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Intel chipset drivers miss the mark

CNET Labs testing shows the chipmaker's latest graphics drivers still don't deliver the uniform performance increases promised earlier this year.

It appears that Intel still has some work to do in getting its act together on PC graphics.

New drivers for the company's 965GM chipset, found in many notebooks and midrange desktops, still don't deliver the uniform performance increases promised earlier this year, according to testing by CNET Labs. My colleague Julie Rivera benchmarked three games on a PC with both the older drivers and the newer ones, and concluded that while some improvements could be detected, the new drivers don't do nearly enough to improve performance across multiple games.

This graphic may come in clearly, but Intel's 3D graphics performance isn't quite up to snuff. Intel

Integrated graphics are the budget-friendly way of getting 3D images displayed on your PC. They are built into the processor's chipset, which saves a ton of money for both the PC builder and the end customer compared with powerful but expensive discrete graphics cards from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices. Serious gamers tend to buy more powerful configurations, or build their own systems, but casual gamers intrigued by popular titles like Quake or F.E.A.R. might not realize they need the extra performance.

So last year, Intel decided it was going to make a leap in the 3D graphics performance to make popular games more enjoyable on low-cost hardware. The 965 started shipping last September, but for some reason it took Intel nearly a year to write the drivers needed to unlock that performance, finally releasing them in August.

According to the tests, it wasn't enough. F.E.A.R. did see a noticeable boost in performance with the new drivers, but Quake 4 performance was about the same compared with the older driver. And Company of Heroes was well below the expected performance of such a game, even when Rivera used the settings recommended by Intel.

Better graphics are definitely on Intel's radar these days, but it could be awhile before the greater emphasis turns into products. Many Intel-based PCs on sale right now use an updated chipset with better graphics performance, but if you want to play 3D games--even just now and then--it's probably best to suck it up and buy the more expensive configuration with a discrete graphics card. CNET Reviews can help you choose which one suits your needs.