When Are Integrated Graphics Good Enough on a PC?

A person playing Rocket League on a laptop.Pryimak Anastasiia / Shutterstock.com

Anyone looking for serious graphics power should have an AMD, NVIDIA, or (one day soon) Intel graphics card. However, not everyone wants this type of energy, especially when it comes to a price of $ 150 to over $ 1000.

What is the quality of the integrated graphics?

So what do you do if you don’t want to buy a graphics card, but still want to play the occasional Civilization VI or The Witcher 3 session?

All is not lost. You can get usable, and sometimes even exceptional, performance from your processor integrated graphics or integrated graphics. It all depends on what games do you want to play, what graphics settings you can accept and how old is your processor.

Gambling is the main thing you need to be concerned about here. Integrated graphics will work fine for most other typical PC uses.

Some business tasks also rely on a system’s GPU. These include video editing, graphics rendering, and GPU accelerated computing with standards such as NVIDIA CUDA and OpenCL. If your workflow requires a powerful GPU, you probably know it.

Still, the built-in graphics should be fine for standard computer use, which includes web browsing, media playback, video conferencing, writing documents, and editing photos.

Gambling, however, is quite another thing.

Many games are playable, but there are tradeoffs

A computer rendering of Intel Tiger Lake processors with ice blue and silver colors.A computer rendering of Intel’s Tiger Lake platform. Intel

Be aware that with integrated graphics, you will never get a perfect or even near-perfect gaming experience unless you are playing a very old or very simple game! The goal is to get the best possible frame rates by making compromises on graphics settings and resolution.

First off, you’ll want to start with 1080p as the default resolution and be prepared to drop down to 720p if needed. The former is the standard resolution for most gamers these days, and going higher than that at 1440p or 4K would require more graphics power than the integrated graphics can muster.

The next compromise is the graphics settings. Depending on your processor update, there are some games that will surprise you when running at high or even ultra settings. Much of it will be older games that are no longer a challenge for modern graphics cards, but there are plenty of classics worth playing.

Most games will automatically choose the correct graphics settings for you and you can start tweaking from there. For example, you can try turning off additional effects, lowering the resolution, or lowering the graphics settings a notch or two. These last two decisions can often swap places. It may be worth it in some games, for example, to play at 1080p on low graphics, while other games may provide a better experience at 720p with medium graphics. It all depends on how the game works on your system and what you can accept as playable.

Finally, the last trade-off to consider is frame rate performance. Ideally, you want a game to run at or near 60 frames per second. This is largely unrealistic for integrated graphics, although the newer integrated GPUs can sometimes surprise you. The bare minimum is 30 fps, and that’s about the best you can expect from most games with integrated graphics. Anything below 30 fps quickly becomes unplayable, with far too much stuttering and screen tearing, although 27 fps is often doable.

What games will work with integrated graphics?

Will a particular game work with integrated graphics? It’s hard to determine what kind of performance you’re going to get for a specific game. If you look at the minimum graphics settings for popular games, they still recommend a discrete graphics card, while integrated graphics are largely ignored.

This means that you either need to figure out which graphics card your integrated GPU is running on nearby, or get an idea of ​​performance per game. The latter is the method we recommend, as the information is more readily available and will generally be more reliable.

Suppose, for example, that your laptop computer has a Core i7-1185G7 “Tiger Lake” processor with Intel Xe graphics and you want to play The Witcher 3. Just plug something like “Intel Xe graphics Witcher 3” into Google to see what’s going on. You should get a number of videos with sample gameplay and results from sites like User Benchmark.

Watch some of the videos to see what the performance looks like for the game you are interested in keeping in mind that even though the graphics are the same, the processor may be stronger or weaker than yours. What you want to know from these videos is what resolution the player was playing at, what their graphics settings were, and what kind of frame rate performance they were having. Most of the time, graphics and resolution information can be found either in the video or in the video description, and frame rates will generally be displayed during the video.

Once you have an idea of ​​how well your rig is likely to achieve in a given game, you can make a more informed decision as to whether it’s really worth your time and money.

Fortunately, many modern game stores, like Steam, offer refunds.

A word about processors

A computer render of a Ryzen 4000 laptop in purple with a Borderlands 3 wallpaper.Ryzen 4000 laptops can offer good integrated graphics performance.

On-board graphics have come a long way, but the top performers have only come in recent years. You will get the best results with a Ryzen 3000 APU on desktops or a Ryzen 4000 processor on laptops. For Intel, the newer the better. Intel Xe is performing well on laptops at the time of writing this December 2020. On desktops, a processor with UHD graphics 620 or later will do, depending on the game.

Mac users find it a little easier, as only a handful of comparison games are available to run natively on the platform, and the system requirements specify which generation of Macs you need. Overall, however, Mac games on Steam will work with most Intel Macs built in the past three years or so.

Those with a Mac based on M1 ARM, however, will have more of a trial and error experience. Since so little software is currently designed for these computers, you will need to run games through the Rosetta 2 compatibility layer, which may or may not work depending on the title.

Sticking to integrated graphics instead of a graphics card isn’t always easy, but it’s doable for those who are willing to compromise. You won’t be able to play all of the latest and greatest games, and neither will you see the top-tier performance you would get even with a mid-range 1080p card. Nonetheless, there will always be a large library for you to choose from without spending the extra money on a graphics card.

RELATED: Best PC games of 2020 (that don’t need a graphics card)

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