The GeForce Is Strong In This One: GeForce Go 6150 for the Budget Gamer

by Reads (130,291)

INTRODUCTION

Integrated Graphics Parts (hereafter referred to as IGP) are often the source of much scorn and derision in the gaming forums of this site, and not entirely without merit. IGPs are at best cut-down versions of discrete parts that have been more or less shoved onto the northbridge of the motherboard chipset. At worst, they start with "Intel." (Seriously, Intel. Hardware Texture and Lighting is the feature that practically established graphics as we know them today. Let’s get with the program.) The flipside to IGPs is that they consume minimal power and substantially reduce the cost of a computer. They’re also one less source of heat. In a notebook, these are very enticing upsides, especially when gamers make up such a minor part of the demographic.

There could be any number of reasons why you’ll find yourself with a notebook with an IGP. Budget can be a huge part of it. Portability can be another factor; thin and lights and ultraportables tend not to have room to accommodate a discrete graphics part and the heat it generates. You may even wind up with it if, like me, a particularly good-looking laptop is at your local Best Buy, and you can’t get it with dedicated graphics.

AMD notebooks tend to be good budget alternatives; just because Intel’s hardware is faster clock-for-clock than AMD’s right now doesn’t make AMD’s worse, and the frugal consumer can pick up a unit with a dual-core 64-bit processor in it on the cheap if they shop for AMD. Intel’s Core 2 Duos fetch a premium in the market, and cheaper notebooks tend to use cut down Core Duos or the new Pentium Dual-Core. The really nice thing about buying AMD, though, is that you aren’t bound to Intel’s Centrino platform, and that means you aren’t bound to Intel’s miserable GMA 950 graphics part.

This brings us to the GeForce Go 6150, which is as of this article the best IGP you can buy in the notebook market. Note that the alternative, the Radeon Xpress line, is pretty potent on its own. I do have to give the crown to nVidia’s part, though, and this review will talk about why.

GAMING ON AN IGP? REALLY?

The casual gamer honestly does not care that much about what resolution the game runs at, just as long as they can play it and enjoy it. The reality is that a small portion of the population knows what the hell Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering even are, they just want to know if the game’ll run or not.

Much to the chagrin of many forum members, I am pleased to report that the Go 6150 can in fact game…and in some instances, fairly capably. If you’re a light gamer, or if you have a gaming machine at home but might want to pop a shooter in every once in a while on the road, a strong IGP can definitely fit the bill.

The GeForce Go 6150 will run all but the most demanding games at low to medium settings. Now admittedly, in my unit, the Go 6150 is operating on what basically amounts to a "best case scenario," but your mileage won’t vary too much. In the case of Doom 3, for example, I achieved very similar results on my father’s desktop Go 6150 which was running on a single core processor and only a quarter of the RAM my notebook is using.

Here’s the test system:

  • HP Pavilion dv6258se Special Edition (purchased from BestBuy)
  • AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-56 (1.8 GHz, 2x 512k L2 Cache)
  • 2GB DDR2-667 RAM (advertised at DDR2-533, so take note frugal shoppers)
  • nVidia GeForce Go 6150
  • 120GB Seagate Momentus 5400.3 Hard Disk
  • 1280×800 WXGA Glossy Screen
  • Windows XP Professional SP2 with Dual Core Hotfix

The GeForce Go 6150 settings used are as follows:

  • ForceWare 84.66 (modded for mobile use from www.LaptopVideo2Go.com)
  • Video RAM set to 128MB in BIOS; TurboCache brings it up to 512MB in Windows
  • Slider set to Performance
  • Display scaling set to Fixed Aspect Ratio *

* This feature alone is what makes nVidia hardware so desirable in notebooks against ATI’s. The majority of notebooks on sale are widescreens; this feature allows you to put black bars on the sides of the image while scaling it to fill the top and bottom of the screen, maintaining the aspect ratio of the game. ATI hardware doesn’t have this feature, and will only let you stretch the game to fill the entire screen, or run it surrounded with black in its native resolution, taking up a fraction of the screen. I cannot stress enough how useful I’ve found this. I personally won’t buy a notebook that isn’t using nVidia hardware because of it, and I run nVidia in my desktop for my widescreen.

For each game, I’ll list the settings I found playable. It’s worth mentioning that I tend to be very strict about my definition of "playable." Choppiness needs to be minimal; the game should be spending the vast majority of its time above 25 fps. Shooter fans know how critical a solid framerate can be.

