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Intel’s first discrete GPUs won't be a home run

High-end Arc A750 will compete with *checks notes* a GeForce RTX 3060

Comment As Intel's first wave of discrete Arc GPUs slowly make it out into the wild, the chipmaker is making clear that its latest attempt in the graphics market won't challenge the best from Nvidia or AMD.

The semiconductor giant signaled this on Friday when it said one of its upcoming flagship graphics cards for desktops, the A750, will provide slightly better performance than one of Nvidia's low-end cards with hardware-based real-time ray tracing, the GeForce RTX 3060, across select games.

What's important to note is that the A750 is part of the high-end Intel Arc 7 graphics lineup, which is complemented by Intel Arc 5 in the mid-range and Intel Arc 3 at the lowest performance tier. The GeForce RTX 3060, on the other hand, is one of Nvidia's lower-end RTX 30 cards, below seven more powerful options, including top-tier GeForce RTX 3090 Ti.

While Intel has not revealed its full range of desktop graphics cards yet, the fact that it's putting one of its flagship cards head-to-head with a budget option from a competitor means we likely won't see Intel competing with Nvidia's cream-of-the-crop GPUs like the GeForce RTX 3080 this year.

Instead, we can expect this year's batch of Intel Arc graphics cards to compete with products roughly in the realm of the GeForce RTX 3060 and AMD's Radeon RX 6600 or lower. For Nvidia, there is only one other RTX 30 series card with ray tracing capabilities: the GeForce RTX 3050.

Intel abandons discrete graphics


Was it fair to expect Intel to knock it out of the park with its first line of Arc GPUs? On one hand, this is Intel's first attempt at making discrete GPUs in many, many years and building leadership can take time. On the other, Intel is also in the process of developing Ponte Vecchio, a datacenter GPU for high-performance computing and AI workloads that is set to go into one of the world's faster supercomputers this year.

Regardless of expectations, there is a potential silver lining: Intel is at least creating some competition for Nvidia and AMD in the lower performance range.

As one reader pointed out, the 3060 is the most-used GPU in Nvidia’s RTX 30 series, according to Steam’s monthly hardware survey, and one of the cheapest, which means the A750 could end up selling well enough if its price is right and performance holds up across multiple games. Not everyone needs the highest-end silicon for entertainment.

The addition of a third GPU vendor will also be a welcome sight after the semiconductor industry experienced more than two years of shortages. Though there is the question of whether Intel Arc GPUs are arriving at the wrong part of the cycle, given that there is now a glut of graphics chips in the market.

In Intel's Friday video update, marketer Ryan Shrout showed that the A750 can provide an average of 60 frames per second in Cyberpunk 2077 on high settings at a 1440p resolution. He said this is 15 percent higher than what Nvidia's GeForce RTX 3060 is capable of.

Shrout gave a few other examples where the A750 can run games faster than the GeForce RTX 3060 at high settings at a 1440p resolution: 17 percent faster for F1 2021, 14 percent faster for Control, 13 percent faster for Borderlands 3, and 6 percent faster for Fortnite

The Intel marketer noted, however, that these games have benefited from Intel's software engineering efforts, which means that other games may not show the same results.

This first generation of Intel Arc graphics, collectively known as the A-Series, comes with several features, such as hardware-based ray tracing, hardware-based AV1 encoding and decoding, and an AI-powered image upscaling technology called XeSS.

If Intel can enable a larger set of games to take advantage of its graphics architecture, the company's latest discrete GPUs may be worthwhile for those who aren't looking to spend a lot of money on a PC — as long as they are competitively priced. But those decisions shouldn't be made until independent reviews and benchmarks can provide a better picture of overall performance and reliability.

It may take a little while longer to get your hands on a graphics card from Intel or one of its board partners. After all, the company has experienced delays in rolling out its laptop and desktop GPUs due to software issues and COVID lockdowns in China.

Some laptops with low-end Intel Arc GPUs are now available in the West, and Intel's first Arc graphics card for desktops, the low-end A380, arrived in China last month. As for the rest of the world, the company said in May that Intel Arc 5 and Intel 7 graphics cards will start to arrive later this summer while laptops with those GPUs were expected to hit earlier in the season.

If you're hoping to see faster GPUs from Intel, we suggest waiting for the x86 giant's next two generations of Arc GPUs to see what progress the company can make. The second generation of Arc GPUs, code-named Battlemage, is expected to arrive in 2023 and 2024 while the third generation of graphics chips, known under the Celestial code name, will hit the market in 2024 and beyond. ®

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