For over 20 years, consumers usually had only two choices for discrete graphics cards: Nvidia and AMD. Although Intel started integrating capable graphics hardware into their processors in 2010, they have yet to release a discrete video card for either laptop or desktop applications.
However, this changed in 2021, when the company revealed its high-performance graphics line called Intel Arc. Intel calls its first-generation video card Alchemist and has slated it for launch in 2022.
So, let's look at what we know about it so far and learn why many people are excited about this new GPU.
1. Processor Technology
While Nvidia uses Ampere for its 3000-series video cards, and AMD's Radeon RX 6000-series uses RDNA2, Intel created the Xe-HPG microarchitecture for the Arc video card line. This new design uses Xe-cores, which combines 256-bit Vector Engines for traditional graphics workload with 1,024-bit Matrix Engines for AI processing.
The Xe-HPG GPU is compatible with Direct X 12 Ultimate and Vulkan. It also features a Ray Tracing Unit fully compatible with DirectX Raytracing and Vulkan RT. This ensures that Intel's new GPU will work with the latest gaming tech upon release.
The Xe-HPG microarchitecture design is highly scalable, allowing Intel to manufacture different configurations—from highly-efficient low power chips to high-powered enthusiast-level designs. This will enable Intel to create various cards from the same microarchitecture, signaling the possibility of having low-end, mid-range, and top-level Intel Arc GPUs available for different budgets.
2. Deep Link Acceleration
While AMD offers the Smart Access Memory feature for systems that use both AMD Ryzen 5000 processors and AMD Radeon RX 6000 graphics cards, Intel plans to offer so much more than just memory sharing.
One of the advantages of Intel's Deep Link technology is Hyper Encode, where it uses both the Intel processor's already capable integrated GPU with the discrete Intel Arc graphics card to render frames. It's also capable of using the AI technology of both the processor and the GPU to process both video and image workloads.
Deep Link also lets the system route power between the CPU and GPU intelligently, boosting performance by delivering energy where it is needed. So whether you're playing a GPU-intensive game or maximizing your processor compiling code, your system will get the power where it needs it. This results in better battery efficiency, allowing you to use your laptop for longer.
3. Super Sampling
Like Nvidia's DLSS and AMD's FidelityFX, Intel Arc has XeSS to enhance output resolution while still keeping gaming performance. This allows users to upscale content rendered at 1080p to 4K resolution without negatively impacting their frame rates.
This technology is already supported in many games, including Hitman III and The Rift Breaker, with several more on the way. It's also supported by several game studios, including PUBG Studios and Ubisoft.
XeSS uses a neural network to deliver impressive upscaled image quality, with almost the same level as native 4K resolution. This network gathers subpixel data from nearby pixels and previous frames to provide the best possible output.
4. Wide Game Support
It is pointless to release a high-performance graphics card geared towards gamers if the latest AAA titles don't support it. That's why Intel has been working closely with game developers to ensure that their cards can run these games at the best possible quality.
As of January 2022, these are the titles confirmed to be compatible on launch:
- Hitman III
- The Rift Breaker
- Super People
- Grid Legends
- Death Stranding: Director's Cut
They're also working with several studios, including 505 Games, Codemasters, Exor Studios, Fishlabs, Hashbane, IO Interactive, IllFonic, Kojima Productions, Massive Work Studio, PUBG Studios, Techland, Ubisoft, and Wonder People.
5. Future Developments
Intel showed that it's committed to developing its discrete graphics card technology by announcing its developmental roadmap. It is currently working on the Alchemist series GPU, which will be released in 2022.
However, it has also announced it is working on later generations, including Battlemage, Celestial, and Druid. Knowing that GPUs are announced annually or bi-annually, these cards could mean that Intel already has chips in development until 2028.
6. Leaked Benchmarks
While Intel hasn't shown any official benchmarks, there already seems to be some indications of its performance in the wild. Twitter user APISAK shared a screenshot of benchmark results for Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation.
What's remarkable about this is that it shows an Intel Xe Graphics GPU matched to a 12th-Gen Intel Core i9-12900K with 32GB RAM. Since this is a desktop chip that uses an Intel UHD 770 integrated graphics, this is a definite sign that someone at Intel is testing out the capabilities of the new GPU.
7. Launch Date
In 2021, during Intel's initial Arc announcement, it had a targeted delivery date of the first quarter of 2022. However, recent press releases no longer include "first quarter," so rumors abound that it'll probably miss this date. This could probably be due to chip shortages brought about by the global supply chain crisis, especially now that the Covid-19 Omicron variant is sweeping the world.
Nevertheless, Intel's VP and GM for the Visual Compute Group, Lisa Pearce, announced that it's now shipping its Intel Arc discrete GPUs to partner OEM manufacturers for 12th-gen Intel Core processors. She even showed some models featuring both Intel CPUs and GPU, including the Alienware X17 and Lenovo Yoga.
With this announcement, the onus to release the GPU is on the respective manufacturers. After all, there is no news on whether Intel will sell the GPU as a standalone unit like Nvidia's Founder's Edition cards.
A Worthy Competitor
Intel's entry into the discrete GPU market will undoubtedly shake up the industry. With Nvidia holding at least 80 percent market share, with the rest going to AMD, many are hoping that this new line of GPUs will allow for better competition, resulting in better-performing video cards at lower prices.
As of now, everyone is holding their breath for the first Intel Arc Alchemist GPU. Once it becomes available, there will be a ton of reviewers benchmarking this video card to see how it compares against Nvidia and AMD's offerings.
We hope it does well, so it pushes innovation in the CPU and GPU market in the years to come.