ANATOMY OF THE GEFORCE GO 6150

The nVidia GeForce Go 6150 is basically a desktop GeForce 6150SE that can clock down for battery life. But what is that?

This is mainly for the techies, but the jargon-light should still be able to pick out details. The Go 6150’s specifications are as follows:

  • 425 MHz Core Clock
  • TurboCache Unified Memory Architecture
  • Shader Model 3.0 Support
  • 2 Pixel Pipelines with 1 Texture Unit Each
  • 2 Pixel Shaders
  • 1 Vertex Shader

Now, the Go 6150 is running off of system memory, and system memory is SLOW. The memory on dedicated video cards tends to run at much higher speeds than system memory does, and at tighter timings to allow for better interaction with the graphics processor. This means the Go 6150 is at a disadvantage for memory access speed.

The flipside of this is that the Go 6150 has access to just about all the memory it wants, so texture size isn’t really an issue.

The Go 6150 also has the benefit of having some fairly modern technology and a fairly efficient core design. Solid, efficient design helps make up for some shortcomings, but more than that, can also get you shader power at a discount.

The major weaknesses I experienced with the Go 6150 were in lighting and shadow effects, and in running at high resolutions. 800×600 seemed to really be the cap for it; anything higher turned into a slideshow regardless of the generation of game. When Unreal Tournament 2004 has to run at roughly the same settings as Doom 3, it’s pretty safe to assume there’s a just plain hard limit to what the part can produce.

DOOM 3

I went ahead and started with the big dog. This is the game that makes or breaks an IGP in my opinion, and it’s the one ATI’s IGPs can’t handle (at least, the ones without dedicated memory).

nVidia’s traditional lead in OpenGL games manifests here.

The playable settings I found in Doom 3 were:

  • 800×600
  • Low Quality
  • No Shadows, VSync, or AA; everything else on.

And it looked something like this:


800×600 Low Quality is very playable as long as shadows are disabled. (view large image)

Running Doom 3’s built in timedemo (using the second run as the first run is always lower due to the game loading textures into memory) on these settings netted 22.1 fps, but for what it’s worth I found the gameplay to be fairly smooth.

Unfortunately, the big performance killer was enabling shadows. While disabling shadows does feel a bit like gutting Doom 3, get a good look at it when it’s running without bump mapping and tell me which feature you’d rather have. The lightmap shadows in Doom 3 aren’t as good as the dynamic shadows the game is capable of, but the mood isn’t totally lost.

Adjusting high quality special effects or specular lighting yielded virtually no performance bonuses. Disabling the special effects did smooth out the game a little bit in combat, but outside of that the impact was neglibile. Removing specular lighting just made the game look vastly less interesting, probably more damaging than disabling shadows.

An alternative for those aching to score a couple more frames is dropping the resolution to 640×480 and going up to High Quality, where I was able to benchmark up to 27.3 fps. Here, too, the gameplay was actually quite smooth and the game as a whole was very playable.

For those curious, I also ran it at 640×480 Low Quality. The benchmark results of the playable settings listed below:

  • 800×600 LQ — 22.1 fps
  • 640×480 HQ — 27.3 fps
  • 640×480 LQ — 31.0 fps

I want to stress that even at the lowest settings with no shadows, Doom 3 is still miles from being an eyesore. Those really aching for fps should turn off bump mapping, but be warned, doing that really guts the look of the game, and it honestly isn’t necessary.

Obviously this isn’t ideal, but for an IGP? Being able to bump the game up one resolution is pretty outstanding.

F.E.A.R.

If you can’t tell by now, I’ve been pretty keen to try and push the Go 6150 as hard as I can. I’ve heard reports of F.E.A.R. running on peoples’ Radeon Xpress IGPs, so I figured…why not? And I gave F.E.A.R. a go. Like Doom 3, I was impressed.

