Q&A: Why Gamers Still Need a Discrete GPU with Haswell

by Brian Caulfield

With Intel’s recent news about Haswell, some may be wondering what effect Haswell’s graphics may have on NVIDIA and our GeForce business. I sat down with Rene Haas, VP and GM of computing products here, to get his perspective on Haswell and how it might affect OEMs, consumers and NVIDIA’s notebook business in particular. Here’s an edited version of my interview:

Intel claims significant improvements in integrated graphics with Haswell. Will Haswell eliminate the need for a discrete GPU?

Rene Haas: If you’re talking about gaming, which is the most popular usage for GPUs, Haswell falls far short of GeForce. We expect well over half of today’s games won’t play at standard resolutions on Haswell. That’s nothing new. Two generations ago, Sandy Bridge couldn’t play roughly half the games of 2010; Ivy Bridge had the same problem with the newer games of 2011. Any serious gamer will tell you that integrated graphics is far from adequate for delivering a reasonable, let alone good experience. Haswell won’t change that.

How will Haswell affect your discrete GPU notebook business?

Haas:  Haswell is a great CPU, and that actually helps us. We have a much higher market share on Intel platforms versus that of AMD, so to the extent Haswell is successful competing with AMD, we’ll do well. We had a record number of design wins with Ivy Bridge, and I expect we’ll have at least as many designs with Haswell. In fact we have over 95% of the gaming notebooks this refresh, so things are starting off great.

Intel says that GT3e will be as fast as a GeForce GT 650M. That sounds pretty competitive.

Haas: Their comparison is misleading on a number of fronts. First, they use synthetic benchmarks that they optimize for to compare performance. We prefer to use games to measure a GPU’s gaming performance, and optimizing for games requires a lot more effort.  Second, GT 650M is a generation old GPU. GeForce GT 750M will double the performance of GT3E in games.

Third and perhaps more fundamentally, the GT3e product exists in the top tier of their CPU family. Similar CPUs, such as the i7-4880QM, have an average notebook price of nearly $3,000 according to the market research firm GFK. Notebook buyers can get much better performance at a significantly lower cost by selecting a GeForce notebook. OEMs don’t seem all that impressed with GT3e, as it’s power hungry and expensive. We expect only a tiny number of notebooks will come with GT3e.

Which PC OEMs will be offering Haswell notebooks with discrete GPUs?

Haas: Every major PC OEM will be offering notebooks with Haswell and discrete NVIDIA GPUs.

Most laptops I see in Best Buy have integrated graphics. What does that say about GPU adoption? 

Haas: It’s important to keep in mind that U.S. buying habits are quite different from those in other countries. Among major markets, the U.S. has just about the very lowest percentage of notebooks sold with GPUs. If you look at the other top markets — China, Germany, and Russia — you see a dramatically higher percentage of notebooks with GPUs than in the U.S. This trend has been very consistent over the past several years.

What tips can you offer notebook buyers?

Haas: Many consumers don’t realize that they can get a lot more bang for their buck if they balance the CPU and GPU in their system. Usually a Core i3 or Core i5 is more than enough horsepower. GPUs offer quite a lot of performance for tasks beyond gaming, including photo and video editing, and can greatly improve a notebook’s overall performance.

What are the features gamers care about in notebooks?

Haas: Obviously you’ll need a good GPU for the best experience. GeForce delivers an overall better visual experience with technologies like TXAA, FXAA, and PhysX. Power consumption is important in a notebook, so you’ll want automatic graphics switching. We pioneered this concept with Optimus, which is now standard on every GeForce notebook. More recently we introduced GeForce Experience, a technology that automatically configures a game’s graphics settings so games just work and run beautifully.

The last thing is often overlooked but equally important: drivers. Will your notebook have drivers to support the latest games at launch? Our GeForce notebook drivers are now downloaded more than one million times a month by gamers who rely on them for their performance and stability.