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EXCLUSIVE: Intel refutes nVidia claims regarding HD4000 game compatibility

EXCLUSIVE INTEL INTERVIEW: At a recent Analyst's Day, nVidia went through its usual array of slides regarding a wonderful history, present conditions and how glorious the future is likely to be. All well and good, we'd have done the same if we had Tegra, Tesla, Quadro and GeForce in the armoury. But one slide was a little different. KitGuru does its own analysis and then asks Intel for an opinion on whether HD4000 will fail to deliver in almost half the games released last year.

To avoid any issues with watermarks etc, we've recreated an exact copy of the slide below. We then asked Intel to comment as to its veracity. They were more than happy to render an opinion and the person chosen to analyse the slide was ex-nVidia, ex-ATI and ex-AMD graphics guru, Richard Huddy.

Fairly clear what's being said here, but to what extent is it a fair representation of Intel's HD4000 abilities?

Let's start with a little scene setting for those of you who might not be familiar with Richard Huddy. He was part of a small group of chaps at Rendermorphics who came up with the idea of DirectX in the first place. When that block of talent was acquired by Microsoft, Richard moved to take over developer relations at nVidia. That made him a key contact with the top development organisations for several years. Richard then spent several years helping ATi relate to the games industry – a role that he continued after the AMD merger.

Now that he's with Intel's graphics team, it's fair to say that he's been near the forefront of each new generation's graphics technology. So, all things considered, an expert. We asked for his expert opinion on the slide we'd seen.

“If nVidia claims that over 40% of the top games are unplayable on Intel HD4000, then that's simply not true”, said Huddy. Now there's a clear start. But what does ‘playable' mean in this context?

Well the slide itself actually contains all of the information we need to understand what nVidia is claiming. The crux of the argument centres on the following criteria:-

We're taking that to mean a typical TV/notebook type of resolution that's somewhere around 1366×768 pixels. It would also cover 720p so, on that basis, it's a reasonable ‘real world base line for comparison'. It IS a situation that a lot of people might find themselves in.

Again, seems reasonable to pick 30 frames per second (FPS) as the line between playable and not. Somewhere around 30FPS, humans perceive a significant stutter. Adding more FPS above 30 doesn't help you anywhere near as much as additional FPS below 30. It's a good choice by nVidia.

Top Games of 2011
Not much room for argument here. They are not asking for Intel to be able to deliver performance with the games of 2012, nVidia is focusing on the most popular games of last year. Also a very reasonable choice.

Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge
By showing both generations of processor, nVidia is confirming that we're to focus on HD4000 (which is the key graphics difference from one generation to the next).

Lowest Settings – Without Corruption
Simply put, nVidia is asking if Intel's HD4000 can provide a ‘basic, console-like gaming experience'. Whatever else you might think about this argument, you can't fault nVidia's premise. All of these conditions have been intelligently placed at the right kind of level for an integrated solution.

Having spent the best part of two decades helping game developers improve their products for nVidia, ATi, AMD and now Intel - Richard Huddy's unique expertise makes him the ideal person to comment on the gaming abilities of Intel's HD4000

So, back to our expert. We asked Huddy about Intel's focus for integrated graphics, the company's relationship with the games industry and where things are right now.

“Out of the box settings are a major part of Intel's focus”, Huddy explained. “Our aim is to deliver an experience which is satisfying for the vast majority of gamers who buy a system with Intel's HD4000 graphics technology”.

“We work closely with developers to maximise the user experience around 30 frames per second, using the driver supplied”, he said. “That on-going effort from both the hardware and software teams, means that more and more games are delivering a good experience on Intel HD4000”.

He added, “You have to remember that Intel has the best video transcoders in the business – up to 18x real time – as well as true DX11 capabilities and Windows certified drivers”.

We wondered if an integrated solution could be pushed to deliver much more than 30FPS, for example 60FPS.

“While we traditionally think of games being played on a desktop, the world has become more and more mobile in recent times”, said Huddy. “Thinking about the overall user experience, Intel has a very responsible approach to battery life for Ultrabooks and other mobile devices. If you were to gear a solution to deliver 60FPS as opposed to 30FPS, then the drain on the battery could also double. With an Ultrabook, you're looking at an ‘always ready' experience, so battery life is a serious consideration”.

We brought Huddy back to nVidia's initial claim that a user who buys a system with Intel HD4000, should expect almost half of the games released in 2011 to ‘fail to deliver' on their new PC. How committed is Intel to the idea of graphics?

“At SIGGRAPH 2012, more than half of the papers presented were sponsored by Intel in one form or another”, said Huddy. “Now that's a serious commitment”.

