It looks as though the low-end discrete GPU market is rapidly hobbling towards the retirement home. Not only is AMD developing its Fusion CPUs with integrated GPUs, but Intel's forthcoming Sandy Bridge graphics core is now beating a Radeon HD 5450 in game benchmarks.
The lucky chaps over at Anandtech managed to get their mitts on a Core i5 2400 CPU, and decided to put it through its paces in a number of games. Being an integrated graphics core, the site was kind with the in-game options, running the games at low quality settings and a resolution of 1,024 x 768.
However, this was enough to show the huge performance leap compared with previous generations of integrated graphics. Not only did the Sandy Bridge chip convincingly hammer systems based on AMD's 890GX chipset with integrated Radeon HD 4290 graphics, but it also inched ahead of AMD's fully-fledged Radeon HD 5450 discrete GPU in a number of tests.
The Sandy Bridge integrated graphics core came out on top in four of the seven games tested, winning the table in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dragon Age Origins, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Bioshock 2. Not only that, but the average frame rates in these games sat between 38fps to 66fps. Basically, Sandy Bridge isn't just better than discrete graphics; it's also offering smooth frame rates, albeit at low settings.
It's also worth noting that the Sandy Bridge graphics core also playable frame rates in the other three games - Dawn of War II, HAWX and World of Warcraft. Plus, the difference between the Sandy Bridge core and the Radeon HD 5450 was still minimal. In Dawn of War II, for example, there was only 1.5fps separating the two chips.
Sandy Bridge marks the first time an Intel integrated graphics core will be integrated onto the same die as the CPU, and it also has access to Intel's automatic overclocking Turbo Boost features. In the case of the Core i5 2400, the CPU is clocked at 3.1GHz (3.4GHz with Turbo Boost), while the graphics core runs at 850MHz (1.1GHz with Turbo Boost).
Okay, so it's not exactly running Crysis at High settings, but it is running plenty of current games at a smooth frame rate, and that's much more than you'd expect from Intel integrated graphics. Considering the tests were performed with unreleased silicon and Alpha drivers, it may also be that the performance is even quicker when Sandy Bridge CPUs finally make it out the door.
This is unlikely to worry AMD if its forthcoming Fusion chips offer comparable performance, but it's not good news for Nvidia's share of the low-end discrete GPU market. After all, there's no point in an under-performing low-end graphics card if both Intel and AMD's CPUs can out-perform it.
It's worth reading through the whole Anandtech article for a full dissection of the Sandy Bridge architecture, as well as other performance benchmarks.