Nvidia 7150M Integrated Graphics Card Review

by Dustin Sklavos Reads (272,264)

INTRODUCTION

Eight months ago I wrote an article detailing the kind of performance a person can expect from the at-that-time leading integrated graphics performer, the Nvidia GeForce Go 6150. Here was a part that helped recommend an AMD-based notebook as a viable alternative for users that didn’t want to make the sacrifice that an Intel-based notebook with the miserable GMA 950 would require.

Now, of course, no one is going to argue that the serious gamer should probably just ignore integrated graphics parts entirely. But the past eight months have seen real improvement to this part of the market, with all three of the big dogs releasing refreshes. Intel released their GMA X3100, AMD released their Radeon Xpress 1200 line, and nVidia was the last to the party with their GeForce 7150M. The first two of these refreshes offered bold new technology previously unheard of in integrated graphics: Intel’s GMA X3100 jettisoned the pipeline-based design of last generation’s desktop hardware in favor of using eight unified shader units, while AMD’s Radeon Xpress 1200 parts feature four pipelines heretofore unheard of in integrated graphics outside of Intel’s lamentably slow GMA 950.

While integrated graphics are still the bottom of the performance food chain, the know-it-all geeks who claim "IGPs are horrible!" should probably listen close. We’re not living in the hideous era of the Intel Extreme Graphics anymore; these bad boys have evolved to have enough horsepower to run Unreal Tournament III playably.

nVidia’s GeForce 7150M, however, looks suspiciously similar to their old Go 6150. It has the same shader and pipeline counts, same core clocks … basically feature-identical to the Go 6150. Yet this part is the one you’re most likely to see in an AMD based notebook, at least if you buy HP like I do. (Disclaimer: That’s not a plug, I’m not getting paid, I just like their notebooks and retail presence. Personal preference.) So with the jumps in performance from parts by AMD and Intel, what’s the deal with nVidia?

EVOLUTION OF AN IGP

If you compare nVidia’s Go 6150 and 7150M on paper, they look identical. 425MHz core clock, two pixel pipelines, one vertex shader. But the modern technophile has gotten so hung up on the numbers game that they miss one very important detail: all chips are not created equal.

nVidia’s new IGP is a much better performer than it might appear on paper – especially when compared to its predecessor – and the reason for this is a simple one: the Go 6150’s graphics core was based on the technology nVidia used in their desktop 6 series cards. The 7150M, on the other hand, is based on the technology they used for their 7 series, which was a sharp refinement of the 6 series. Most of the technology is very similar, but much like a Pentium III evolved into a Pentium M, so the 6150 has evolved into the 7150, and the performance per clock makes a jump.

In this review, you’ll see the results of the refinements made to the core of the 7150M, and they might surprise you.

CAVEATS OF AN IGP

No matter how much you refine an IGP, there are still certain caveats that seem to pop up, and the 7150M is no different.

I’m not going to pretend to understand the intricacies of graphics hardware engineering; what I can tell you is that in my experience, complex shadows and lighting are the quickest way to turn a game unplayable on an IGP. This has been my experience across the board with every game I’ve played on the 7150M, the Go 6150, and the desktop Radeon X1250. Complex shadows and lighting and Kryptonite for the modern IGP.

I would also be remiss to point out that while my experiences with the 7150M have overall been positive, its achilles heel for me has been a big one: in my test notebook, I’ve been unable to update the drivers; the ones on HP’s site are the ONLY ones I can use. Every other driver will at best just not install (yes, I tried modified ones from laptopvideo2go), and at worst blue screen and FUBAR your Windows Vista install. If you’re running your 7150M in Vista, you may find Aero Glass performance to be pretty choppy like I did, and I haven’t been able to find any solution to it. While I’m sure it will be resolved at some point, I spend more time in Aero Glass than I do in Doom 3 and for me, it’s a dealbreaker. Your mileage may vary.

TEST SETUP

First of all, while this article is chiefly comparing the GeForce 7150M to the GeForce Go 6150, there are a couple caveats.

