After examining the features of the new Ice Lake Core i7-1065G7 on the productivity page, we return to test the CPU for ultrabook games with the integrated graphics G11 Iris Plus. First, some insights from our first review: In terms of multithreaded applications, Ice Lake on 10nm does not offer an upgrade compared to existing 14 nm Skylake derivatives with four cores such as Comet Lake or Whiskey Lake. In terms of performance and efficiency, 10 nm is a little disappointment in this regard.
Second, the Core i7-1065G7 offers higher single-thread performance and, crucial for today's review, improved GPU performance. While we haven't looked at games yet, the new Gen11 GPU design has brought significant benefits to GPU-limited and compute-intensive productivity apps, making Ice Lake a great choice for some workloads like Adobe Premiere.
Third, it doesn't significantly improve what was available in ultra-portable form factors, as you can also find discrete GPUs in 13-inch thin and light systems. But when it comes to a single-chip solution, Ice Lake is pretty decent.
Today, of course, we're planning to change gears to take a look at game performance. Most ultraportables that use 15- or 25-watt CPUs aren't exactly game-designed or have games in mind – that's what your bigger 15-inch devices are for – but ultraportables buyers may still be interested in casual games . Probably not Red Dead Redemption 2, but more Fortnites and Overwatches. This type of game should be playable on modern integrated graphics in an ideal world.
However, as we know, Intel's built-in GPUs haven't been powerful enough for years to run popular titles like Fortnite or even CS: with reasonable but lowest settings. Why is that and why is it taking so long? This is due to the hardware they have been using for five years.
A brief history of (bad) Intel iGPUs
Since the launch of Broadwell, Intel's first series of 14nm CPUs in 2014, Intel has used the same basic GPU design for all 14nm products up to current 10th generation Comet Lake products. Take the Broadwell Core i7-5500U from Intel. This was started with the Intel HD Graphics 5500, a GT2 tier GPU with 24 execution units and a maximum clock rate of 950 MHz. The following year we received Skylake with HD Graphics 520, a 100 MHz bump with the same design of 24 execution units.
Then we move through Kaby Lake, Kaby Lake Refresh, Whiskey Lake and now Comet Lake. All use a variant of the Intel HD or UHD 620 GPU that you suspected still contained 24 execution units. The Whiskey Lake Core i7-8565U, for example, clocked this part at 1150 MHz.
Intel U-series CPUs from 2013 to 2019
From Broadwell 2015 to Comet Lake in 2019, the only improvement Intel has made on its 15W GPU is an increase in clock speed by 200 MHz. Four and a half years for 200 MHz is a pathetic improvement, especially at a time when Intel has found a way to increase CPU cores from two to six.
But it gets worse. When you return to the 4th generation, also known as Haswell, 20 execution units were offered at 1100 MHz on 22 nm. If you look at the GFLOPS ratings for these chips, Intel offered 352 GFLOPS GPU processing power in 2013, and you got 442 GFLOPs with Whiskey Lake in early 2019. Around 25% more raw output in five and a half years. With this tiny win, it's no wonder modern ultraportable systems are usually unable to play simple casual games themselves.
Intel had to do something on the GPU side, especially with AMD, which offers more powerful graphics with Ryzen Mobile. They had probably hoped to get it out earlier, but with 10nm delays, they had to wait for 10th generation Ice Lake parts to bring their new Gen11 GPU design to the market, which has significant benefits.
Iris Plus graphics from Ice Lake
Ice Lake now offers three GPU levels, divided by the number of execution units. At the top we have G7 graphics with 64 execution units, G4 with 48 and G1 with 31. G7 and G4 are called Iris Plus, a brand that Intel has used in the past for more powerful GPU options, while G1 gets the UHD Branding.
The clock rates have been similar to Intel for some time and are between 900 and 1,100 MHz. The big advantages for Gen11, however, are the number of execution units, which is 2.7 times higher for the G7 graphics at the upper end than with corresponding 14 nm CPUs. Even the base G1 level is faster because the execution units have been increased by 33%. It's a big leap down the line.
