The Promise of HD Graphics - Intel Core i5-661

HD Graphics Finally?

HD Graphics Finally?

It's no Larrabee but going by the specifications provided by Intel for the new integrated Intel HD Graphics as the chipmaker calls it on the Clarkdale processors, Intel has certainly managed to get on par with the competition on quite a few standards and features. The most significant ones are the media features that are related to the playback and decoding of media. While the previous generation X4500 series had full hardware acceleration
support (DXVA) for VC-1, H.264/AVC and MPEG2, the newcomer will add dual-stream decoding, meaning picture-in-picture mode can be fully offloaded to the graphics core.

The new Intel HD Graphics adds support for dual HDMI outputs along with dual audio streams, so you can use both DVI and HDMI outputs from the H55 chipset over two displays. As mentioned earlier, another feature that is currently only on the Radeon HD 5800 series, bitstreaming of Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio via HDMI is now supported by the new Intel graphics, which should get HD enthusiasts hopes up. Finally, video color depth has been increased to 12-bit from 10-bit while xvYCC gamut is also supported.

The next evolution of Intel's graphics architecture, the new graphics core, now known as Intel HD Graphics is mostly incremental, with media playback getting a much-needed boost.

While the support list does seem to justify Intel's 'HD Graphics' moniker, the core technology in the Clarkdale graphics core is based on the same architecture as the older GMA. As the above slide shows, there have been enhancements to bring it up to date and one can expect a slight boost in raw gaming performance, thanks to it having two more execution cores, a higher memory capacity and a higher maximum clock speed. Don't expect it to be more than a decent mainstream integrated graphics solution however.

A newer, snazzy driver control panel from Intel. It's not only for the new Core i5-661. You can also download and install it as part of the latest Intel drivers for Intel's X4500 series.

Interestingly, the Core i5-661 is the only model at launch to come with the higher 900MHz graphics core clock speed while the others are at 733MHz. The xx1 in the model name is likely to indicate that it has a 900MHz core clock. Along with its other features or lack of (like Intel vPro), it's fair to say that this model is aimed at consumers while business users are being funneled to the Core i5-xx0 versions.

Mobile users get a bonus with the introduction of dynamic clock scaling (along with a switchable graphics option between the integrated Intel HD Graphics and a discrete graphics solution) on the Arrandale processor (basically mobile versions of the Clarkdale reviewed here today). This feature should be broadly similar to Turbo Boost, where the graphics core clock speeds vary according to workload. On paper, it should lead to power savings that translate to a longer battery life for mobile platforms, but that's another article for when we actually get our hands on such a notebook.

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