The Sims 4 Performance Analysis

Intel ‘Haswell’ Products

Intel’s fourth generation of Core series products, codenamed ‘Haswell’ differed from previous Ultrabook processors in that Intel offer a number of different graphics models depending on the capabilities of the chip – previously both 17W Ultrabook and 35W+ standard laptop parts shared the same graphics name despite having differing levels of performance. The graphics core itself is largely based on the Gen 7 graphics of Ivy Bridge, but with revisions meaning it is known as Gen 7.5. These revisions include an increase in the number of Execution Units in each GPU ‘sub-slice’ from 8 to 10.

Iris Pro 5200 equipped Haswell with 128MB L4 cache

Iris Pro 5200 equipped Haswell with 128MB L4 cache, found in systems like the Retina MacBook Pro 15

With Haswell not only did Intel introduce differing graphics model numbers, they also added the option of a larger graphics core which doubled the number of ‘sub-slices’ inside the chip from 2 to 4.

This means that you have the HD 4400 and HD 4600 graphics cores which feature the ‘GT2’ graphics core with 2 sub-slices and a total of 20 Execution Units in either 15W (HD 4400) or 35-45W (HD 4600) power envelopes, and the HD 5000 and Iris 5100 graphics cores which feature the larger ‘GT3’ graphics core with 4 sub-slices and a total of 40 Execution Units in 15W (HD 5000) and 28W (Iris 5100) power envelopes.

Whilst this may seem like the HD 5000 based products should offer a doubling of performance compared to their HD 4400 based counterparts this is rarely the case, for reasons we’ll investigate below.

There are also ‘GT1’ configurations – used in Haswell based Celerons and Pentiums – which use a single sub-slice giving just 10 EU’s and branded as Intel HD graphics, and the more interesting ‘GT3e’ used in the Iris Pro 5200 equipped quad-core chips which combine the 4 sub-slice ‘GT3’ arrangement of Iris 5100 with 128MB of on-package L4 cache to give a large increase in available memory bandwidth and a 47W power envelope.

Haswell has now been superseded by the new Broadwell platform, but at the time of writing these are very new and so many products on the market are still Haswell based.

Intel HD 4400 Graphics

We tried out The Sims 4 on our Lenovo Flex 15, which features the Intel Core i5-4200U with 8GB of RAM. The standard 1TB HDD in our test system has been swapped out for a 240GB SSD, but this should have a minimal impact on gaming performance.

The Flex 15 also comes equipped with switchable NVIDIA GeForce GT 820M graphics which of course was disabled for the purpose of testing the HD 4400 graphics performance.

Running The Sims 4 at 1366×768 at Medium Detail settings gave frame rates mostly between 20-30fps in our testing, making the game easily playable and with a nice level of detail.


Intel HD 4600 Graphics

Intel HD 4600 Graphics based chips aren’t found in Ultrabook systems as they use more power and are therefore reserved for larger, more traditional, laptop systems. This means that you will normally expect a less sleek design with poorer battery life, but with the benefit of higher overall performance.

Because the actual graphics core in the HD 4600 is the same 2 sub-slice design as HD 4400 this gives a clear example of the difference the increased TDP (power consumption) available to the chip makes to performance, with the more than doubling in available power usage giving enough of a performance boost to allow us to increase the resolution to 1920×1080 whilst maintaining the Medium Detail settings in The Sims 4 with no loss in performance. Alternatively we could run at 1366×768 and opt for a higher detail setting.

It is however worth remembering that power usage isn’t the only limiting factor in performance, with memory bandwidth generally being the next thing to consider.


Intel HD 5000 Graphics

Rarely found in Windows based Haswell Ultrabooks, the most common place to find Intel HD 5000 is in the mid-2013 and onward MacBook Air and in the Intel NUC D54250WYK we use for testing. This featured the i5-4250U processor.

Whilst on paper the HD 5000, which doubles the number of graphics sub-slices from 2 to 4, should offer a step up in performance, but in reality the performance is limited by the identical 15W power consumption limit of the chip, and often due to the relative efficiencies of running a greater number of physical units at lower speeds produces lower levels of performance.

This means that HD 5000 offers similar levels of performance to HD 4400 in The Sims 4, sometimes a few percent slower, with 1366×768 and Medium Detail levels a reasonable baseline target for running the game.

Intel Iris 5100 Graphics

Again most commonly found in Apple Mac’s – in this case the most recent Mac Mini and Retina MacBook Pro 13 models – Intel’s Iris 5100 graphics are something of a rarity on Windows based Haswell systems.

For our testing we used an Acer Aspire V3-371 which came equipped with an i5-4258U processor. This particular system shipped with an unbalanced 6GB memory configuration, with the combination of a 2GB and a 4GB memory module meaning the system resorted to running in single-channel memory mode. This had a major negative effect on performance as it halved the amount of memory bandwidth available to the processor, and so we upgraded the system to a matching pair of Crucial 4GB DDR3-1600L modules.

Once this configuration issue had been corrected the Iris 5100 Graphics performance improved, allowing it to roughly match the performance of the more power hungry HD 4600 graphics, with playable frame rates at 1920×1080 and Medium Detail. That both solutions offer similar performance even at these power levels suggests perhaps memory bandwidth limitations start to become a limiting factor over power consumption at this point, meaning even in Iris 5100 the 4 sub-slice arrangement isn’t able to reach its full potential.


Intel Iris Pro 5200

Like HD 4600, Intel Iris Pro 5200 is not found in Ultrabook products as it simply uses too much power for this kind of form factor. None the less it is worth discussing to look at the full potential of the larger ‘GT3’ graphics core.

Iris Pro 5200 equipped chips like the Core i7-4860HQ in our Auros X3 PLUS test system feature a large 128MB L4 cache which provides an additional 50GB/sec of memory bandwidth – near double the throughput of the 128-bit DDR3-1600 used by Haswell based Ultrabooks – whilst also having roughly half the latency of accesses to system memory. This, combined with a 47W TDP, has a dramatic effect on performance, with Iris Pro 5200 delivering upwards of 50% higher frame rates than HD 4600 and Iris 5100 in our testing.

This level of performance makes running The Sims 4 at 1920×1080 and High Detail and reasonable ask. Often however finding a system using Iris Pro 5200 can be a struggle – with many manufacturers instead opting to fit a discrete graphics solution from NVIDIA or AMD instead. Even our Auros X3 PLUS test system is equipped with a far more powerful GeForce GTX 870M graphics chip.

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