In contrast to our cell phones and tablets, laptops are divided into two different categories. The first are laptops with built-in graphics that cannot play games and others are laptops that are specifically designed for gaming. In case you're wondering, the vast majority of laptops sold fall into the first category.
That's a shame. It's bad for PC gaming and bad for Windows laptops as a whole.
With the announcement of Intel's 11th generation processors, standard laptops could finally break the mold. In not too long ago, most laptops could be gaming – even tiny, thin, and light devices that you would probably underestimate.
Intel Iris Xe raises the bar
Intel has been building a hype around its Xe graphics for over a year. While enthusiasts look forward to a discrete GPU that can rival the Nvidia RTX 3080, Intel has always kept an eye on what it calls the Xe LP. These are built-in discrete graphics with low power consumption – nothing is as noticeable as what you put in your glowing gaming rig.
Now that Iris Xe starts introducing, I'm starting to understand why. If Iris Xe turns out to be nearly as powerful as Intel claims, the company will change the way we expect our computers to work.
Comparisons to entry-level discrete graphics cards caught my attention.
In the simplest case, the Iris Xe graphics are twice as powerful as the integrated graphics from last year. It has increased from 64 EUs (execution units) to 96 EUs, which corresponds to an increase in potential gaming performance of almost 33%. According to Intel, games like Borderlands 3, Far Cry New Dawn and Hitman 2 can now be played for the first time at 1080p on Intel's integrated graphics.
But beating your old built-in graphics doesn't say much. The comparison with an entry-level discrete graphics card caught my attention. In many of these AAA titles, it is impressive to average close to 40 frames per second on medium settings.
To be fair, the Nvidia MX350 isn't a proven gaming GPU. It's often found in sleek, thin, and light laptops like the Acer Swift 3 or the Asus ZenBook 14. Iris Xe cannot even compete with an Nvidia GTX 1650.
Make no mistake about it – there will always be room for proper gaming laptops. No one pretending to have this new crop of Tiger Lake laptops is going to obliterate the need for high refresh rates, RGB lighting, and powerful discrete GPUs. This would also be the case if the performance of these integrated graphics were to double again in the next year.
The ability to play Fortnite at 50 fps or GTA V at 55 fps makes the potential of these graphics unparalleled.
Of course there is a catch
Until Intel Iris Xe graphics are ubiquitous, graphics are always perceived as additional functions. Intel's terrible built-in UHD graphics are still what you hold onto on the Core i5-1125G4 and Core i3-1115G4.
These processors are often sold as the startup configuration of many new laptops and are not suitable for gaming. These are very popular configurations, especially those that drop below the $ 1,000 mark. Tech-wise, Intel has slightly improved these graphics over last year's UHD graphics, but probably not enough to play serious games.
The Intel Core i7-1135G7 is perhaps even more egregious. Although the processor is referred to as the "Core i7" and "G7", it has 16 fewer Intel Xe EUs. We'll have to test this particular configuration to see how it works, but it will take a serious step back from the other Core i7 configurations.
Wider adoption of higher performing integrated graphics will eventually emerge, but remains an asterisk for the current status of Xe graphics.
It goes beyond Intel
Intel is the main player in this gaming revolution, and this year's improvements will have the biggest impact.
But let's not forget how it started. Two of its main competitors were the ones who pushed Intel to take graphics seriously. The iPhone and iPad are good examples of where I wanted PCs. Because of their impressive graphics, any iOS device can play. This has allowed iOS games to thrive as it is. When making the move from Macs to Apple Silicon, there's no reason to believe that entry-level laptops like the 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Air don't have much improved integrated graphics.
AMD is in a similar position. The Radeon graphics built into the Ryade 4000 processors were impressive in laptops like the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7.
Given the tight competition, it looks promising for the future of integrated graphics.