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Intel vs AMD - integrated graphics shoot-out

Who's best for games - and Windows Vista?

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Next we installed Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. This was Release Candidate 2 build 5742 as we don’t have the RTM build 6000, and we have to confess that the Aero interface and Flip looked lovely and smooth on the GeForce 6100.

The Prestige R scored 3.0 on the Windows Experience Index - the scale runs from 1 to 5.9 - which is exactly on the lower limit of what is required to run Aero.

intel vs amd integrated graphics - vista on nvidia

Moving on to the Intel-based Prestige R Plus, we ran the same benchmarks and games on the default 6.14.10.4642 drivers which give support for DirectX 9.0b. Evesham supplied this PC with the BIOS set to dynamically allocate 128MB of memory to the graphics. This is the sensible approach but it confuses benchmarks so we changed it to the maximum setting of 256MB fixed, which is the same as the Nvidia PC.

The Intel graphics gave higher frame rates in Lego and Sims 2 because we simply weren't presented with the option of enabling the eye candy as the games detected the graphics as fairly low spec, which is a safe bet with most Intel silicon.

We then updated the drivers to the latest 6.14.10.4704 version from Intel’s website, although this is something we wouldn’t expect the typical customer of a £549 PC to do. This unlocked full support for Shader Model 3.0 and DirectX 9.0c but the games still refused to allow us to use high quality settings. You’ll note that Sims 2 jumped from 24fps to 35fps.

The Intel G965 graphics impressed us, however we could see a slight shimmering effect on the Windows XP desktop that looked a little fuzzy and imprecise.

It was time to install Windows Vista RC2 on the Intel PC, and initially it looked dreadful scoring 1.0 on the Windows Experience Index. This was on the RC2 Microsoft driver 6.0.5472.5 so we downloaded and installed Intel driver 7.14.10.111 which made things much better. We were now able to raise the monitor refresh from 60Hz to 85Hz and the Windows Experience Index score shot up to 3.4, yet there is clearly more to come as this driver doesn’t have support for Shader Model 3.0, even though we know the hardware is capable of it.

intel vs amd integrated graphics - vista on intel

Once the driver was updated the Aero interface was enabled and the Intel system looked as good as the Nvidia machine. We were unable to tell them apart visually.

intel vs amd integrated graphics - vista on intel

It may sound as though we fudged those figures but we ran Windows Vista on our high-end Core 2 Quad test system with a GeForce 7950 GT graphics card and it too scored 1.0 on the Windows Experience Index. We updated the driver to version 96.85 and the score leapt to 5.0, which is pretty darn impressive.

Verdict

There's not much to choose between the test systems when it comes to games. The Intel box's scores were higher, but then it didn't offer the choice to show off its graphics muscles at the price of a lower frame-rate the way the AMD/Nvidia machine did. We'd rather have the ability to turn off some of the eye candy to balance frame rate how we want, not the way the driver thinks we should have it. But will occasional gamers care? Probably not. And most of their time will be spent, surely, in apps that don't tax the GPU.

That will change with Vista, when the OS is going to want some graphics chip time too. But the upshot of our tests is that AMD is whistling if it thinks that Intel can't run Windows Vista in all of its Aero glory on G965 graphics. It can, and it looks great and it is our opinion that Intel is fully ready for 2007. ®

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