Intel’s New Graphics Drivers Benchmarked: Are They Worth The Upgrade?

Recently we covered the then-upcoming release of a new driver update for Intel’s Ivy Bridge integrated GPU, which promised performance gains and lowered power consumption. With the drivers now available for download, I decided to see if they were able to deliver.

The test system was an ASUS UX32VD with a Core i7 3517U clocked at 1.9GHz (2.8GHz turbo). Games used to test performance and maximum temperatures were 3DMark and Batman: Arkham City, which comes with a built-in benchmark.

As recommended by the release notes for the 15.31 drivers, the plugged-in power mode was set to “Balanced” via the Intel graphics control panel for the duration of benchmarking.

The “new driver” referenced in the graphs below is v15., released March 22, 2013. The “old driver” is v15.28.12.2932, released December 18, 2012.

Unlike discrete solutions, there’s no way to measure the integrated GPU temperature using tools such as GPU-Z. For all intents and purposes however, the CPU temperature is the GPU temperature, because the latter is a part of the CPU die. So, temperatures were measured using extremely accurate ThrottleStop 5.00 from TechInferno.

First up — Arkham City. Intel used the older Arkham Asylum in its testing, but seeing as both games use the same technology, it should served as a comparable stand-in.

Yes, it’s clear Intel’s GPUs aren’t going to take any crowns from AMD or NVIDIA, but the performance in Direct3D 9, with a few additional details turned down, would definitely be playable.

For a while, Intel struggled with two issues — poor frame rates and a lack of support for advanced API features and shaders, but these are slowly being overcome, if the HD4000 (the Ivy Bridge GPU) is anything to go by.

As for the benchmarks here, the newer drivers provide a slight performance boost, while also dropping maximum temperatures a degree or two. Hardly startling, but a welcome improvement for a driver update.

Like Arkham City, Direct3D 11 performance improved marginally between drivers. What was impressive was the drop of three degrees in maximum temperature, bringing the CPU below the 80°C mark. Again, to get a higher score in 3DMark, while also bringing temperatures down a respectable margin with drivers alone is an excellent achievement by Intel.

The verdict? Owners of Ivy Bridge notebooks have no reason not to install these drivers. The fact Intel is starting to put serious effort into its integrated GPUs, both in terms of hardware and software, is commendable after being neglected for so long. If the “GT3” GPU in Haswell delivers even better performance, as Intel claims, the company might finally have graphics hardware that isn’t a complete joke besides AMD/NVIDIA’s offerings.

What Happened To The Control Panel, Intel?

Perhaps the only downer of the 15.31 drivers is the new graphics control panel. On the left is the old panel (courtesy of Intel) and the right the updated one. Click for larger versions without cropping.

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There are only two words I can use to describe the “new” panel: utter crap. The icons scale horizontally with the window size, a fairly amateur mistake to make when putting together a GUI. There’s less information available — I couldn’t find a way to get a breakdown of the driver, including the version number, which is present in the previous panel. Navigation is confusing, with back buttons and tabs either poorly positioned or not emphasised enough to make it obvious they can be interacted with.

Intel, please revert to the old control panel. It looked great and was very functional. I’m all for streamlining interfaces, but what you’ve got here is just garbage.

The link below goes to the Windows 7/8, 64-bit driver; drivers for other operating systems can be found at Intel’s Download Center.

Intel® HD Graphics Driver for Windows 7* and Windows 8* 64 [Intel]

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