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Haswell: 4th Gen Intel HD Graphics - All's Well for the new IGP?
By Wong Chung Wee & Vijay Anand - 23 Jul 2013,1:53pm

Performance and Conclusion

Integrated Graphics Performance

3DMark (2013) Results

Given that the number of execution units on the Intel HD Graphics 4600 against that of the Intel HD Graphics 4000 is 20 vs. 16, that alone accounts for 25% improvement that one would instantly expect out of the refreshed graphics core. Thankfully on this first test, the Haswell Core i7-4770K's performance is about 22- to 31% better than the previous generation Core i7-3770K processor. Surprisingly, it's also able to outperform the NVIDIA GeForce GT 440 entry-level graphics performance at the Fire Strike Extreme sequence and was close when running the standard Fire Strike test. When we cranked up the memory bandwidth to DDR3-2133, marginal improvements were noted in the range of 2.2- to 3.7 percent, further closing the gap to the discrete graphics card.

However, it was the Richland APU that took first position with its impressive showing. This may be partly attributed to its native support for memory modules that are clocked at the operating frequency of 2133MHz. It even outclassed the discrete graphics card NVIDIA GeForce GT 440, with performance gains in the range of 26- to 58%!


PCMark 8 (Composite Results)

We decided to use the latest PCMark 8 from Futuremark and run the Creative benchmark test component as it has has mix of multimedia tasks. Alas, some of the test rigs failed to generate a complete score for some unknown technical reason. Nonetheless, the benchmark did run successfully (for the most part of it) and we extracted the composite results that make up the final Creative benchmark test score for comparison. Some of these tests are made up of two parts; hence, we combined their total scores to obtain an average result. Take note that apart from the gaming test component that measures results in FPS (which means the higher the figures, the better), the rest of the tests were timed tasks - so the small the results, the better the performance.

The new Intel HD 4600 graphics engine of the new fourth generation Intel Core processors has been touted to be as powerful as discrete graphics. From the results below,  it seems to be just a step behind the NVIDIA GeForce GT 440 discrete graphics card in some tests. But it managed to beat the NVIDIA GeForce GT 440 handily in the Video Editing and Video To Go tests by a very wide margin of 200% and  120% better respectively! For those interested, the Video To Go tests involve the following two parts; the first involves downscaling "a batch of video clips in H.264 1080p format to H264 720p", and the second part "reduces the bitrate of a batch of video clips in H.264 1080p format." Interestingly, the Intel HD Graphics 4000 is also as adept and posted similar if not better improvements over the discrete graphics card. The real reason for Intel's win here are the newer software tests that take advantage of Intel's Quick Sync technology which is a video technology incorporated into their graphics engines to really tackle video encodes and decodes very efficiently. You can read more about Intel Quick Sync here, here and here. First introduced in the days of the Sandy Bridge processors, it's only in recent times that you get to find more software that are updated to support this feature.

With the Haswell platform running its memory modules at 2133MHz, we saw some improvements in scores for the Intel Core i7-4770K processor, except for the Web Browsing and Mainstream Gaming portions. The biggest improvement, when compared to performance at DDR3-1600MHz was the Music To Go test that was completed about 20 percent faster.

It also managed to outclass the AMD A10-6800K APU by a good deal. Apparently, the Accelerated Video Transcoding (AVT) failed to shine in this series of benchmark tests. Further to that, we observed the A10-6800K performed poorly on the Music To Go test that involves transcoding "a batch of songs in WAV format to 130 kbps AAC. The test runs transcoding in parallel with the number of worker threads equal to the number of logical cores in the CPU." Hence, compared to the rest, the weakness of its CPU compute capabilities is blatantly highlighted in this test.


Tomb Raider

The test runs with the discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 440 graphics card and the AMD A10-6800K stood out in this test. The only consolation for the Core i7-4770K was that it managed to beat its Ivy Bridge counterpart by about 30%. The margin was widened to approximately 42% after the memory modules were ran at 2133MHz. At these results, Intel's graphics engine is just 10% shy of AMD's top APU - a very commendable performance standing and those figures certainly allow some decent gameplay on the Intel camp.


Handbrake Video Encoding

We upgraded the Handbrake software to version 0.9.9 for the video encoding test. From the results, we can see that the software is skewed towards CPU performance - despite the fact that the latest version is supposed to support AMD's transcoding engine. Interestingly, we managed to shave Intel's timings by another few seconds when running the memory at 2133MHz.


Video Decoding Performance - Blu-ray Playback

In terms of CPU utilization for our Blu-ray playback, the Intel HD Graphics 4000 gave the best performance on both test videos. It only needed 4% of the CPU workload during video playback, which was about half that CPU loads required of the other competing test rigs. It's not bad given that the CPU utilization is low enough, but we didn't expect the older Intel HD Graphics 4000 to still be in the lead. Perhaps newer drivers in the future will improve things for the newcomer.



Conluding Thoughts

Intel's latest integrated graphics has certainly made notable improvements over its predecessor and as the Intel HD Graphics 4600 has shown above, it has enough features and firepower to put all entry-level discrete graphics cards out of business. This should be good news for developing countries like Indonesia or Philippines where many DIY users are very price conscious and may not even afford decent mid-range graphics cards. For this group of people, Intel has a strong proposition with their encouraging graphics performance built-in the fourth generation Core processors.

Of course for more developed countries like our own, Intel's integrated graphics still doesn't cut it and neither did it uproot the discrete graphics card as they promised. What we did notice is that Intel came close to challenging this group, if only with older discrete graphics cards like the NVIDIA GeForce GT 440 that we used for a baseline. AMD's graphics engine within their APU is often referred to as discrete-level graphics performance and by that extent, Intel's HD Graphics 4600 has a made a decent attempt to challenge it too. As seen by our performance figures, where multimedia processing is concerned, the stronger compute performance on the Intel CPU in addition to the updated graphics core seems to have a net positive effect that outshone bough the discrete graphics card and AMD's APU. Ultimately, it's a scenario based situation that we would have to judge and find out what's the better solution.

The bottom-line is that if you're into gaming, you'll still need discrete graphics cards of mid-range variety or higher. For those who would like to upgrade their system progressively, you would find Intel's built in graphics a surprisingly decent option for the masses who're not too picky about their gaming graphics quality. And for those who game sparingly but need the more power media processing power, Intel's processor has you covered - so long as you can afford the processor and motherboard combo. Users who're really on a tight budget and need an all-round solution for general usage and light gaming will find the AMD's APUs might be an interesting option depending on the combos and ongoing promotions. 

Intel's HD Graphics 4600 didn't really shake the competition yet, but it had a decent increase in performance over the older HD Graphics 4000 part to challenge its contenders and it brings with it a lot of new features to keep it relevant for the coming few years. Stay tuned for our evaluation of the Intel Iris Pro Graphics 5200 in the near future to really see what Intel is capable of.

However, the show's not over yet as we've yet to evaluate the upper-tier Haswell graphics core from Intel - the Iris Pro Graphics 5200. As teased by Intel's benchmarks, this is probably the real discrete graphics card killer that could eat into mid-range discrete graphics performance. Stay tuned for another round of comparisons when we get our hands on one of those processors. Who knows, you may be surprised what the chip giant has in store for us.

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