Desktop Integrated Graphics Rumble: Can AMD or Intel Drive Modern Games?

Desktop Integrated Graphics Rumble: Can AMD or Intel Drive Modern Games?

The pandemic-driven GPU shortages may have eased with the collapse of the cryptocurrency market, but the problem hasn’t been completely resolved. As a result, chips like AMD’s 5700G are potentially more valuable to would-be gamers than they would otherwise be. If you’re a gamer whose GPU died in the past year, playing on an AMD APU or Intel iGPU might represent a better value than not being able to game at all.

Our colleagues at PCMag have rounded up a range of APUs and CPUs from AMD and Intel, respectively, and put them through their various paces. AMD and Intel take different approaches to onboard graphics. After Skylake, Intel’s onboard GPU technology stagnated for several years. The Core i5-11600K uses a GPU based on Intel’s newer Xe graphics technology, but the older Intel CPUs use an iGPU design dating back to 2015. All of the AMD APUs being compared here use AMD’s older GCN architecture, codenamed Vega. AMD’s integrated GPUs are typically faster than Intel’s because AMD “spends” more of its die size on the technology.

Let’s look at PCMag’s AAA gaming data from Far Cry 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider:

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First, look at the way moving to 1080p hits iGPU performance. A 1280×720 image contains 921,600 pixels. A 1920×1080 image contains 2,073,600 pixels, or 2.25x more than 720p. In Far Cry 5, moving from 720p to 1080p cuts AMD’s Ryzen 5000 performance nearly in half. iGPUs like the Ryzen 5 3400G’s RX Vega 11 aren’t nearly as fast in 720p (the 5700G outperforms the 3400G by 57 percent in Far Cry 5), but its 1080p frame rate is more comparable, at 30fps versus 33fps.

Intel’s latest Xe graphics shine in comparison to the hardware the company previously shipped, but FC5 still only hits 31fps. That’s the average frame rate, not the minimum, so FC5 may not run very well even on the Core i9-11600K. A little tweaking or a further resolution drop (anybody for 960×540?) might help here. There’s very little help for Intel’s other solutions. Even doubling the frame rate would barely put the older Intel chips with UHD 6xx solutions into playable range.

In Rise of the Tomb Raider, all of the APUs post excellent frame rates, especially at 720p. The Core i5-11600K pulls a solid 39 fps. Both AMD and Intel iGPUs drop to between 55 and 60 percent of their 720p performance when asked to run in 1080p. The difference is, AMD’s frame rates are high enough to take the hit. Intel’s are not.

One good thing about Intel in this context. Forcing a lower resolution or finding a way to lower graphics details even more would probably pull RotTR into playable range on Intel UHD 6xx hardware. I can’t say for certain that it’s possible to do so, but oftentimes games allow you to adjust a few more bells and whistles in configuration files than they expose in standard settings menus.

PCMag has some additional data on esports where the comparative situation changes a bit, but these results point in the same direction. If you are stuck without a graphics card right now, a desktop chip like the Ryzen 5 5600G or the Ryzen 7 5700G is your best bet. The Ryzen 7 5700G offers meaningful performance uplift in some games over the 5600G, but not enough to offset the price difference. The Ryzen 7 5700G is 1.39x more expensive than the 5600G, but appears to offer 5-12 percent better GPU performance in some games. It also steps up to an eight-core chip, however, so users with a need for the extra cores might still see value in the upgrade.

These results also confirm that the 3400G was held back by its CPU core. The 3400G is based on AMD’s old Zen+ core design and both Zen 2 and Zen 3 improved gaming performance on the CPU. While the 3400G had 704 GPU cores, it ran them at 1450MHz. The 5700G has just 512 GPU cores, but it clocks them at 2GHz. On paper, the two should offer similar performance, but the 5700G is regularly much faster. This is probably due in part to the chip’s L3 — where the 3400G offered just 4MB of L3 cache, the 5700G offers 16MB. While not as large as the 32MB cache on the 5800X, it’s likely contributing to AMD’s improved performance.

As for Intel, there’s not much to say. The company has indicated that its future Alder Lake CPUs will retain the same 32 EU configuration as the UHD 750 and the UHD 6xx high-end family. This will severely limit the scaling of Intel integrated graphics, even when paired with DDR5. While we still expect Intel’s integrated graphics performance to improve with DDR5, it’s unlikely to improve enough to close this gap. Intel systems perform do better in esports titles than in AAA gaming; PCMag has more details on that topic.

If you are a budget gamer or simply in need of an integrated GPU to tide you over until graphics card prices come down, AMD’s Ryzen 7 5700G and Ryzen 5 5600G are your best options. If you absolutely need to go Intel, only current 11th Gen hardware can offer anything at all for modern gaming, and even then you’ll need to find ways to further reduce detail and/or resolution in some titles. Intel CPUs from previous generations do not deliver playable frame rates in most cases.

ET recommends that integrated GPU users maintain 720p rather than attempting to step up to 1080p. If you look at AMD’s performance at 720p, it’s often high enough to give gamers the option to move off the “Low” or “Lowest” detail presets. While we recognize that personal preferences differ, we find little value in a higher-resolution game without the detail levels required to make the higher resolution look good.

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