iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Integrated Video for Pentium 4: it's not that bad...

It's traditionally considered utterly impossible to enjoy modern 3D games using the integrated video. You'd better even not try it: nerve storms may cause various nasty diseases, for example peptic ulcer. But still, from time to time we ask ourselves a question: "What's going on with integrated video? Are there still no changes at the western front?" The launch of new Intel chipsets for the Socket 775 platform looks like a good occasion to return to the topic of integrated video performance in 3D shooters. We cannot say that the results of today's tests unfixed our established notions about the integrated video capacity, but they are quite interesting. We shall reveal a bit of the secret to intrigue you: the interesting point is what chipset turned out the leader in performance.

Performance tests

Testbed configuration:


  • OS and drivers:
    • Windows XP Professional SP1
    • DirectX 9.0b
    • chipset drivers

  • Test applications:
    • Gray Matter Studios & Nerve Software Return to Castle Wolfenstein v1.1
    • Croteam/GodGames Serious Sam: The Second Encounter v1.07
    • Digital Extremes/Epic Games/Atari Unreal Tournament 2003 v222

Here we must make a little remark about the testbed configurations: the fact is that at first we didn't plan to include the new Intel chipsets into this article (most tests were carried out before their launch), and so the ATI and SiS chipsets as well as i865GV were tested on a popular Pentium 4 2.4C. But as the article is delayed, the inclusion of Intel 915G is quite logical. However there are neither processors based on Northwood core nor 2.4 GHz CPUs for Socket 775. That's why the test conditions turned out a little unequal: all the chipsets, except for i915G, were tested on Pentium 4 2.4C, and the last one – on the most junior "full-fledged" Prescott: Pentium 4 2.8E. In order to somehow compensate for this inconsistency of the material, we also tested Intel 865GV on P4 2.8E – on the diagrams you can see its results with both processors. Thus, you can see that the speed differences on the same testbed based on Pentium 4 2.4C and Pentium 4 2.8E are almost inappreciable, though existing. That's why we shall overlook them in our review: in our case the speed is obviously limited by the video subsystem, not by the CPU.

Test results

Although this material is not "general system" performance tests of mainboards and chipsets, we decided to content ourselves with the same set of tests, which is used in evaluating mainboard performance: three games, each in three modes. Thus, the only difference is that in this case the diagrams will contain test results for all the three modes, but not for one, as it is usually done in materials about chipset tests using the general technique. However, as you will see it later, we have sufficient data to draw conclusions, and the resulting picture is integral and coherent.

Pay attention that with low resolutions and the lowest quality settings the leader in the tests is the integrated graphics core of the relatively old Intel 865GV chipset (it can be considered a representative of the i865G chipset, because the set of chips in the integrated 3D accelerator is the same). But even the first attempt of advanced settings – the 1024x768 resolution and medium quality settings – knocks the bottom out of i865GV: its graphics core performance drops more than twofold!

SiS 661FX looks stably the weakest, the main combat in high resolutions thickens between the new Intel 915G chipset and the three modifications of ATI Radeon IGP. The Intel chipset is always a winner, DDR2 memory really helps its integrated graphics core, you can clearly see it on the diagrams. Intel 915G and ATI Radeon IGP 9000 Pro react differently to advanced settings: the integrated graphics core from ATI survives the increase of the resolution to 1024x768 and the quality settings from "Fast" to "Normal" quite OK – the speed drops to 40%. But the next step (1280x1024 + «High») already troubles it – the performance drop relative to the previous diagram is already 60%. The performance drop graph for i915G is smoother: 20 and 28%, correspondingly.

What concerns the two-channel ATI chipsets (remember that 9000 Pro differs from 9100/9100 Pro by its one-channel memory controller), they behave well, though they are slightly outscored by i915G. The older IGP 9100 demonstrates surprisingly better results than the latest 9100 Pro. But don't forget that the latter is represented by the Sapphire mainboard, while IGP 9100 is from ASUS, which is famous for its skills to squeeze maximum from any chipset due to fine tuning and expert performance of R&D engineers.

In Serious Sam: The Second Encounter tests Intel 865GV and SiS 661FX can be ignored against other contenders: feeble, very feeble... In low resolution and with the lowest quality the one-channel ATI chipset (IGP 9000 Pro) goes pari passu with i915G, but as in the previous case, it endures advanced settings much worse. Funny fact! – integrated graphics cores in i915G and 9100/9100 Pro react normally to the increase of quality and resolution. Surely, the performance drops (in such conditions "external" graphics solutions behave in a similar way), but it doesn't drop catastrophically, it happens gradually. Besides, the top integrated ATI chipsets steadily outscore Intel solutions in this game. But not much.

The tendency shown in the first two tests also discovers its substantiation in this game: the main leaders are the new Intel chipset (especially combined with DDR2 memory) and ATI Radeon IGP 9100/9100 Pro. Though the absolute fps values here make the game completely impossible to play, even in the best case.


Brevity is the soul of wit, isn't it? The more especially as everything is crystal clear... The proud title of "3D accelerator" (even considerably outdated) can be claimed by the integrated graphics cores of the new Intel 915G chipset and ATI Radeon IGP 9100/9100 Pro. Still and all, strange as it may be (we were struck, even shocked!) the integrated video from Intel looks very good against the other contenders of these tests. But this is the new chipset. What concerns the old chipset (i865G/GV) with the SiS 661FX graphics core, it can be easily classified as a nominal 3D accelerator. That is they surely accelerate something, but you cannot possibly play even two year old games or you are doomed to utterly "crushed" settings. ATI Radeon 9000 Pro stands in between, its performance being fairly average – not so horrible as SiS 661FX and i865GV, but still not good enough to call it quick even in its class.

The comparison of ATI Radeon IGP 9000 Pro and IGP 9100/9100 Pro clearly demonstrates that the two-channel memory controller substantially helps chipsets with integrated video, especially in high resolutions. On the one hand, it cannot but please us. But on the other hand, for many users a two-channel memory controller is still a feature of top or at least of middle end chipsets, while integrated video is traditionally associated with the low end. Thus, there appears a positioning disbalance: to become quick enough, the integrated video must have two-channel controllers, but it will inevitably result in higher chipset prices, as well as in higher prices on such computers on the whole. And not only because of a higher PCB cost, bus also because two memory modules of N capacity are as a rule more expensive than one module of N*2 capacity.

Stanislav Garmatuk (nawhi@ixbt.com)
Dmitry Majorov (destrax@ixbt.com)
2 September, 2004


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