I think I owe a few people an apology. I know I do. Here goes.
A few years ago, I was given a netbook to test, an Acer Aspire 751h. It was a 12 inch screen, and a really sweet machine for the time, and I liked it. Decent battery life, a rather good Intel Atom chip for the time. The only bad part was the graphics chip. Now let’s go back a few years.
5 years ago, things weren’t that different. There were 2 graphics possibilities; integrated, or external. External meant AMD or NVIDIA, and integrated could mean one of many, but there were Intel chips. If you had an on-board Intel chip, people sometimes felt sorry for you. Sometimes people would ask if you could actually move a window around on your desktop and not see too much tearing. Then along came the GMA 500, the Poulsbo chipset, the one that was integrated on the Aspire 751h. This chipset gave me nightmares. The Poulsbo was a nightmare, and Phoronix even went on to say that “Years later, Intel Poulsbo remains a bloody mess”. I can’t be critical enough of this chipset. It might have worked under Windows XP, and even then, but under Linux? Forget it, just change laptops. Really.
A few years later, I was the happy owner of another netbook, and Asus with an integrated AMD chip. Yes, things have changed, AMD bought ATI and now we could have decent chips in our laptops. And yet I was very very disappointed with the 1215B. I couldn’t do Full-HD, the HDMI output was almost always in a bad mood with no intention whatsoever on doing anything I asked it to, and towards the end, even OpenTTD started lagging. It was great for Python development, at least that went fast enough, and with 8 hours of battery life, that was OK. Today, I’m doing more and more C++, and the 1215B just couldn’t cut it any more, so I bought a new PC for Christmas (well, technically, my father did, thanks Dad!). An Acer V5-171.
The V5-171 is a sweet machine, and this one comes with an Intel i5, more than enough for what I need it to do. The specs looked good, until I came across the graphics details; Intel HD 4000. Oh. Well, maybe I could go for another laptop? Oh, whatever, it is the only model with an i5, I’ll try. The shop I got it from offered a 10-day trial, and if I didn’t like it, I could take it back, no questions asked. So I tried it. A friend who works with Intel told me to try the graphics. I laughed cruelly, and pointed fingers. He smiled, and said really, try the graphics. Just try.
The i5 might be a pretty good processor, and the screen resolution is 1366×768, so maybe I might be able to do something interesting. So I tried. I watched an HD movie. It worked great. I tried a Full-HD movie. It still worked great. At this point I wasn’t really impressed; if the i5 couldn’t do Full-HD, then they weren’t worth the hype. But they are. Then I tried Minecraft, something that brought the 1215 to its knees. And it worked. It actually worked pretty well. So I went a little further. I decided to show my friend that the chipset would drop to its knees, and burn so hot that it would melt its way through the chassis. I installed Guild Wars 2. I launched Guild Wars 2. Guild Wars 2 ran at 30fps. I didn’t expect that. You know what the worst part is? I did all that under Linux, and Linux doesn’t actually have full support for the Intel HD 4000 chip yet. I can only imagine what it would be like under Windows, with full graphics support.
So, here is my public apology. Yes, I was wrong to doubt the Intel HD 4000 chip. Everything is extremely smooth on my PC, and Intel really have gone a long way since the last time I checked on the graphics cards. Now don’t get me wrong, the Intel HD chip isn’t going to beat a high-end NVIDIA, and you aren’t going to be playing the latest and greatest games, but that wasn’t what I had in mind. I needed a machine that could handle some medium-sized development, and still play a light game from time to time. I don’t consider Guild Wars 2 to be a “light” game, and I really did not expect the performance I got from this chip. I am really, really impressed.