Thoughts on Sandy Bridge’s HD 3000 IGP

Intel LogoSandy Bridge is Intel’s new microarchitecture, slated for release in January of 2011. Sandy Bridge processors will effectively phase-out the current lineup of processors, based on the LGA 1366 socket, with processors fitting a brand new socket, LGA 2011.

While I understand the need for technology to move forward, and am an avid user of Intel CPUs myself, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the reviews, especially on the IGP (integrated graphics processor) front, the part that concerns me greatly.

The tech that Intel chose to use on the die is the HD 3000, and it’s little brother the HD 2000. Let’s hope it’s nothing like the GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) X3000 and family, the scourge of the entire IGP world. Please, Intel, please.

If you’re a graphics programmer, you’re probably acquainted with Intel’s past IGP offerings, and especially its monstrous drivers. Especially the OpenGL implementations that leave much to be desired — littered with bugs, missing extensions, and severely limited GLSL (OpenGL Shading Language) support.

It’s rumored that Sandy Bridge’s IGP is better, meaning that it supports FSAA (Full Screen Anti-Aliasing), Direct3D 10.1 (versus the current crippled versions of Direct3D 10), and better performance. Maybe some of Larrabee’s architects and developers were brought in on this project after its cancellation, another one of Intel’s more interesting/promising – but eventually – failed ventures into the field of accelerated graphics.

I’m not sure if anyone chose to use Direct3D 10.1 due to NVIDIA’s refusal to implement it in their drivers up until Fermi, the tech that brought us Direct3D 11. So, why not go for Direct3D 11 right off the bat? There was certainly enough time for a proper implementation, and it could have provided some extra computing power to desktop applications through DirectCompute.

On the topic of FSAA, I am a bit amazed with how long it took to implement. Bear in mind that FSAA was implemented in NVIDIA’s RIVA TNT2 card in 1999. The fact that Intel is implementing is only now should tell you something about the company’s dedication to accelerated computer graphics.

The performance reviews are good, not fast, and not as slow as Intel’s current offerings, so it’s not all bad. Overall, it seems that the HD 3000 can outperform current IGPs most of the time. (links listed below)

Intel has brought us many great technologies, and when it comes to CPUs, Intel is currently your only real option when it comes to raw performance. Let’s just hope that Sandy Bridge’s IGPs are not as error prone as Intel’s current options, and will usher in a new era for them on the integrated graphics front.

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