Intel has announced its new Intel Arc brand for discrete high-performance consumer GPUs, as well as companion software and services, aimed largely at gamers. The first models for both desktops and laptops will be launched in 2022. Moreover, the company has disclosed the first of its genre-themed codenames that refer to upcoming products. ‘Alchemist’, formerly known as DG2, will be based on the Xe HPG architecture, and will launch in early 2022. The series will progress alphabetically, with Battlemage, Celestial, and Druid to follow. The company will kick off a marketing campaign that includes promotional videos, sneak peeks, and branded merchandise available through Intel’s website.
Intel has previously confirmed that Xe HPG will support hardware ray tracing and GDDR6 memory. GPUs will be manufactured by a third-party foundry. The new promo videos show demonstrations of variable rate shading, mesh shading, video upscaling, and AI-accelerated game supersampling. Gameplay demos included Forza Horizon 4, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Psychonauts 2, Riftbreaker, Crysis Remastered, Metro Exodus, though details of the test environment and settings used were not immediately available.
Intel has been working on graphics for several years now, and had previously promised to ship discrete GPUs by 2020. It will take on Nvidia and AMD, which have enjoyed a duopoly until now, although the GPU market has been shaken up of late by huge demand from cryptocurrency miners, as well as a global microprocessor manufacturing shortage driving prices up. No specifications or prices have been announced yet, and it is also not yet known how many models there will be in each generation, or which segments of gamers Intel will target. Intel has also not yet named retail graphics card vendor partners or OEM brands that will ship laptops and PCs with these GPUs.
The company hired AMD’s former Radeon graphics chief Raja Koduri and several other high-profile industry names. The Xe architecture and branding is intended to scale right from integrated GPUs to datacentres and high-performance exascale computing implementations.
At CES 2020, Intel showed off its DG1 demo card, which was circulated only to developers. The Iris Xe Max discrete GPU for notebooks was launched in late 2020, and the Xe architecture has also been used for integrated GPUs across some recent Intel Core CPUs.
Intel recognises that there are over three billion gamers worldwide, many of whom are also power users, content creators and multitaskers. Over one billion hours of gaming content were published to YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, and other platforms, and over 28 billion hours of that was watched last year.
The first Arc cards will be a follow-up of sorts to DG1—a card released only to system builders—which performs a lot like the GDDR5 version of Nvidia’s aging, low-end GeForce GTX 1030. We don’t have spec sheets for any of the Alchemist-based Arc cards yet, but the trailer Intel showed confirmed support for modern GPU features like real-time ray tracing and “AI Accelerated Super Sampling” that will compete with Nvidia’s DLSS and AMD’s FidelityFX upscaling technologies. The trailer also showed Arc silicon running real (if somewhat older) games like Forza Horizon 4 and Metro Exodus.
To demonstrate its commitment to the discrete GPU market, Intel announced several more GPU codenames that will succeed Alchemist in the coming years, including “Battlemage,” “Celestial,” and “Druid” (note both the alphabetical order and the high-fantasy theme).
Arc will represent Intel’s first serious run at the gaming GPU market, but the company isn’t starting from zero. The company has decades of experience in writing and updating graphics drivers, and it is in the habit of releasing both “stable” driver packages and beta drivers with improvements for specific games, much like AMD and Nvidia already do. And while it doesn’t blow the doors off of AMD’s integrated GPUs in its Ryzen APUs, the Intel Iris Xe graphics in 11th-generation Core laptops can actually run many games at 1080p or 720p.
We don’t know anything about performance, pricing, or availability for any Arc cards yet, but if the current GPU shortage extends into early 2022, it will present a unique opportunity for Intel—gamers desperate to get their hands on any reasonably competent GPU will be more inclined to take a chance on an Intel card than they might otherwise be. Even relatively lackluster cards like Nvidia’s RTX 3060 and AMD’s 6600 XT have been quick to sell out in the current market, so as long as Alchemist doesn’t set your computer on fire, it stands a reasonable chance of success