Intel is getting back into the graphics game, and we don’t mean with graphics cores onboard its CPUs. In less than two years Intel is expected to debut its first add-in graphics card since the Intel740 released back in 1998. The technology behind this GPU and its potential performance remain shrouded in mystery, but as time goes on more and more details are coming to light. If it proves a viable alternative to Nvidia and AMD, this will be one of the most important events in the graphics card industry this century.
Here’s what we know so far.
Pricing and availability
There is no news at all on what kind of price we can expect from Intel’s graphics card(s), what market segment it will target, or how broad the range will be. It’s equally possible it launches only a couple of models as it is that it has a breadth of options for gamers throughout the pricing spectrum.
Intel has slated the graphics cards for a 2020 release, however, so as we edge close to the end of 2018, we have less than two years to wait to see these graphics cards launched. That is, as long as Intel doesn’t face the kind of delays it has had with its CPU range as of late.
We may learn more about the card(s) much sooner than that though. Recent rumors from DigiTimes suggested that Intel was hosting an architecture conference in December 2018. Although a tweet from chief architect on the project, Raja Koduri, suggested that the conference would not be about dedicated graphics cards.
It’s intel architecture day..not a ‘dgpu day’
— Raja Koduri (@Rajaontheedge) November 28, 2018
Regardless, we’ll expect to hear more about the graphics throughout 2019 if the expected 2020 release date is to be hit.
Architecture and performance
When Intel made its official announcement about the new graphics card technology it was working on, it made it clear that it was working on a dedicated graphics card. While that would suggest that it was building something distinct from its existing onboard GPU ventures, it suggested it could be an evolution of its existing efforts too.
— Intel Graphics (@IntelGraphics) August 15, 2018
The codenames and generational numbering back this up. We’ve been told that the first iteration of the dedicated graphics card will be based on Intel’s “Arctic Sound,” which is said to be Intel’s 12th-generation graphics architecture. To give that some context, Intel’s 9th-gen graphics architecture includes GPU cores like its UHD Graphics 630, which can be found in everything from entry-level Pentium Gold G5500 CPUs to the fantastically powerful Core i7-8700K.
The 10th generation is expected to debut with Intel’s oft-delayed Cannon Lake CPUs, so an 11th generation must be planned between that and whatever Intel has in mind with these dedicated cards. After that comes the 13th-generation, which we’re told will also be a dedicated graphics card. It’s currently codenamed Jupiter Sound.
Considering Intel’s general move towards 10nm processes with Cannon Lake and its planned successor, Ice Lake, we would expect Arctic Sound to be based on a similar 10nm process, but yield concerns have repeatedly caused problems at that die size. So, that’s far from certain.
AMD is expected to move to 7nm with its Navi architecture in 2019. Nvidia is likely to die shrink its own products in the future, though there is no current timeline for that.
At this point in time we’re assuming that Intel is looking to compete directly with AMD and Nvidia, so we would expect Arctic Sound to perform comparable to whatever those two big companies have planned for 2020, but at this time there is no indication of what that may be.
AMD alumni are helping to make it
Intel hasn’t released a dedicated graphics card in 20 years. It did develop what became a co-processor, in Larabee, but that proved to be far from competitive with modern graphics cards, even if it found some intriguing use cases in its own right. To develop its graphics architecture into something worthy of a dedicated graphics card, Intel hired on some industry experts, most notably Raja Koduri. He was hired straight from AMD where he had spent several years as a chief architect of the Radeon Technology Group, heading up development on AMD’s Vega and Navi architectures.
He’s been there for over a year, and he was even joined in mid-2018 by Jim Keller, the lead architect on AMD’s Zen architecture. He is heading up Intel’s silicon development and will, according to Intel itself, help “change the way [Intel] builds silicon,” when it comes to new architectures, as per Toms Hardware. That could be considered additional evidence of Intel’s push towards viable 10nm production.
Other ex-AMD employees that Intel has picked up over the past few months include former director of global product marketing at AMD, Chris Hook, who spent 17 years working at the company, and Darren McPhee, who now heads up Intel’s product marketing for discrete graphics.