The rule of thumb for PC gaming used to be that if you wanted to play anything serious, you needed a dedicated graphics card.
That’s not really true anymore. Modern PC chips have their own integrated graphics processors, and lately they’ve been getting better at handling modern games. Now, Intel is continuing the trend with “Iris,” a brand of graphics processors that will be built into next-generation Haswell chips.
Integrated graphics have a three major benefits over dedicated graphics cards: they produce less heat, they consume less power and they don’t cost as much. That’s why most of today’s thin-and-light laptops, and pretty much all Windows 8 tablets, forgo dedicated graphics. (One notable exception is the Razer Edge, a powerful gaming tablet that has some serious drawbacks to battery life, thickness, heaviness and heat.)
Despite their advantages, integrated graphics have a bad rap among PC gamers, many of whom wouldn’t consider a machine that lacked its own graphics processor. But Intel is making some big promises that could cause gamers to take a second look. The company says some Iris-equipped Ultrabook laptops could provide double the graphics performance over its current processors, and desktop PCs with Iris could offer triple the performance.
As Anand Lai Shimpi points out, the Iris name is largely about branding. Intel needs to send a message that its products can compete with dedicated graphics cards like Nvidia’s GeForce and AMD’s Radeon. As such, Intel is only reserving the name for higher-voltage laptops and desktops. Intel’s low-voltage chips for tablets and certain laptops will retain the old “Intel HD” graphics moniker. In other words, Iris will be a name to look for when you want decent graphics performance out of your laptop.
In reality, Iris may not sway hardcore gamers, at least not at first, and definitely not in desktops, where battery life, weight and heat are non-issues. The greater potential lies in people who might like to play a few games, but wouldn’t want to buy a laptop specifically for that purpose. With Iris, the message is that you can play those games without getting a tank of a laptop with pitiful battery life.
This idea interests me personally. My primary laptop needs are work-related, with long battery life and light weight being high priorities. But if I could kick back with the occasional game, even when travelling away from my beloved homemade desktop PC, that’d be icing on the cake.
Still, gamers should reserve a dose of skepticism. Intel tends to promise the world when it comes to future graphics performance, and there’s only so much we can tell from early benchmark tests. Also, while Intel says we can expect Ultrabook laptops with Iris inside, we don’t yet know how thin, light and battery efficient these higher-voltage computers will be.
At least it won’t be long until we find out how Intel’s claims measure up. The company has reportedly begun shipping Haswell chips to PC makers, CNet reports, with an official launch possibly set for June. Laptops and tablets running on Intel’s next-generation processors could debut soon after that.