Without wishing to be melodramatic, today could be one of the most important days in the history of PC gaming. Intel is launching its first batch of Arc GPUs today, adding a third major competitor to a market that has been dominated by Nvidia and AMD (or ATI, at the time) for as long as many gamers and creators can remember.
Now the question is whether Intel’s discrete GPUs are any good.
I will go on and warn you right now that Intel has not provided any concrete comparison with its competitors; we’ll have to wait for actual references for those. Still, there’s a lot to unpack here. Technical connoisseurs can go read Intel’s official announcementbut we’ve summarized the main things you need to know.
So can I buy an Intel GPU and stick it on my desk now?
Not quite yet. Intel is slowly rolling out its Arc GPU family, starting with entry-level units designed for mainstream laptops.
So far, Intel divides its GPUs into three tiers: Arc 3, Arc 5, and Arc 7. Arc 3 is aimed at thin and light laptops and focuses on delivering a solid 1080p experience, while Arc 5 and Arc 7 targets higher resolutions, frame rates and effects.
Only Arc 3 chips are available starting today, with devices from Samsung, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, HP, Acer, and more. Early Arc 3 models are split into Arc 350M and Arc 370M variants, the latter being more powerful.
Arc 5 and Arc 7 powered laptops will start appearing in “early summer”, while desktop and workstation GPUs will arrive “this summer”. Sighs.
What do Intel’s Arc chips do differently than AMD and Nvidia?
Perhaps the most notable technology on offer may be what Intel calls its Xe Matrix Extentions (XMX) artificial intelligence engines, which sit alongside traditional GPU vector engines in each of Intel’s Xe graphics cores. Intel claims that its XMX engines “provide a 16x increase in computational capacity to perform AI inference operations compared to traditional GPU vector units.”
It’s a bit of gibberish, but it basically means that Intel’s XMX technology should be much better at solving AI operations than typical GPUs, assuming an optimal implementation.
How much of an improvement translates to the real world remains to be seen, but Intel makes a big deal out of Arc’s ability to combine traditional graphics performance with improved AI.
To that end, Arc GPUs will support Intel’s take on AI-based scaling called XeSS. Like Nvidia’s DLSS and AMD’s FSR, XeSS would allow your GPU to render graphics at a lower resolution – say 1080P – but produce a result much closer to native 4K.
Unsurprisingly, Intel is hinting that because its XMX cores are so efficient, its version of AI scaling is more efficient than the competition, but we’ll have to wait for direct comparisons to see if that holds up. .
But the nice thing about XeSS is that it doesn’t only works with Intel GPUs. While more efficient with XMX, it can actually work with many current competing GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, as well as Intel’s less powerful Iris graphics, taking advantage of older DP4a technology. .
Unfortunately, much like DLSS, game developers have to get involved to support the technology. Intel says there will be more than 20 games supporting the technology when XeSS becomes available this summer.
What else can Arc do?
AI improvements aside, Intel says its Deep Link technology will allow Arc GPUs to work more seamlessly with its processors and integrated graphics to enable significant performance gains on various workloads:
- Dynamic Power Share can increase performance by up to 30% in intensive workloads by quickly adjusting the power consumption of each processor based on an application’s needs.
- ‘Hyper Encode’ can reduce rendering time by up to 60% “compared to Iris Xe graphics alone” by taking advantage of the multimedia engines of your integrated graphics and your dedicated graphics.
- “Hyper Compute” delivers up to 24% better performance in “a variety of new workloads” by simultaneously combining processor compute and AI capabilities, integrated Iris graphics, and dedicated Arc graphics.
Other features include:
- Supper for DirectX 12 Ultimate including ray tracing, variable rate shading, mesh shading and sampler feedback.
- Hardware-accelerated AV1 encoding and decoding.
- Adaptive Sync and Speed Sync help eliminate tearing while maintaining low latency.
- Smooth Sync helps minimize tearing giving it a less choppy look.
- Support for two 8K displays at 60Hz or four 4K displays at 120Hz.
- Intel’s Arc Control app mimics Nvidia’s GeForce Experience and AMD’s Radeon software as an all-in-one hub for viewing the latest drivers and adjusting settings.
Ok, but do we have any idea of the comparison with Nvidia and AMD GPUs?
Unfortunately, it is simply too early to tell. Intel’s Arc briefing didn’t include direct comparisons to competitors, only to the company’s Iris Xe integrated graphics. It shows significant improvements, as you can see in the table below, but this is obviously expected when moving from an integrated graphics card to a dedicated chipset.
Based on targeted power consumption and execution units, the Arc 350M seems be competitive with GPUs like Nvidia’s MX500 series, while the Arc 370M seems to be competitive with a mobile RTX 3050. But again, the proof is in the pudding. Intel’s XeSS and Deep Link technologies can help give it an edge in some situations, while the lack of optimization could give Nvidia the lead in others.
What does this mean for the tech industry?
Anyway, the most exciting thing about this launch is the fact that we have real competition with Nvidia and AMD, not to mention such a big player. This is especially important for laptops, where Intel has the advantage of being able (theoretically) to coexist its CPU, integrated GPU and external GPU as efficiently as possible while minimizing power consumption.
While many of us are still eagerly awaiting what Intel will do in the desktop graphics market, it’s likely that Intel’s play in the mobile market will have wider consequences.
There’s a very real possibility that Arc could lead to a wider proliferation of dedicated graphics in lighter, more affordable laptops, especially as competition leads to better performance.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Intel’s Arc launch is how many manufacturers have already signed up to take advantage of the new graphics chipset, especially in this performance category. While gaming laptops with powerful GPUs are a dime a dozen, there’s traditionally been a huge performance gap between traditional lightweight laptops and these gaming models.
AMD has tried to fill some of this gap, but Intel’s market dominance will likely help the company push for more devices with Arc graphics. The first Arc-enabled devices will start at $899, suggesting that discrete graphics in laptops are about to become much more mainstream.
One thing is certain: the GPU industry has never been so exciting.