Intel has launched the latest driver update for their integrated graphics. This update brings full support for Windows 8. HD 3000 graphics are found on Ultrabooks with second generation (aka Sandy Bridge) processors while HD 4000 graphics are found on newer Ultrabooks that use Intel’s third generation (aka Ivy Bridge) processors. In addition to some game-specific performance updates, Intel has also enabled 4k Ultra HD video output and OpenGL 4.0 for Ivy Bridge / HD 4000, as well as OpenCL 1.1 for Sandy Bridge / HD 3000. All Ultrabook users should update, even if your Ultrabook has discrete graphics!
If you know about Black Mesa, congratulations — you’re a gamer. This obscure fan-lead remake of Valve’s famous 1998 title Half-Life has long been shrouded in mystery. Going on 8 years of development, with the only mention of a release date being “when it’s done”, most thought Black Mesa would never see the light of day. However, earlier this month the official website for the remake began buzzing with hints of activity. To the delight of fans worldwide, Black Mesa has finally launched and is ready to let players relive the opening chapter of the Half-Life saga. The remake, which has completely rebuilt from the ground up, runs on Valve’s ‘Source’ game engine. What’s more, because it is a modification of Source, it has been released for free. Fortunately for Ultrabook users the powerful HD3000 or HD4000 graphics inside are quite capable of handling modern Source games with the right settings. In this video I’ll show you how to optimize your settings to play Black Mesa and other Source games on your Ultrabook.
Ultrabooks might not be able to play the latest blockbuster titles at max settings like a full blown liquid-cooled gaming desktop, but there’s still a heck of a lot of great titles that they can play. I’ve been using the Asus UX31E (Core i5 Sandy Bridge with Integrated HD3000 graphics) to happily play Minecraft, Tribes Ascend, Half-Life 2, Day of Defeat Source, Bit Trip Runner, League of Legends, Team Fortress 2, and plenty more. Having my Ultrabook running at peak performance means I get a competitive advantage and the most enjoyment thanks to my games running smoothly and responsively. This guide will tune up your Ultrabook to run at maximum performance and will benefit your graphical applications even if you aren’t a gamer!
Continuing my Ultrabook game-testing, I wanted to highlight a game that’s free-to-play and worth a shot if you’re a fan of strategy-based games rather than twitch-based first-person shooters. The game in question is League of Legends  which is a standalone game based on the immensely popular Defense of the Ancients mod which ran within Warcraft III  and began its rise to fame in 2003. This is a multiplayer action-RPG which is highly strategic and can take some time to master. In my testing on the UX31 with Core i5 CPU, HD 3000 graphics, and 4GB of RAM, League of Legends runs flawlessly.
Genuine Ultrabooks use integrated graphics which, while not as powerful as a ‘discrete’ GPU, allow the systems to be slim and power efficient. Even though the graphical capabilities of current Ultrabooks won’t satisfy those looking to play the latest blockbuster titles at full settings, there are still plenty of excellent games that will run perfectly on an Ultrabook. I’ve got six great games to share with you that will run great on your Ultrabook and offer hours of entertainment (all together hardly more expensive than a single blockbuster title!) For now, my recommendations and performance-evaluations are based on an Ultrabook using the current-gen HD3000 ‘GPU’ and Core i5 processor. Also note that your experience may vary depending upon the processor that your Ultrabook is equipped with (Core i3, i5, or i7), amount of RAM, whether or not you have up-to-date drivers, and your power settings (check back with us at UltrabookNews for a guide to optimizing your Ultrabook’s power configuration).
In 2012 we’ll see the next generation of Ultrabooks featuring the Ivy Bridge platform and integrated HD4000 graphics. Existing Ultrabooks utilize HD3000 graphics which aren’t adequate for recently released blockbuster games (see the ‘Gaming’ section of our Samsung Series 5 review). HD4000 graphics are going to be very welcomed as part of the next generation of Ultrabooks for both gaming and video encoding/decoding purposes. A benchmark from Intel comparing HD2000 and HD4000 graphics gives us an idea of how HD4000 will perform, even if we don’t have a direct comparison to HD3000 yet (note that the benchmark compares desktop processors, but the changes in performance from HD3000 to HD4000 are relevant).
At IDF Beijing 2012, Intel has a demo showing the Ivy Bridge / HD4000 platform running three taxing tasks across three separate monitors simultaneously. You’ll see video encoding, gaming (Portal 2), and HD video playback all at the same time. Quite impressively, the computer handles it with relative ease. NetbookNews shot a video of the demo in action: