TECH TALK The Pros and Cons of In­te­grated Graph­ics

A YEAR AFTER THE LAUNCH of AMD’s Zen ar­chi­tec­ture as a CPU-only so­lu­tion, AMD re­turns to the APU mar­ket with its first Ryzen APUs. Pack­ing more graph­ics cores than ever, they prom­ise to elim­i­nate the need for ded­i­cated graph­ics. And they can do that. Sort

Maximum PC - - QUICK­START - Jarred Wal­ton

The big prob­lem with most in­te­grated graph­ics so­lu­tions is that the CPU and GPU por­tions of the pro­ces­sor must share limited sys­tem mem­ory band­width. Even with a dual-chan­nel 64-bit DDR43200 in­ter­face, that’s only 64GB/s. If that sounds like it should be more than suf­fi­cient, con­sider that even Nvidia’s bud­get GTX 1050 de­liv­ers al­most twice that much, thanks to a 128-bit GDDR5 in­ter­face—and all 112GB/s on a GTX 1050 gets de­voted to GPU du­ties. In the com­put­ing play­ground, GPUs are the big, greedy bul­lies that don’t like to share with other chil­dren.

That doesn’t make AMD’s Ryzen APUs bad—on the con­trary, I like what they bring to the ta­ble. But as a gam­ing so­lu­tion, they’re scrap­ing the bot­tom of the bar­rel. In bench­marks, the faster Ryzen 5 2400G with Vega 11 graph­ics some­times wins, some­times loses against the ul­tra-bud­get GT 1030 and RX 550. Those are $80 parts, so you’re pay­ing $170 for a CPU and in­te­grated GPU that end up slightly slower than a CPU and ded­i­cated graph­ics card. But that’s only if you opt for high-per­for­mance DDR4-3200 mem­ory; go with bog-stan­dard DDR4-2400 or DDR4-2133, and you lose 15-20 per­cent of the graph­ics po­ten­tial, thanks to the band­width bot­tle­neck.

AMD’s 2200G loses some of the graph­ics and CPU cores, but gets the price even lower. At $100 for a CPU and graph­ics so­lu­tion that’s twice as fast as any of In­tel’s cur­rent crop of in­te­grated graph­ics, that’s hard to beat. But 1080p gam­ing will strug­gle at times—you’ll of­ten end up at min­i­mum qual­ity, and some­times be forced to run at lower res­o­lu­tions. Mostly thanks to that mem­ory band­width bot­tle­neck.

Iron­i­cally, In­tel is pur­su­ing the higher per­for­mance in­te­grated graph­ics so­lu­tion, with its up­com­ing Eighth-Gen Kaby Lake-G parts. They’ll use AMD’s Radeon Vega graph­ics, the ma­jor dif­fer­ence be­ing the in­clu­sion of twice as many GPU cores and a ded­i­cated stack of HBM2. They will truly elim­i­nate the need for a ded­i­cated graph­ics card for mod­er­ate gam­ing needs, but the Kaby Lake-G pro­ces­sors will be for lap­tops and NUCs, not larger desk­tops. And that’s fine, be­cause larger desk­tops will al­most al­ways ben­e­fit from the lower pric­ing that comes from not hav­ing to cram as much per­for­mance as pos­si­ble into the small­est space pos­si­ble.

If there’s one area where AMD’s APUs re­ally shine, it’s HTPC use. Thanks to AMD’s graph­ics ex­pe­ri­ence, both video de­code and en­code ac­cel­er­a­tion are present and work well. I tested the chips in MSI’s B350I Pro AC moth­er­board, a com­pact Mini-ITX form fac­tor, and it worked great for HTPC du­ties. Even bet­ter is that it idles at around 20W of power, and only con­sumes about 30W when watch­ing 1080p video streams. Com­bine this sort of sys­tem with a good home NAS that holds all your me­dia, and you’re set.

Long-term, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see where AMD and In­tel go with in­te­grated graph­ics. In­tel’s Iris Pro Graph­ics tried to boost GPU per­for­mance, but driv­ers and cost were never strong points. In­tel’s driv­ers have im­proved, how­ever, and with ad­di­tional work, we could see In­tel go back to its own GPU so­lu­tion for high-end in­te­grated graph­ics. AMD, on the other hand, just needs to reach a point where it’s eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble to stuff more GPU cores and some ded­i­cated mem­ory (HBM2 or even HBM3) into a pack­age. Even­tu­ally, that’s bound to be more cost ef­fec­tive than us­ing a CPU with a ded­i­cated GPU— though the per­for­mance con­scious will al­ways opt for a dis­crete graph­ics card. Jarred Wal­ton has been a PC and gam­ing en­thu­si­ast for over 30 years.

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