We previously talked about Whiskey Lake, which provides ~ 442 GFLOPS computing power. With the Ice Lake Gen11 GPU with 64 execution units and 1,100 MHz we have up to 1,126 GFLOPs. This is a massive increase that allows Intel to proudly proclaim this first integrated 1 TFLOP graphics solution.
Intel U-series CPUs from 2013 to 2019
For today's testing, we will benchmark the Ice Lake Gen11 GPU in its fully unlocked configuration, as found in the Core i7-1065G7. Thanks to our test laptop – the Razer Blade Stealth with 16 GB of dual-channel LPDDR4X-3733 memory – we can investigate how this GPU behaves in gaming workloads in 15 W and 25 W configurations. We'll also compare it to a range of built-in GPUs and discrete GPUs that you can get in ultra-portable laptops.
In the first place in our new integrated 15 W graphics suite is Rocket League, a game that should be playable on such GPUs. For native 1080p with "quality" render details set, this should be a playable configuration. However, with older solutions from Intel, it is very difficult to deliver such solutions, with an average frame rate of just over 30 FPS and a low of 1% in the 20s. This is a remarkably bad result, but we all know that the UHD 620 is slow, so we are not surprised.
With Ice Lake in its 15W configuration, the power has increased only slightly by 1%, so the experience isn't the smoothest, but the average power is 52 percent higher. However, this is not the 2.5 to 3-fold performance increase that you would expect due to the different throughput of the raw data. So what's going on there?
The answer is that the 15 W power limit is too narrow to run the GPU at its maximum rated frequency. This wasn't a big problem with previous 14nm CPUs. You can see that the average frame rates only increase by 15% if you give the 10710U a 10 W power boost. At Ice Lake, however, we see 38% growth for the 25 W configuration versus 15 W. This makes the 25 W version much more desirable than 15 W for portable games.
If you compare Ice Lake with 25 W with Comet Lake with 25 W, this is very cheap for Ice Lake. The 1065G7 is 87% faster, a huge climb. We are pleased that Intel is now equipping its U-series chips with sufficiently large GPUs as they experience increases in power at 25 W, as this 25 W configuration is more desirable and useful for OEMs. This also corresponds to what we already see with AMD GPUs and even with the Ice Lake CPUs from Intel: More performance should mean more performance.
Ryzen is a bit underrepresented because we only have a Ryzen 5 2500U 25W test system where Ice Lake performs roughly the same. AMD has a more powerful Ryzen 7 3700U on the market that we suspect will make things even better.
Next, GTA V runs at native 1080p at the lowest settings. The profits we see here are not as strong as in the Rocket League. We have achieved an improvement of 44% compared to 15 W to 15 W, but certainly a decent result. The 25 W configuration performs better, comes close to the performance of the Ryzen 5 2500U and offers about 85 percent more power than 14 nm iGPUs.
Interestingly, in this test, the Nvidia MX250 GPU with 25 W is significantly faster than the Ice Lake graphics from Intel. The MX150's slower 1D12 configuration is only marginally faster, but when the full-fledged MX250 is introduced, performance is almost double. The MX250 was also faster in the Rocket League, but this GTA V test is an outlier that significantly prefers Nvidia's silicon.
Strategy games like Civilization VI are great for ultraportable. Intel's built-in graphics has not been up to date for native 1080p playback in this title. The Core i7-1065G7 scratches the line with a little over 30 FPS at this resolution in the most intense phases of the game, but it is not entirely unplayable. We see an improvement of 35% compared to Ice Lake and Comet Lake at 15 W.
As expected, the chip has more breathing space at 25 W and delivers better results. We can improve performance by up to 70 percent, but it's still lagging behind the discrete MX250 GPU from Nvidia and Ryzen Mobile.
Counter-Strike: Global offensive at 1080p with the lowest settings was not unplayable with the old Intel solutions, but the performance with these settings was often in the mid-1940s, which is not good even for amateur competitors. Ice Lake significantly improves this situation and offers 76% more power at 15 W and more than twice the power at 25 W.
This is also a title where the Intel Core i7-1065G7 is faster than the Core i5-10210U in combination with an MX250 GPU. You need the 25W configuration to outperform this discrete GPU pairing, but Intel sees a solid gain here.
