Not to be melodramatic, today could be one of the most important days in PC gaming history. Intel is launching its first batch of Arc GPUs today, adding a third major contender to a market that has been dominated by Nvidia and AMD (or ATI, back then) for as long as anyone can remember.
The only question now is whether Intel’s discrete GPUs are any good.
I’ll warn you right away that Intel hasn’t made any harsh comparisons with its competitors; For these we have to wait for real benchmarks. Still, there’s a lot to unpack here. Technology enthusiasts can officially read through Intel Noticebut we’ve summarized the most important things you should know.
So can I buy an Intel GPU and put it in my desktop now?
Not quite yet. Intel is slowly introducing its Arc family of GPUs, 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 aim for higher resolutions , frame rates and effects.
As of today, only Arc 3 chips are available, with devices from Samsung, Asus, Dell, Lenovo, HP, Acer and more. The first Arc 3 models are divided into the Arc 350M and Arc 370M variants, the latter being more powerful.
Arc 5 and Arc 7 laptops will launch “early summer,” while desktop and workstation GPUs will launch “this summer.” Sigh.
What do Intel’s Arc chips do differently than AMD and Nvidia?
The most notable technology on offer might be what Intel calls its AI engines “Xe Matrix Extensions” (XMX), which live alongside traditional GPU vector engines in each of Intel’s Xe graphics cores. Intel claims that its XMX engines “provide a 16x increase in processing power to perform AI inference operations compared to traditional GPU vector units.”
That’s a bit of gibberish, but it basically means that Intel’s XMX technology should be much more efficient at solving AI operations than typical GPUs, assuming optimal implementation.
How much improvement that means in the real world remains to be seen, but Intel is making a lot of use of Arc’s ability to combine traditional graphics performance with AI enhancement.
To that end, Arc GPUs will support Intel’s take on AI-based upscaling 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 output a result much closer to native 4K.
Unsurprisingly, Intel implies that its version of AI upscaling is more efficient than the competition because its XMX cores are so efficient, but we’ll have to wait for some head-to-head comparisons to see if that holds up.
But the beauty of XeSS is that this is not the case only work with Intel’s GPUs. Although it’s most efficient with XMX, it can actually work with many of the current competing GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, as well as Intel’s less powerful Iris graphics, using older DP4a technology.
Unfortunately, like DLSS, it requires game developers to come on board 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 CPUs and integrated graphics to deliver significant performance gains across various workloads:
- Dynamic Power Share can increase performance by up to 30% on intensive workloads by rapidly adjusting the power consumption of each processor to meet an application’s needs.
- Hyper Encode can reduce render time by up to 60% “compared to Iris Xe graphics alone” by leveraging the media engines of both your onboard graphics and your dedicated graphics.
- Hyper Compute delivers up to 24% faster performance on “a variety of new workloads” by combining the compute and AI capabilities of the CPU, integrated Iris graphics, and dedicated Arc graphics all at once.
Other features are:
- 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 screen tearing while maintaining low latency.
- Smooth Sync helps to essentially minimize tearing, making it look less choppy.
- Support for two 8K displays at 60 Hz or four 4K displays at 120 Hz.
- 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.
Okay, but do we have any idea how it compares to Nvidia and AMD GPUs?
Unfortunately, it’s still too early to tell. Intel’s Arc briefing didn’t include any direct comparisons to its rivals, only the proprietary Iris Xe integrated graphics. It shows significant improvements as you can see in the table below, but that’s obviously to be expected when moving from integrated graphics to a dedicated chipset.
Based on target power consumption and execution units, the Arc 350M seems to be competitive with GPUs like Nvidia’s MX500 series, while the Arc 370M appears 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 gain an advantage in some situations, while a lack of optimization could give Nvidia the lead in others.
What does this mean for the tech industry?
Regardless, the most exciting thing about this launch is the fact that we even have any real competition from Nvidia and AMD, let alone from such a big player. This is especially important for laptops, where Intel is (theoretically) able to have its CPU, integrated GPU, and external GPU coexist 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 game will be more relevant to the mobile market.
There’s a very real possibility that Arc could lead to more adoption of dedicated graphics in lighter and 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 at this performance class. While gaming laptops with powerful GPUs are a dime a dozen, there has traditionally been a massive performance gap between mainstream lightweight laptops and these gaming models.
AMD has tried to fill some of that gap, but Intel’s market dominance will likely help the company target more devices with Arc graphics. The first Arc-enabled devices start at $899, suggesting that discrete graphics cards will be much more common in laptops soon.
One thing is for sure: the GPU industry has never been so exciting.