In the midst of two GPU juggernauts hyping up their new releases, a less prominent name in the field is attempting to enter the fray. Intel is hoping to finally be competitive in the GPU market with its Intel Xe lineup.
The rivalry between AMD and NVIDIA is heating up again after years of NVIDIA dominance. However, things appear to be on far more equal footing following the releases of their next-gen graphics cards.
All of this provides a perfect storm for Intel to enter the market. Let’s see how the Intel Arc Alchemist (previously Intel Xe) will fare in performance and price.
Let’s get right into it!
- November 29, 2021: Added bit more information on future Intel Arc generations.
- November 22, 2021: Added new benchmark leak of the 512 EU SKU.
- November 16, 2021: Further grammar optimizations.
- November 15, 2021: Added new Intel Arc Alchemist GPU and PCB images.
- November 11, 2021: Added a few extra images.
- November 3, 2021: Major rework of the article. Updated or removed outdated information.
- October 28, 2021: Removed outdated information and leaks.
- October 18, 2021: Added interview with Pat Gelsinger and their role in the dedicated GPU market.
- October 12, 2021: Added information regarding Intel’s new GPU architecture and Intel Xe IP vice president.
- September 28, 2021: Added information on Intel’s dGPU history.
- September 20, 2021: Fixed a few information-related errors.
- September 2, 2021: Added new official information from Intel about Alchemist architecture.
- August 3, 2021: Added new benchmark score of the 128 EU SKU
- June 23, 2021: Added a new leak of a Xe SKU compared to the RTX 3070 and RX 6700 XT.
- May 25, 2021: Added information regarding the fact that Intel Xe DG1 would appear in pre-built systems.
- April 7, 2021: Added a few more leaks.
- March 5, 2021: Added leaks of a DG2 Discrete GPU in use by Intel.
Table of ContentsShow
Intel’s Discrete GPU History
Intel has never previously been successful in the (dedicated) graphics card category. Usually, Intel’s dGPU prototypes ended up scrapped, such as the Larrabee project in 2008.
However, it has been more than a decade since Intel’s last attempt to create a dedicated GPU, so things have changed (for the better).
That isn’t to say that Intel has no clue how to develop a graphics card. On the contrary, they know what they’re doing; their integrated Intel HD Graphics have been a staple of the vast majority of modern laptops.
Intel has decided to make its own dedicated graphics card because these integrated GPUs are not for gaming.
Intel’s Xe just announced, so we’ll try to dive deeper into the information we already have. Note that we will only discuss mobile GPUs (Xe-LP) and desktop GPUs (Xe-HPG).
Perhaps this is the reason why Intel decided not to release the Xe before. However, it might also be for various other reasons, including the transition to their 10nm SuperFin node.
Based on the information we got on Intel’s Architecture Day, the release date for Intel Arc Alchemist is set for Q1 of 2022.
Intel Xe was reported to have begun testing in late 2019, with its intended release scheduled for mid-2020. However, when the long-awaited moment arrived, all we got was the announcement of a delay instead.
At first, Q1 2021 made the most sense, and that is what most tech experts expected, but the (current) final answer is the first quarter of 2022.
We can’t speculate about Alchemist GPU prices because we have no concrete information.
However, it is almost certain that Intel will have to price their GPUs lower than both AMD and NVIDIA to be competitive. Despite Intel’s good standing in the technology world, they are still unknown in the graphics card market.
When Intel Xe was first announced, many expected it to offer budget cards, with mid-range being their top-of-the-line. However, Intel has plans to be competitive even in the high-end market.
Intel Xe Needs To Be The Cheaper Alternative
We still anticipate Intel coming out strong with some good budget/low-end options, but the announcement of ray-tracing in their cards puts a severe dent in our hopes of giving any precise price prediction.
Intel does have the right idea in the pricing aspect, though. They understand that competing against NVIDIA’s and AMD’s top-of-the-line cards is not going to be easy. At least, not with the first generation of Intel Arc cards.
