In mid-2015, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) introduced a couple of very interesting processors aimed at desktop users: Core i5-5675c and the Core i7-5775c. These were the first (and only) desktop-oriented processors launched implementing the company's Broadwell architecture and are currently the only desktop processors that implement its highest-end Iris Pro 6200 graphics.
To understand whether there is a value proposition to including Intel's highest-end graphics onto a chip aimed at desktops, I bought the Core i7-5775c and put it through its paces in a number of gaming scenarios, ranging from very old titles all the way to the hottest 3D first-person shooter games.
In this article, I discuss my findings and tie them into Intel's current PC processor business strategy.
What can Iris Pro 6200 actually do?
I tested the following games on the Iris Pro 6200:
- DOOM 3: BFG Edition (2012 rerelease of a 2004 game)
- Quake 4 (late 2005)
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (late 2009)
- Call of Duty: Black Ops III (late 2015)
On the Iris Pro 6200, I could play DOOM 3 at maximum settings at 1920x1080 display resolution at very playable speeds. However, I did notice that there were a number of graphical glitches present in the game that I don't see when playing the game on modern discrete graphics processors, which was unfortunate.
Quake 4, which is a newer game built on the same graphics engine as DOOM 3, was also playable on the Iris Pro 6200 at maximum settings at 1920x1080 resolution, although not 100% smooth.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was quite playable at 1920x1080 resolution with all major effects turned on and quality settings set to "high." Setting the quality settings to "extra" at that resolution made things look substantially better, but it was not really a smooth experience. I was able to run with all details set to maximum by turning down the display resolution to 1600x900, a trade-off that I thought led to an overall better user experience.
Finally, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the current latest entry in the Call of Duty series, was utterly unplayable in online matches even with all settings at low and the internal rendering resolution set to just 1152x648 -- my lifetime kill-to-death ratio in the game has now been forever damaged by my attempts to use Iris Pro in this game!
Limited value proposition for traditional desktops
I can very easily see why Intel would want to create increasingly capable integrated graphics for devices like all-in-one PCs and laptops -- these devices are some combination of space, power, and cost constrained and the better Intel can make the integrated graphics, the better.
However, for traditional desktops, particularly on ones where anything more than very light gaming will occur, the value proposition of this product simply isn't there.
Indeed, after I tested all that I wanted to on the Iris Pro 6200, I went ahead and plugged in an NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) GeForce GTX 960 that I'd bought a little while ago for $209.99. The difference in user experience was noticeable as I could crank up settings and still get the same/better framerates than I was able to get on the integrated part.
Additionally, there were a number of older games (such as 2001's Return to Castle Wolfenstein, 2003's Star Wars: Jedi Academy) that simply refused to run on the integrated graphics but worked perfectly with the stand-alone graphics card.
Looking at things from a value perspective, it's important to note that even the cheapest Iris Pro-equipped Core i5-5675c sells for $290 on Newegg.com.
If you actually care about being able to play games, it makes more sense to buy the $205 Core i5-6500 (based on Intel's newer Skylake architecture) and a ~$100 stand-alone graphics card than to buy the Iris Pro. If gaming isn't your thing, then it makes more sense to buy the $330 Core i7-6700 for much better CPU/general-purpose performance and a "good enough" integrated graphics engine.
Intel gets this
Intel seems to understand that for traditional desktops, there's not a whole lot of value to be had with a bigger, more powerful integrated graphics engine. This is why the vast majority of the company's desktop-oriented processors ship with the smallest graphics configuration that the company builds.
Intel put out the Iris Pro-equipped desktop chips likely in response to enthusiast/reviewer demand for the part, particularly because the on-board eDRAM cache that's there to speed up graphics tasks can also have benefits for CPU-bound tasks. However, these are niche parts and, if Intel bothers to continue producing such desktop parts (leaks indicate a new Skylake-based part coming in late 2016), I believe they will ultimately remain niche.