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It feels like ages ago when Intel first started working on its discrete graphics chips, which are finally shipping soon under the Intel Arc brand name.

A trio of Intel Arc graphics chip families are hitting the market starting in April and then rolling out further in the summer with a focus on thin-and-light gaming laptops.

Getting this far is a kind of miracle for Intel, which lost its biggest battle in graphics in the 1990s when Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices’ Radeon graphics chips stole the market for standalone graphics chips. Intel held onto its edge in central processing units (CPUs), but graphics processing units (GPUs) gained a lot of value in the system as 3D games came of age and again when parallel processing took off for AI computing.

Intel still got a big chunk of the market, as focused on integrated graphics that combined graphics with another part of the system. But it always had its eye on the standalone graphics chip market, and now it is finally dueling with AMD and Nvidia again in going after lucrative gamers.

The first laptops with Intel Arc 3 GPUs are available to preorder now and will be followed by the more powerful
designs with Intel Arc 5 and Intel Arc 7 graphics in early summer.

“It’s a modern GPU architecture with room to grow. I think it gives Intel a seat at the table,” said Kevin Krewell, an analyst at Tirias Research, in an email to GamesBeat.

Intel has a new brand for standalone graphics: Arc.

“It’s exciting to be hear today because we are launching our discrete graphics,” said Intel’s Martyn Stroeve, senior director of graphics product marketing, in a press briefing. “I’ve been involved in a lot of product launches over my 18 years in Intel. But never have I been as excited as I am today.

Intel said its A-Series products are built on its its Xe HPG architecture for gamers and creators. It has a new Xe grapihcs core, a new media engine, AI engines, a new display engine for a variety of display interfaces, hardware acceleration for ray tracing, and a graphics pipeline optimized for Microsoft’s DirectX 12 Ultimate software.

Intel has partnered with top computer makers to co-engineer a lineup of laptops that feature new and improved gaming and content creation capabilities with Intel Arc graphics and 12th Gen Intel Core processors.

The technical details

Intel’s graphics start with a Render Slice.

Intel’s designs start with a render slice, or a reusable building block that it stamps out over and over again across its chip. It’s a collection of Xe cores (as many as 32 of them), threading units, geometry, rasterization blocks, and render packets. It has hardware acceleration for tasks such as ray tracing, which can properly depict shadows and lighting in images (something pioneered by Nvidia in modern graphics chips). It has 16 vector engines. And it also has a lot of space dedicated to AI processing, said Tom Petersen, Intel fellow, in a press briefing.

Laptops with Intel Arc 3 graphics offer enhanced 1080p gaming and advanced content creation, and those with
Intel Arc 5 and Intel Arc 7 graphics will offer the same cutting-edge, content-creation capabilities coupled with
increased graphics and computing performance.

The chips will feature Intel Xe Matrix Extensions (XMX) AI engines, which provide more compute capability for accelerating AI workloads. These AI engines have 16 times the compute to complete AI inferencing operations when compared to traditional GPU vector units, which can increase performance in productivity, gaming, and creator applications.

Intel’s various features for graphics enhancements.

The new graphics chips also have Super Sampling, a riff on similar technology from Nvidia and Intel. It uses the power of AI to upscale graphics images to make them appear at a higher quality level without using a ton of extra computing power. In a demo of a game called Dolman, Intel showed side-by-side comparisons of what the tech adds to imagery.

“It’s an image scaling technique that delivers really high quality rendered images based on a relatively moderate original raster image,” said Petersen.

The initial chips included the A350M for ultra-thin laptop designs and the A370M for more performance in thin-and-light designs. intel Arc 3 graphics target 1080p gaming and advanced content creation. Intel said Arc A370M-based laptops will deliver more than 60 frames per second at 1080p on a range of popular titles.

The Intel Arc 5 and Arc 7 graphics products will offer content-creation capabilities coupled with increased graphics and computing performance. These GPUs will have more Xe cores, more ray tracing units, and more GDDR6 memory compared with Arc 3 products. These products all vary based on the number of Xe cores on the chip.

The first laptops with Arc 3 graphics are available to preorder now, with Arc 5 and Arc 7 laptops coming in early summer. Intel’s Arc graphics for desktops and add-in cards are launching in the summer.

The first Intel Arc graphics-powered laptops

Intel’s Xe architecture

Intel’s pitch is that it is delivering quality across the board with its entire systems.

Many of the first laptops with Intel Arc graphics will be Intel Evo designs with the latest 12th Gen Intel Core
processors, enabling users to get the most out of thin-and-light machines with Wi-Fi 6, responsiveness, and battery life.

Intel notes that the performance of the media engine on video editing tasks is superior, thanks to its refined technology for that purpose. Intel expects a 50% to 60% bump in video code performance.

Devon Nekechuk, director of graphics product management, said in a press briefing that the Arc A370M delivers roughly twice the performance of an integrated GPU. Beyond gamers, Intel is going after content creators. And that’s where the video performance is important, as the Intel-powered laptops can deliver up to 1.6 times transcoding performance when handling 4K media, Nekechuk said.

Intel’s Arc 3 chips are coming soon, and 5 and 7 are coming later this year.

“The experience and the kind of class of gaming that we’re targeting with this product is really around 1080p resolution playing typical games that are at medium to high settings,” he said. “We deliver nice, smooth 60 frames per second across a lot of these popular titles.”

In some titles like Fortnite or Rocket League, the A370M can top 90 frames per second.

“This is going to be great for gamers that want some fast paced high end games to run on their everyday carry their ultra portable class platform,” said Nekechuk. “gaming is a huge focus for us. Over the past few years. I’ve seen this massive ramp up in the internal focus that we have on gaming as a part of our graphics roadmap.”

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