A while back I built a system for streaming; something inexpensive, portable, and powerful enough to record and stream multiple video inputs. I settled on an AMD A8-7650K. The price, performance, and beefed up integrated graphics proved to be an excellent combination. While building the water cooling system in my main rig my GTX 970 was laying around as well as my GTX 460. So naturally I did the unreasonable and compared the performance of the integrated Radeon R7 to a dedicated solution. But is it really all that unreasonable? The R7 proves to be an inexpensive platform for “console quality” but ideally a budget-based build leaves room to upgrade, so let’s see what happens when you do.
The system is composed of the afore-mentioned AMD A8-7650K APU overclocked from 3.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz in an MSI A68HM Grenade motherboard with 2x 4 GB sticks of Corsair DDR3 memory at 2188 MHz. Storage is a pair of Western Digital 750 GB Green hard drives in RAID 0. Power is courtesy of a 750 watt Corsair power supply. All of this is housed in an Antec P50 micro-ATX case which is badly in need of exhaust fans. During testing the stock APU cooler spins to defining levels despite the dual intake fans spinning at their maximum speed. The side panel was removed to exhaust hot air and keep the system ironically quieter.
For this round of tests the 460 will represent the “hand-me-down” video card you might get for free from a friend who’s upgrading their system. The 970 represents the “tax return” video card. Between these two cards we should be able to make reasonable estimates for how other cards, like a 780, might perform in a system like this.
The first test is 3D Mark’s Sky Diver test; a light snack for modern GPUs but provides a good baseline for integrated graphics and older video hardware. Unsurprisingly the integrated Radeon R7 was slaughtered in any test that woke up the GPU. Physics scores, which are CPU dependent, stayed the same across each test.
Similar results can be seen while running the standard Fire Strike test.
It should be worth noting that Fire Strike Extreme and Fire Strike Ultra can’t run, or shouldn’t, run on the integrated R7 or the GTX 460 due to both processing and VRAM limitations. Only the GTX 970 was able to run these tests. With each level of Fire Strike the graphics scores dropped quickly but the physics scores remained stable. Since only larger textures and resolutions are being used it makes sense that the physics scores wouldn’t change.
Synthetic benchmarks only tell half the story, though. To get the other half let’s see what Lara Croft has to say about each of our GPU solutions.
720p should be considered the default resolution for the integrated R7. If your computer spends its days plugged into a TV like this one does you’ll be hard pressed to notice any difference between 720 and 1080p. The game looks beautiful at normal settings and plays very well, even during scenes with explosions and collapsing caves. If you want to play with enhanced details or resolution you’ll need to add a dedicated GPU.
That said, if you need 1080p resolutions the R7 may not be
the best an option, depending on how demanding the game is. This is where the dedicated GPU solutions really shine.
And of course, when you toss in your “tax return” card, you can start playing at 1440 and 4K resolutions, even on a 1080p display. By enabling nVidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) your video card will render video at a higher resolution than your display, then downscale it to match your display’s resolution. The idea is that you get smoother, finer detail in things like hair, grass, object edges, etc. During my testing I lowered the anti-aliasing down to 2xSSAA on all of my tests and removed it entirely for the 4K tests.
So what’s the takeaway from all these charts and figures? The A8’s integrated R7 GPU does an adequate job at lower resolutions but is unlikely going to be a replacement for an Xbox One or Playstation 4. If you already own one and want to turn it into a medium-duty gaming rig a dedicated GPU will do the job just fine but you may still be limited by the raw processing power of the A8 APU.