ORIGINAL GO 6150 SYSTEM:

  • HP Pavilion dv6258se
  • AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-56 (1.8 GHz, 2x 512k L2 Cache)
  • 2GB DDR2-667 RAM
  • 120GB Seagate Momentus 5400.3 Hard Disk
  • 1280×800 WXGA Glossy Screen
  • Windows XP Professional SP2 with Dual Core Hotfix

GEFORCE GO 6150 Configuration…

  • 128MB VRAM set in BIOS
  • ForceWare 84.66 (laptopvideo2go)
  • Set to Performance

Unfortunately, I no longer have this unit on hand, so the older benchmarks will have to be used.

GEFORCE 7150M SYSTEM:

  • HP Pavilion dv2610us
  • AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-58 (1.9 GHz, 2x 512k L2 Cache)
  • 2GB DDR2-667 RAM
  • 160GB Hitachi TravelStar Hard Disk (5400rpm)
  • 1280×800 WXGA Glossy Screen
  • Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit

GEFORCE 7150M Configuration…

  • 128MB VRAM set in BIOS
  • ForceWare 156.65
  • Set to Performance

The driver and CPU differences aren’t a huge deal; the major concern is likely going from Windows XP to Windows Vista. Most will probably agree that this should actually handicap the newer part, but it’s my experience that Vista graphics performance – especially with nVidia hardware – is now virtually indistinguishable from XP performance. For what it’s worth, I’m actually personally using Vista Ultimate on my home desktop. I’m assuming some of you have seen my hate-filled vitriolic reviews of Windows Vista in the past, but the operating system has actually shaped up pretty well over the past few months and I’m willing to eat crow on it. So I’m hoping you’ll trust me when I tell you the performance difference on a well-equipped machine is like night and … uh … night, and that these notebooks are very comparable.

In addition to the games I tested in my previous article, I’ve included brief performance information from a couple new games just for the 7150M. I’ve also omitted Oblivion; Oblivion performance on the Go 6150 was so atrocious that even if the 7150M was twice as fast – which it’s not – Oblivion STILL wouldn’t run remotely well. I pick my battles; this one isn’t worth fighting.

DOOM 3

nVidia’s integrated graphics hardware remain the only integrated graphics hardware that will run Doom 3 out of the box, requiring only one tweak to an in-game setting to achieve playable framerates.

The game itself has come along in the years, but still knows how to punish cheap hardware. In my next review I’ll probably retire it in favor of Quake 4, though, which is both a better and more complex-looking game.

I used Doom 3’s built-in timedemo and always used the second run. The first run always nets lower results as the demo itself loads from the hard drive as you run it; everything’s already in memory on the second run.


Doom 3 at its best on the 7150M. (view large image)

All benchmarks were run with shadows disabled.

Setting Go 6150 7150m
640×480 Low Quality 31fps 36fps
640×480 High Quality 27.3fps 33.8fps
800×600 Low Quality 22.1fps 26.1fps
800×600 High Quality   24.6fps

While the 7150M still can’t run playably at 1024×768, it nonetheless runs much more smoothly than the 6150 did.

I also benched the game at 640×480 Low Quality and with shadows enabled with a result of 22.4 fps. While it’s mildly playable at that setting, I really don’t encourage it. The 6150’s 22.1 fps at 800×600 Low Quality actually ran much smoother; with shadows enabled the framerate swings much more wildly.

F.E.A.R.

Though it still doesn’t look "quite" as good as more modern games, it still punishes hardware with the best of them.

All benches were run at the following settings:

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


F.E.A.R. on the 7150M, now able to run with Volumetric Lighting enabled. (view large image)

Here’s how the cards panned out using F.E.A.R.’s built in test…

Card Min FPS Avg. FPS Max. FPS
Go 6150 @ 640×480 18 28 57
7150M @ 640×480 20 37 69
7150M @ 640×480* 14 34 70
7150M @ 800×600 12 25 47

(* With Volumetric Lighting enabled and set at minimum.)

If you tweak the settings a little, you can get it nice and smooth at 800×600, but the game is still unplayable with shadows enabled. Apples-to-apples, the 7150M is consistently much smoother than the Go 6150 at 640×480.

