Intel’s Vulkan support may be official, but it’s no CPU graphics performance panacea

Intel Vulkan support official

Intel have gotten off the beta fence and announced official support for the Vulkan API in their latest graphics driver update. This isn’t the first time Intel have dabbled with the Vulkan graphics API – they’ve been peddling beta graphics driver support since March last year, but it’s now being baked into their release software.

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You can grab the latest Intel graphics drivers from their support pages, though if you want to get your processor running the few Vulkan titles there are you need to make sure it’s either a Skylake or Kaby Lake CPU and that you’ve got a 64-bit version of Windows. Because of the way Intel have arranged their driver support, however, Intel are only officially supporting Kaby Lake on Windows 10, so you’ll need that in 64-bit trim while Skylake chips are covered on Windows 7, 8.1 and 10.

Vulkan is the direct successor to OpenGL, an open-source graphics API and the only real competitor to Microsoft’s DirectX. It builds on the work AMD undertook with their innovative Mantle API as well as the efforts of the wider Khronos Group around the next generation of OpenGL software.

Intel Vulkan performance

Like Mantle it’s a close-to-the-metal API which allows developers much closer access to the actual hardware inside the machines they’re running software on. The idea is to enable more console-like development on PC without the general OS overheads the DirectX abstraction layers traditionally placed between the devs and the hardware.

Vulkan’s Mantle derivation has worked brilliantly for AMD with supported games. Doom offers up to 35% extra gaming performance on Radeon cards compared with OpenGL. Nvidia haven’t fared so well, with the RX 480 delivering sometimes 50% extra performance when compared with the generally-equivalent GTX 1060.

Things don’t look so great for Intel either on first inspection. We’ve loaded up the latest Intel Vulkan drivers, them official ones, and have put our Kaby Lake Core i7 7700K under the spotlight to see what its HD Graphics 630 silicon makes of Doom.

Obviously using processor graphics you’re never going to be hitting crazy high frame rates at top settings, but considering pretty much every laptop that’s ever been Steamed in anger is rocking Intel graphics having any sort of gaming performance boost is going to be welcome. Despite Intel having been at this for a year though the fact there’s actually a performance drop when you switch Doom from rendering via OpenGL 4.3 to Vulkan 1.0.0 is pretty disappointing

At medium and low settings, without any anti-aliasing in place, 1080p performance drops by 7% and 720p frame rates are cut by 12-13%. To be fair it doesn’t really matter one jot what those percentage numbers are, at this level any drop in frame rate is significant enough to make switching to Vulkan pointless.

This is though a very quick test on just a single Vulkan title, but it is the biggest and one of only a handful around right now. On one hand that means Intel shouldn’t be too worried about not getting anything meaningful out of Vulkan in performance terms, but on the other it makes me wonder why they’ve decided to bring it out of beta now.

You might even say their current support for Vulkan is somewhat illogical. Captain.