Gears 5 is a very intensive and future-oriented benchmark, since we work with 1080p and medium settings. Ice Lake is significantly faster than previous generation built-in GPUs because it eliminates many bottlenecks and does not suffocate under the weight of the requirements. With only up to 15 FPS on offer, this is not a configuration you actually use, but an improvement.
We also see a fairly normal cadence of power. At the end of the "appropriate" performance class is the 15 W core i7-1065G7. Another step is the Ryzen 5 2500U 25W configuration, and another step is the 25W Core i7-1065G7. The Nvidia MX250 in particular offers a performance increase of ~ 30%.
This hierarchy is fairly consistent across all games tested so far. Ryzen Mobile's position fluctuates a bit and we saw in CS: GO that the MX250 can be slower, but in general this is the lineup in games and synthetic workloads like 3DMarks Time Spy.
The new GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q from Nvidia offers significantly more performance than any of these parts and can be found in 13-inch ultraportables like the Razer Blade Stealth. The results of Gears 5 show that the GTX 1650 Max-Q makes medium settings at 1080p playable in Gears 5 and often offers more than twice the power with the integrated Ice Lake GPU at 25 W. While Intel was busy making its iGPU reasonably decent, Nvidia has developed new discrete options that go a step further with ultra-portable form factors.
These five benchmarks give us a typical idea of how Ice Lake is built. In all situations except the GPU restrictions, the configuration of the 64 execution units is about 50% faster compared to 15 W compared to previous generations with 24 execution units. When this is increased to 25 W, the gains are larger and improve over 80% over 14 nm equivalents.
Playable performance or not?
Given the fact that previous generations of integrated graphics are painfully slow, the question arises: do these gains actually make modern titles playable on integrated graphics? To answer this, we need to look at other titles.
Of the games tested so far, Rocket League and CS: Go can be played comfortably with native 1080p with the lowest settings. We would say that Civilization VI is playable even when GTA V is in a limit state. Gears 5 at medium settings are a no-go.
If you turn everything down to the lowest settings and set a resolution scale of 900p for Gears 5, the game still doesn't achieve a constant 30 FPS during the benchmark, and to meet this minimum requirement, it usually ran at 72% 1080p. It looks absolutely terrible too, so we'll say the game on Ice Lake is not playable.
Other modern triple A games that we tested showed something similar (25 W configuration). Shadow of the Tomb Raider had to be run at the lowest settings to get 30 FPS and it wasn't nice. Resident Evil 2 is a game that runs very well on decent discrete GPUs, but is not playable on integrated graphics. With low settings and a pixelated experience, we still couldn't reach 30 FPS.
Division 2 is a beautiful game, but unfortunately it doesn't work well with integrated graphics. We would classify F1 2019 as borderline playable. At 900p in the 25 W configuration or 720p in the 15 W version, I was able to achieve over 30 FPS with the lowest settings. Ideally you want 60 FPS in a game like this, but we assume that you need more than 30 FPS for integrated graphics. The outer wilds also often fell below 30 FPS and the game felt really sluggish.
With this, we have certainly found that graphically intensive titles cannot generally be reproduced on integrated graphics. How about popular and often less GPU-intensive competition games?
Rainbow Six Siege is a mixed bag. At 15 W, we hardly reach 30 FPS at low settings at 720p. At 25 W and a render resolution of 900p, we achieved about 40 FPS in the benchmark, so this is marginally playable and could possibly be better tuned by further scaling down the resolution.
Apex Legends is almost unplayable, the stuttering is terrible.
However, there is better news for Fortnite. With a native 1080p with the lowest settings and a wide range of vision, the 25 W configuration reaches 45 to 55 FPS quite comfortably and looks decent. It's not the best experience, but if you want to get into a Fortnite match with your ultraportable, we would say that's fine.
At 15W it gets a bit tricky. Native 1080p at the lowest settings provides 30 FPS. With an 80 percent resolution scale, we were able to run the game at 35 to 40 FPS.
And finally we have Overwatch. This is one of the better integrated graphics games running at 40 to 60 FPS in the 25W configuration at native 1080p with the lowest settings.
Based on the positive aspects, Ice Lake definitely offers a significant performance boost over last generation integrated graphics solutions from Intel, which translates into much better gaming performance. A 50% improvement at 15 W and more than 80% at 25 W is no reason to sneeze considering how little growth we have seen in the past six years. Adding additional execution units to the mix was the right choice.
This makes the G7 Tier Ice Lake suitable for many popular casual and competitive games where previous generations of integrated GPUs have struggled to achieve acceptable performance. Songs like Rocket League, Overwatch, CS Go and Fortnite can be played on this GPU in 15 W or 25 W configurations.
Older titles from more than 5 years ago are also more playable on Ice Lake than previous Intel CPUs, while games like Civilization VI, which we think are great for laptop games, are also playable with the new Gen11 GPU. Sometimes you need the 25W configuration to get a decent experience with these titles, but at least we now get higher GPU performance when OEMs activate 25W mode.
This is great news for those who want to use their ultra-portable laptop for a bit of easy gaming on the go. It's not a world-shattering achievement, it's gameplay at low settings and a certain resolution scale, but we think that's acceptable for lean and light systems. This also means that you don't need a discrete GPU for gaming, which was previously essential for Intel notebooks. OEMs can now choose a one-chip solution that is only reasonably decent in this area.
However, there are also areas that are less impressive. Ice Lake behaves similarly to AMD's Ryzen Mobile: The 25 W configuration of the Core i7-1065G7 is slightly faster than that of AMD Ryzen 5 2500U. This means that Ice Lake does not really move the needle to what is possible in a single-chip design. If you want this performance without a discrete GPU, there has been an AMD option since the Ryzen APUs started – but the Core i7-1065G7 is faster for CPU-demanding tasks.
A bigger problem for Ice Lake is that it's not a compelling option against Nvidia's discrete, low-power GPUs. The Nvidia MX250 in its standard configuration is a step above the 25W core i7-1065G7 for gaming, even when paired with a 15W CPU. It doesn't allow for a drastically different level of performance since most Triple-A titles are still not playable on an MX250, but the titles we just talked about, like Fortnite and Overwatch, are doing better.
An MX250 next to a 15W U-series CPU is likely to use more power. What is important with a laptop, however, is not raw TDPs or power consumption, but what is possible within a certain form factor, since most of the power-intensive tasks like games are performed (or at least should be performed) while connected to the charger . The ultimate goal is to get something that is super portable and at the same time super powerful when it needs to be.
If you look at the market for 13-inch ultraportables these days, there are many options with an MX250 that challenge pure Ice Lake systems in terms of price and portability while offering superior performance. This was rare a few years ago, but in 2019 manufacturers can easily integrate MX series GPUs without affecting the form factor.
The fastest ultraportables also integrate the GTX 1650 Max-Q from Nvidia. The latest Razer Blade Stealth is the perfect example: this is still a super portable laptop, but it's easy to add a discrete 35 W GPU. The end result is at least twice the gaming performance of Intel's 25 W Ice Lake configuration with G7 graphics. Granted, it's also a more expensive option.
We usually don't want to point out that discrete GPUs are faster. It is obvious. However, Intel's 10th generation is in an interesting place where both Ice Lake and Comet Lake are on the market. The overall selling point for Ice Lake is the faster GPU, but it's not fast enough to be a good option compared to a 14nm Comet Lake CPU with six cores and a discrete GPU with low power consumption. This type of configuration offers better productivity and better graphics performance and doesn't even require a new architecture or manufacturing node. And everything is possible in the same form factors as Ice Lake targets.
That doesn't mean that Ice Lake is pointless. OEMs that don't have enough storage, heat, or power budgets to accommodate both a U-Series CPU and a discrete GPU get the best graphics performance from Ice Lake while maintaining a powerful CPU.
With Intel driving 10nm designs, we suspect that most of these issues that we see in the 10th generation product line will be resolved. A future 15W part with six or more cores and Xe graphics will end the 14nm lifespan and hopefully compete with the upcoming Ryzen APUs and eliminate the need for discrete MX series graphics. We hope this happens at Intel.