Again, as I mentioned before, the Go 6150 hates lighting and shadow effects, so Volumetric Lighting and Shadows were disabled. These were the settings I ran F.E.A.R. at:

  • 640×480
  • COMPUTER OPTIONS:
    • Single Player Physics Medium
    • Multiplayer Physics Medium
    • Max Software Sounds Medium
    • Particle Bouncing Medium
    • Shell Casings Off
    • World Detail Minimum
    • Corpse Detail Minimum
  • VIDEO CARD OPTIONS: EFFECTS
    • Effects Detail Medium
    • Model Decals Medium
    • Water Resolution Medium
    • Reflections & Displays Medium
    • Volumetric Lights Off
  • GRAPHICS
    • FSAA Off
    • Light Detail Minimum
    • Shadows Off
    • Texture Filtering Trilinear
    • Texture Resolution Medium
    • Videos Medium
    • Pixel Doubling Off
    • DX8 Shaders Off
    • Shaders Maximum

With these settings, I benchmarked:

  • Minimum FPS: 18
  • Average FPS: 28
  • Maximum FPS: 57
  • 31% of gameplay below 25 FPS
  • 66% of gameplay between 25 and 40 FPS
  • 3% of gameplay above 40 FPS

Ideal? No, but still very solid and very playable. F.E.A.R. is an extremely tweakable game, too, so I’d welcome any suggestions from people in the forums on what they run F.E.A.R. at on their Go 6150s. The game is also playable at 800×600 if you reduce most of the settings, but I felt these offered the best image quality. Your mileage may vary.

And just in case you were wondering what F.E.A.R. looked like at these settings:


640×480, but with pretty decent detail; the resolution is minimal but the settings are not. (view large image)

Disabling the shadows in F.E.A.R. does hurt, just like it did in Doom 3, but the game is still pretty attractive and plenty playable. Remember: the Go 6150 isn’t a gaming part, so getting performance like this out of it is impressive. Try getting it from a GMA 950.

I do want to make an odd point about F.E.A.R. though: don’t play the demo. Performance in the demo is roughly half what the retail game runs at. I don’t understand why they released such an awful demo, but it was what turned me off of the game for a while.

GUILD WARS

I picked up Guild Wars: Factions recently as my gateway into the Guild Wars world. While it’s my understanding that Nightfall is a bit more demanding, these numbers should be representative of Guild Wars: Factions and the original Guild Wars. For what it’s worth, I doubt Nightfall would require too much of a drop in detail.

I ran Guild Wars: Factions with the following settings:

  • 800×600
  • Terrain Quality Medium
  • Reflections Terrain and Sky
  • Texture Quality High
  • Shadows Medium
  • Shader Quality High
  • Post-Processing Effects

At these settings my framerate floated mainly between 25 and 35 fps. If you’d like to know how it looked, check this out:


800×600 with med-high details is not too shabby. The post-processing effect really improves the look of the game. (view large image)

This is another one of those oddballs where raising the shader setting improves performance instead of reducing it. I’d expect World of Warcraft to run at fairly similar settings if not even a little bit better. I’d test it, but I cancelled my account some time ago and kicked the habit.

As for how the game itself is, I’ll let you know. It’s definitely a nice change of pace from the high fantasy art style of World of Warcraft, opting to go for a more realistic art design while avoiding looking ugly like Oblivion, which honestly only really looks good if you turn the shaders up.

FAR CRY

Far Cry is a favorite of mine and in my opinion one of the best – if not THE best – shooters ever made, though most will agree it jumps the shark about 2/3 of the way through.

Intel swears up and down their GMA 950 will run Far Cry, which is a crock and a half. The Go 6150, on the other hand, acquits itself admirably. I game with these settings:

  • 800×600
  • Machine Spec Very High
  • Texture Quality Medium
  • Texture Filter Quality Trilinear
  • Anisotropic Filtering 1x
  • Particle Count Medium
  • Special Effects Quality Medium
  • Environment Quality Medium
  • Shadow Quality Low
  • Water Quality Ultra High
  • Lighting Quality Low

Obviously this isn’t as gorgeous as Far Cry CAN look, but it’s mighty good all things considered. I don’t have benchmark results for it, but it’s definitely very playable, as this screenshot attests:


Far Cry at 800×600 and medium detail isn’t ideal, but when you consider the fact that it’s running that well on integrated graphics, you can at least appreciate how far graphic hardware has come. (view large image)

I did set the water to Ultra High, but that’s because Far Cry has gorgeous water, and as you can see, it wasn’t a huge deal.

UNREAL TOURNAMENT 2004

Another classic, Unreal Tournament 2004 is one of the less demanding games on the market. Now three years old, it’s still a good-looking and popular game.

Unfortunately, driver support for it hasn’t aged well, at least on nVidia’s side. Performance hasn’t scaled well on new hardware, and the Go 6150 turns in a less than ideal performance.