GUILD WARS: FACTIONS


Guild Wars: Factions, better than ever on the IGP. (view large image)

Here’s where I started to see really big gains from the Go 6150. While the Go 6150 was at its best running at 800×600 medium detail, the 7150M can actually run maxed out at 1024×768 with the same framerates. If you’re willing to turn a LOT of stuff down, you can get it playable at 1280×800 as well, but I found it to run a bit too haltingly for my tastes.

While I cancelled my WoW account a long time ago, I’d expect similar performance out of that game. Dedicated WoWers should be just fine on the 7150M.

FAR CRY


Far Cry jumps a resolution AND raises settings. (view large image)

Far Cry is another big success story for the 7150M. Here are the settings for virtually identical framerates between the two IGPs:

Setting Go 6150 7150m
Resolution 800×600 1024×768
Machine Spec Very High Very High
Texture Quality Medium Medium
Filter Quality Trilinear Trilinear
Anisotropy 1x 1x
Particle Count Medium High
Special Effects Medium High
Environment Medium Medium
Shadow Quality Low Low
Water Quality Ultra High Ultra High
Lighting Quality Low Low

If you’re willing to tank most of the settings, you can get up to 1280×800, but I find these settings at 1024×768 to be a great compromise. At this point, it’s actually running nearly as well as it did on my old 128MB Mobility Radeon X600. Impressive!

UNREAL TOURNAMENT 2004


A classic runs nicely on the 7150M. (view large image)

Seeing a pattern with these improvements? UT2004 went from being "meh" in performance on the Go 6150 to a bonafide joy on the 7150M. With settings at medium, the 7150M achieves the same framerates at 1024×768 that the Go 6150 did at 800×600. The 7150M can even run the game pretty playably, if a little bit choppy, at 1280×800 with low settings.

UNREAL TOURNAMENT III


It ain’t pretty, but it goes! (view large image)

Unreal Tournament III was, for me, a big disappointment. It offered little in the way of change from the previous games and felt just a little too "safe." That said, you can’t really complain if a game stays "good."

I thought it might be able to run on the 7150M; the game scales ridiculously well, pushing 1024×640 medium quality smoothly even on a 128MB GeForce 8400M G, the lowliest of modern dedicated cards.

With everything set to its lowest setting except for screen percentage which is set at 70, Unreal Tournament III runs smoothly on the 7150M. I’m not so sure the Go 6150 would even be able to handle this at all.

HELLGATE: LONDON


The 7150M starts to lose steam here, but I’m not sure who to blame. (view large image)

I’m not a huge fan of this one either, but I seem to be in the minority. For those of you that MUST get your fix, the 7150M will be serviceable, but I had to turn everything all the way down and unfortunately, the lowest resolution the game would let me run at was 1280×720 which really doesn’t do the 7150M any favors.

This test was run using the demo; on my desktop the full version went down to 1024×768, which the 7150M should be able to run just fine. Still, this one is really on the cusp.

HALF-LIFE 2: LOST COAST


The ordinarily scalable Source engine delivers some punishment. (view large image)

I ran Half-Life 2: Lost Coast’s video stress test, as I figured it would be a pretty good estimate of the kind of performance to expect from the battery of games in the very popular Orange Box. I found the stress test ran best at 800×600 low/medium settings with no HDR or bloom, but your mileage may vary when running the other games in the series.

Half-Life 2, for example, actually scaled up to 1280×800 low settings on my old Go 6150, so I’d expect 1280×800 medium/high on the 7150M.

CONCLUSION

The 7150M obviously isn’t going to be mistaken for a gamer’s card, but I hope that if I’ve proved nothing else, modern games can be playable on the 7150M. Sure, you aren’t going to run behemoths like Crysis or Oblivion, but many modern games will still run playably on the 7150M just fine, and older ones will run with aplomb.

So if you’re one of those people that pops up in the IGP threads on the forums to just randomly deride integrated graphics parts instead of offering something constructive (and you know who you are), I hope I’ve given you enough to chew on that you’ll be able to stop talking. For the casual gamer, the modern IGP is surprisingly plenty.

Now to tackle the GMA X3100 …


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