to spec our next workstations.
    Reply
  • I think this is a useless review. Why are we comparing Apples to Oranges? Lets compare current generation Xeons to Previous generation Xeons.
    Reply
  • dgingeri
    one thing I can attest to: companies who cheap out on their workstations and servers never perform well as companies, and eventually fail.

    I've worked with many small businesses, and every one that used a desktop chip for a server or a discount chip (Celeron, Duron, etc) for their desktop computers all performed very poorly. Some seemed to hang on by the sheer will of the owner, and in a couple cases, when the owner got sick for more than a week, the businesses folded like lawn chairs.

    I've also seen an Engineering shop of ~30 engineers invest nicely into a real server and real workstations, and had me set up their entire network with SBS. their business ramped up so fast and well that they had to hire several more engineers and outgrew SBS (limited to 50 users at the time) within the next 2 years, and I had to go back and rebuild their domain with full enterprise level software, and add another server specifically for email. the owner said the investment in that SBS system was the best thing he'd invested in the business since he hired his first engineer.

    Business owners who do not invest in their IT infrastructure fail at business. It's pretty plain and simple. While investing in good IT gear and software doesn't mean you'll ramp up your business to unheard of heights, it does give you a major leg up on the competition.
    Reply
  • geekapproved
    No quick sync on a Zeon??
    Reply
  • given the option of a cheaper Xenon that does not have the P3000 im pretty sure 90% of companies would choose that option, discreet graphics would almost exclusively be employed for the majority of workstation class desktops
    Reply
  • Very informative and useful article Mr. Angelini, thank you.
    Reply