Played with these settings, though, UT2004 is very playable:

  • 800×600
  • All details set to Normal
  • All switches enabled
  • Fog Distance set to maximum

It’s still a fun and attractive game:


Unreal Tournament 2004 at 800×600 isn’t ideal, but isn’t this what most of us were playing it at when it was released? (view large image)

The important thing to note is that the Go 6150’s performance is on par with the Radeon Xpress line, but also that it completely eclipses the GMA 950, which can’t even run it steadily, no matter how high or low you set it at.

OBLIVION

Ah. Oblivion, or as I like to call it, "Shader Hell." Finally a game that brings the mighty(?) Go 6150 to its knees. Indoors I earned a robust framerate averaging about lucky 13 even with everything turned all the way down.

Trying to figure out why what amounts to colored snot murders performance like it does. (view large image)

Yeah, not happening. I can only imagine what outdoor performance would be like, probably pushing a screaming 7 frames per second.

But I refuse to be beaten! Many of you have probably heard of Oldblivion (www.oldblivion.com), which modifies Oblivion to run on older hardware by running pre-2.0 shaders. Let’s see if that helps any.


Oldblivion: Well…it’s playable. (view large image)

Using the Oldblivion mod makes Oblivion playable on the Go 6150, but to do so, you’ll need to set run the mod’s Config and set it to Medium, then reduce all of the settings in the game to pretty much their minimum. Then you’ll average 22 fps looking like the screenshot (the 17 was an odd dip).

Of course, you can set Oldblivion to Low quality…


Yay! Low Quality! (view large image)

But then it just looks like washed out crap. Playable washed out crap, but still…washed out crap.

I don’t know what to tell you, kids. If you really want it to, Oblivion can run on the Go 6150, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Still, this exists as proof of concept. If you want Oblivion on the Go 6150, you can have it.

A BRIEF DISSERTATION ON CHANGING THE VIDEO RAM SETTING

On my father’s GeForce 6150 desktop, I experienced no performance difference at all changing the amount of allocated RAM in BIOS.

I elected to benchmark using Doom 3 and Unreal Tournament 2004 to determine if changing the video memory allocated resulted in any changes in performance.

The Doom 3 demo was run at 640×480 High Quality, Shadows disabled.

UMark ran Unreal Tournament 2004 at the settings listed above, using the map DM-Curse4 and eight bots.

  32MB 64MB 128MB
Doom 3 27.5 fps 27.6 fps 27.3 fps
UT 2004 42.9 fps 41.7 fps 45.9 fps

Well, I know I’m certainly impressed by what dedicating 128MB to the Go 6150 gets you. I mean, look at that huge performance delta.

I’d suspect this setting would be more relevant on machines with lower RAM, but my father’s 6150 was only equipped with two 256MB sticks and it didn’t matter there either.

I think a lot of this has to do with nVidia’s TurboCache technology, which I suspect just doesn’t care what you assign to the part and pretty much will take what it needs anyhow.

Still, this is food for thought.

CONCLUSION

It took a 7950GT and a 21" widescreen to get me to play Oblivion. Maybe the rest of you aren’t as picky.

When I bought my notebook, my shiny HP dv6258se Special Edition (with the white imprint finish and gorgeous silver keys), I was concerned about the Go 6150. My custom dv6000t with the Go 7400 got delayed and wasn’t arriving until after my coverage of the Game Developers Conference, and frankly, this laptop was hard to resist when I saw it in the store. Having enjoyed a honeymoon period with this gorgeous notebook, I’ll be sending the dv6000t back.

Look, I game on my desktop. I just want my notebook to game once in a great while. But beyond that…the Go 7400 is designed to game, however middling the quality. The Go 6150 has to fight tooth and nail to do what it does. Call me sentimental, but I’m partial to it. It’s fun to try and squeeze performance out of grossly limited hardware. I’m probably insane.

With all that said, the Go 6150 is a solid choice for the very casual gamer. It’ll run the games on the market and playably, so when you’re on business trips or killing time between classes, it’s pretty reliable. It’s not going to win any contests, and it’s pretty much capped at 800×600 for gaming performance, but it’s reliable.

And to think…if I hadn’t gone for this totally sweet looking notebook, I might never have realized what the Go 6150 could do if you whip it hard enough.

 

Notebooks under $1,000 that have the NVidia Go 6150 Card


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