Earlier this week, Intel released a graphics driver update that according to the chipmaker, boosts graphics performance by up to 30% for devices with 4th generation Haswell processors, in addition to increasing battery life through new power conservation techniques. That’s a significant update, and today, we put those claims to the test.
First and foremost, we needed to prep our test platform – in this case the Surface Pro 2 – for the benchmarks. Just as a refresher, this particular devices is the 128GB model with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and of course the Intel Core i5-4200U CPU clocked at 1.6GHz. The CPU does have Turbo Boost so it overclocks itself to 2.29GHz when under load.
To prep the system, we followed the same guidelines outlined in our Surface Performance Enhancer how-to which you can read in full detail here. In short, this involved switching the Windows Power Plan to ‘High Performance’ (a feature not available on the SP3), and killing all unnecessary background tasks and apps. Simple enough, but they make a difference.
The latest Intel graphics driver, version 184.108.40.206.3907 (or ‘3907’ from here on out) was installed manually by following the steps below:
- Download the .ZIP version of the driver from Intel’s website
- Extract its contents
- Disconnect from the internet to stop Windows Update from re-installing the old driver
- Go to Device Manager and uninstall the old Intel display driver, tick the box to delete old installation files
- Restart the Surface
- Go back to Device Manager, it will detect that VGA hardware is missing a driver, right-click the graphics card and select “Update Driver Software”.
- Select “Browse my computer for driver software”, then browse to the extracted contents of the driver ZIP file
- After the install is complete, restart Surface
- That’s it!
You can check whether the new driver is installed by running dxdiag (use the Search Charm) and looking under the Display tab.
Next up, the benchmarks. Intel claims that the latest driver update enhances OpenCL and gaming performance by 30% and 10% respectively. To test that we’ll use LuxMark for OpenCL, and FIFA 14 for gaming. Additionally, we’ll also test OpenGL performance with CineBench, and use 3DMark RT to see if there are any overall system performance improvements. So without further ado, let’s jump in!
LuxMark is an OpenCL benchmark tool that is designed to being the latest workstation GPU’s to their knees. Using the LexRender rendering engine, the benchmark tool simulates light flow using sophisticated algorithms to create highly realistic images. Luckily, the benchmark does come with the rather petite LuxBall test that thankfully didn’t fry the SP2.
According to its developers, the CineBench OpenGL test requires the GPU to “display a huge amount of geometry (nearly 1 million polygons) and textures, as well as a variety of effects, such as environments, bump maps, transparency, lighting and more to evaluate the performance across different disciplines and give a good average overview of the capabilities of your graphics hardware”. While not exactly hitting the 30fps sweet spot, the latest driver does bring it close.
FIFA 14 may not be the most graphically demanding gaming title, but we’re not exactly running it on the mother of all gaming PC’s either. The DirectX 10 powered game from EA is one that makes good use of both the CPU and GPU in order to render the large crowds, weather effects, ball and net physics, pitch textures and more. While the old Intel driver provided a decent gaming experience on the Surface, the new driver makes it that much better with a 9 fps increase.
Finally, 3DMark RT was used to test for overall system performance improvements on the Surface before and after the driver update. The scores below are from the Ice Storm Unlimited test as both the Core and Extreme tests were “Maxed Out”. Those of you with a Core i7 SP3 or one of the newer higher-clocked SP2’s should see an even larger improvement here.
All-in-all, the new Intel graphics drivers do bring performance improvements for OpenCL, OpenGL, and DirectX applications. While Intel did claim 30% improvements in “certain OpenCL workloads” and 10% improvements in “certain games”, they didn’t exactly specify which applications and games they were referring to. Typical. So your mileage may vary depending on your usage case. Good news is that there are clearly improvements – however minor they may be – across the board. The updated should be making its way through via Windows Update in the near future, we recommend you wait for it.
TL;DR: If you use applications that utilize OpenCL, or game on your Surface, you will want this graphics update.