To be competitive, they need to offer mid-range GPUs at a fair price. In a recent interview with CRN, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger spoke on this subject.
“So what do we have to do? Deliver great products in those segments (…) and the market’s hungry for us to deliver them an alternative. We need to then deliver it with unique, differentiated value-add.”Intel’s CEO Pat Gelsinger
Gelsinger believes that NVIDIA’s immense success can be attributed to a lack of competition on the market and its decade of dominance. As a result, customers haven’t had a reason to switch to an alternative. Even when AMD provides a much better value GPU, the majority of customers still favor NVIDIA.
Although this section is still tough to predict for Intel Xe-HPG (now named Alchemist), we have a pretty good idea of what Xe-LP (now called Iris Xe) could pull off.
Disclaimer: Iris Xe is a portable GPU. As such, it can’t deliver a 4K at 60 FPS performance like a high-end desktop graphics card, so keep that in mind before being underwhelmed.
Intel’s Ryan Shrout posted the following video on Twitter showing the Tiger Lake prototype running a resource-heavy Battlefield V.
Despite this being a relatively short clip, it’s impressive that the game is running at full HD 1080p at a decent 30 FPS.
Now that Iris Xe has seen the light of day, we can report that the Battlefield V footage was legit and that the laptop is more than capable of giving you a good platform for gaming. Most notably, it achieved 60+FPS on GTA V and performed at competitive standards for eSports games such as DotA 2, Rocket League, and CS: GO.
We’re also excited to see how ray-tracing will perform.
A new leak from June shows an Intel XE DG2 448 EU SKU in a benchmark, clocking at around 1.8 GHz with performance similar to NVIDIA’s RTX 3070 and AMD’s RX 6700 XT. Admittedly, it isn’t the best, but it’s still impressive to see that Intel will be able to trade blows with the GPU giants.
Who knows, perhaps this particular SKU’s frequency could be pushed even higher, providing better performance.
Still, it’s something to be excited about because this is the first time an XE GPU has surpassed the 2.0 GHz threshold.
However, even though this SKU clocked at 2200 MHz, it is still relatively slow, considering it scored 13710 in the OpenCL benchmark. For comparison’s sake, a GTX 1050 card can easily get over 18000.
Of course, the reason for such a low score could be several things. For example, it could be because of the lack of good graphics drivers or because Geekbench isn’t optimized for Intel XE.
Strangely, even though Xe DG1 was meant for laptops or other mobile solutions, it has started showing up in various pre-built systems. For example, we’ve seen one in a CyberPowerPC system at BestBuy.
These leaks tell us that Xe is under constant development and that Intel aims to deliver its brand-new products as soon as possible.
A benchmark of the flagship Intel Alchemist GPU with 512 EUs was recently leaked by BenchLeaks on Twitter.
However, the results aren’t what we expected. The GPU barely surpasses the RTX 2060. That’s nowhere near the performance that will need to compete against AMD or Nvidia.
Based on this tweet, it is about %50 slower than the RTX 3070.
In Intel’s defense, this GPU’s clock speed is at 1.33 GHz which is considerably lower than the potential 2.0 GHz+. With a higher clock speed, the GPU will most probably perform considerably better.
With the release of Iris Xe, we only saw a glimpse of what Intel Xe is all about, but at least we have a good starting point. In addition, there are some rumors and speculations regarding the discrete GPUs from Intel, and we’ll also cover those.
Intel Architecture Day 2021
We’ve seen a lot of rumors, leaks, suggestions, and assumptions regarding discrete GPUs falling under the Intel Xe tree. We finally got a more profound and official look at this architecture with Intel’s Architecture Day 2021.
First thing first, we finally have a proper name to refer to Xe-HPG. It’s going to be called Alchemist.
What’s even more interesting is that they’ve also announced their future discrete GPU generations, including Battlemage, Celestial, and Druid. These all fall under Intel Arc, the new architecture naming scheme.
