There is little doubt that Intel's previous generation integrated graphics cores left more than a little to be desired, when it came to offloading the CPU of multimedia and gaming tasks. In fact, gaming on an Intel IGP has historically been essentially non-existent, unless Farmville is your kind of thing.
It was only recently that Intel began offering a solid HD video experience on with their G45 series chipset and even then, you needed a decent processor to help with some of the heavy lifting. However, for this iteration of integrated graphics solutions, if Intel was going to directly bolt this technology to the CPU on the same substrate, they had to beef things up a bit and indeed they have.
Intel HD Graphics Feature Breakdown
Culled from Intel's slide deck, above is a feature breakdown of what Intel is now calling "HD Graphics", the DirectX 10-class GPU core that resides on the Clarkdale CPU package itself. Intel has outfitted the GPU with 12 shader cores or execution units as they call them, in conjunction with some fairly major upgrades to the architecture. Techniques and algorithms like Hierarchical Z-Buffer and Fast Z clear have been incorporated into competitive discrete GPU solutions from AMD and NVIDIA for many years now but are just making their way into Intel's IGP (Integrated Graphics Processor) solutions. Specifically, these two features afford the GPU core more efficient operation in the rendering pipeline, allowing pixels that aren't needed to be cast out of the rendering workload early, in addition to clearing buffer memory more quickly for faster read/write operations.
The GPU core clock has also been turned up to 900MHz with dynamic clock gating support or "graphics turbo" on mobile variants that, like the processor core itself, allows clock speeds to be ramped up or down based on workload. Finally, Intel has also added dual simultaneous HDMI output support for the platform as well.
Intel has also buffed out the feature stack as well with respect to HD video processing, now offering dual video decode for picture-in-picture TV tuners and other applications and higher 12-bit per component color depth in support of the full HDMI 1.3 specification. DisplayPort support has also been dropped in, in addition to Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio.
All told the enhancements to the graphics and media capabilities of Intel's HD Graphics solution are significant and bring a very much welcomed new level of functionality to the solution that previously Intel simply didn't compete well in versus competitive IGPs on the market. Intel's capabilities have vastly improved in this area. And of course, we'll also chart out some of the hard benchmark data for you on this, in the pages ahead.