“One of the meetings I attended at SIGGRAPH was with Avalanche, creators of Just Cause”, he explained. “Downloading, installing and running their latest game was easy because it's delivered by Steam and I was able to drop it onto my Ultrabook just before the meeting. It installed first time and, in front of the developers, we were able to show the game running smoothly with no additional effort”.

“What surprised the developers is that they hadn't spent any time at all optimising their code for Intel HD4000. It simply worked, straight out of the box – with increased image quality settings”, said Huddy. “That shows you how good Intel's standard graphics driver is these days”.

That driver effort, we learned, is being pushed along by David Blythe. David was the primary architect for the Fahrenheit graphics project at SGI, then worked at Microsoft on DirectX until 2010 and he is now Chief Graphics Software Architect at Intel. Nice. At the same time, expertise for improving Intel's OpenGL offering is provided by gurus like Aaron Lefohn.

Delivering on the Computing Continuum means you need intelligent balance. Intel's David Blythe says, "As programmers and architects, we need to figure out how to take best advantage of the processor graphics generation paying special attention to the power interactions between the CPU and graphics side and how to take best advantage of unified memory hierarchy"

While discussing Intel's ongoing efforts to improve graphics performance, something suddenly became clear about the way hardware and software companies are having to evolve their psychology and approach. In the past, game developers would be aware of a huge diversity in the desktop graphics available to customers. Look back around 10 years, when nVidia ruled the desktop graphics world and began to pioneer a new future with the launch of nForce 2 – integrating GeForce MX graphics onto a mainboard designed for its partner AMD. Enthusiasts could choose to buy a GeForce FX5600 – which delivered some of the best graphics ever seen at that time. To get the same game to play on GeForce MX integrated solution and an FX5600 graphics card, presented a huge challenge to developers.

These days, the gap from Intel HD4000 to a popular desktop graphics card from AMD or nVidia is much smaller. Sure, a desktop card will still dominate performance, but if you're looking for playability in general – straight out of the box – then a lot of games will ‘just work' on HD4000, according to Huddy.

The big gap now is not ‘horizontal' (moving from AMD to nVidia to Intel), but rather vertical (from a desktop solution to a laptop to a tablet or a mobile phone). This is where Huddy expects that Intel will become more and more of a graphics pioneer going forward. “Developers want to make money. To do that, they need the biggest market possible for each game released. Intel is the largest graphics company on the planet, so it makes sense to develop games which include a great user experience for Intel customers”.

At random, we asked Huddy how companies like Valve, Epic and Activision/Blizzard approach ‘gaming downward'.

“Epic certainly have a strong high-end graphics offering with the Unreal Engine, but they are making a lot of effort to allow increased cross-platform development. Valve and Activision/Blizzard are all about making games accessible to the broadest range of customers possible”, he explained. Which would seem to suit Intel.

“Intel is building out a spectrum of computing devices on our proven architecture. We're working towards a future where computing devices ranging from embedded to handhelds to Ultrabooks to desktop PCs can all operate in a seamless fashion”, he said. “This is the Computing Continuum that we have been speaking about for almost 3 years. While you won't get exactly the same experience on every device, the idea is for the experience to be perceptually similar”.

Huddy was in modern graphics right at the start, when DirectX was first conceived. He worked with nVidia through to the FX5800 launch and helped ATi/AMD through 9 generations, from the 9700 to the Radeon HD 7000  series. Now at Intel, he's working with a company that's looking to create a familiar ‘target' for developers, from desktop to laptop to handheld devices. He believes that nVidia's claim is simply not true and he's a very convincing chap.

Intel's range of showcase games for HD4000 graphics includes Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Fifa 2012, Microsoft Flight, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm and many others. But, let's be honest, this is just Intel talking.

What about the leading lights from the gaming industry?

Gabe Newell, President and Co-Founder, Valve was very clear about Intel's capabilities with HD4000, the graphics engine inside the latest processors, “Ivy Bridge takes everything that was great about Sandy Bridge and moves that forward. It is something that is going to matter to gamers, game developers and everyone who is related to the game industry. It gives us so much more with all the constraints relaxed”.

All of the gaming industry's top names, from Valve to EA, are looking at the graphics product stack differently - trying to see if code for the latest Radeon/GeForce uber-card can be made playable on a smartphone or tablet with the smallest effort possible.

KitGuru says: The message from Intel seems clear. Graphics is important to the future of the company, it has already made huge strides and expects that to continue. Relationships with the ‘big names creating the cool games' are being developed all the time and performance from HD4000 is much better than any previous generation of Intel graphics – with much more expected in 2013. Intel refutes nVidia's claim and expects the future for Intel integrated graphics performance to be even brighter. It's always best to be balanced about these things, so we invite nVidia to respond with its point of view.

Comment below or in the KitGuru forums.

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