Considering this multi-year roadmap and this comment by Bryce Furuya, it’s possible that Intel Arc GPUs will release every year up to 2025.
Let’s focus on Alchemist since it is the generation of GPUs we have all been anticipating and the generation of GPUs you are here for.
Based on Intel’s roadmap during the event, Alchemist SKUs are planned for a Q1 2022 release. This is some refreshing news as most of us expected Intel’s competitive GPUs much later.
With a year-long silence regarding Alchemist, it was unexpected to gain deep insight into how these GPUs work. Specifically, Intel’s compute building block, Xe-Core. The Xe-Core is a direct replacement for Intel’s Execution units (EUs).
Every Xe-core includes 16 Vector Engines (VE) and 16 Matrix Engines (XMX). Each of those Vector Engines processes 256 bits per cycle. Based on Intel’s explanation, each VE has 8 ALUs. That leads to a total of 128 ALUs in one Xe-Core. The core also has its L1 cache.
Intel combines four of these cores to create a Render Slice. We’ve now jumped up to 512 ALUs and 64 XMX.
Furthermore, there are four Ray Tracing Units in each Render Slice to help with ray tracing performance. There are also Samplers, Pixel Backends, and engines for Geometry, Rasterization, and HiZ.
However, Intel had to scale it further to see the true potential from these cores and Render Slices. Thus their flagship GPU holds eight Render Slices. That means 32 Xe-Cores, 512 Vector and Matrix Engines, and a total of 4096 ALUs.
Naturally, there will probably be weaker GPUs configured with fewer Render Slices.
Even though EUs are now outdated, these leaks may still be accurate.
From this Twitter post, we can switch the EUs to Xe-Cores, and we get a list of potential discrete Intel Arc Alchemist GPUs.
- 512 Xe-Cores (4096 ALU) / 256bit-bus / 8 or 16GB VRAM
- 384 Xe-Cores (3072 ALU) / 192bit-bus / 6 or 12GB VRAM
- 256 Xe-Cores (2048 ALU) / 128bit-bus / 4 or 8GB VRAM
- 192 Xe-Cores (1536 ALU) / 128bit-bus / 4GB VRAM
- 128 Xe-Cores (1024 ALU) / 64bit-bus / 4GB VRAM
- 96 Xe-Cores (768 ALU) / 64bit-bus / 4GB VRAM
Here we see everything from a low-end 64bit and 4GB VRAM GPU to a 4096 ALU 16GB VRAM flagship card.
Intel XeSS Upscaling
Those Matrix Engines perform a role similar to NVIDIA’s Tensor Cores. Tensor Cores use mixed-precision computing to accelerate specific workloads further. Specifically, workloads such as training AI/machine learning models. Because of these Tensor Cores, DLSS 2.0 is highly effective at supersampling.
Intel’s XeSS upscaling can utilize XMX to provide just as good upscaling as NVIDIA, or perhaps even more effectively.
Here’s an upscaled 4K demo powered by Intel Alchemist.
As seen in the demo above, XeSS rendered at 4K looks identical and sometimes even better than 4K native while providing up to 2x the FPS. At least, that’s what Intel claims. Of course, we will need to see this with our own eyes before we can believe it. We all know how the DLSS launch went.
Either way, this seems very promising and could provide serious competition to NVIDIA’s DLSS. AMD, on the other hand, will have to think of a much better solution than FSR.
Why You Should Be Cautiously Optimistic About Intel Xe
Intel’s decision to hire Vineet Goel as the lead for the Intel Xe IP also boosts our optimism for the future of these GPUs. Why? Goel was the senior director of GPU architecture at AMD for a few years and later the corporate vice president for GPU architecture.
Hiring an expert that has had a significant impact on AMD’s RX 5000 and RX 6000 GPUs means he should be able to bring some severe contributions to Intel’s Xe, instilling us with even greater hope for Intel’s new generations of GPUs.
We might not be witnessing a full-on three-way war between Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA, but something exciting is brewing. As gamers and tech enthusiasts, we can’t wait to see it.