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Intel Takes iGPU Driver Shortcut for Arc Gaming GPUs, Crashes Into Ditch

Intel
(Image credit: Intel)

Early this year, Intel disclosed plans to ship four million discrete Arc Alchemist gaming GPUs in 2022, but many observers considered the target rather conservative. Now, following multiple launch delays and limited availability, Intel said this week that it would miss its discrete GPU shipments this year. Surprisingly, the company blames its drivers for the integrated graphics built into its CPUs for the delays and lower-than-expected sales of its discrete GPU lineup.

Intel really needed all-new drivers written from scratch to roll out its discrete gaming GPUs for desktops and laptops. However, its drivers for discrete gaming GPUs were not on par with those offered by AMD and Nvidia because it chose to use the same graphics drivers as it used for the low-powered integrated graphics present in its CPUs. 

"Our software release on our discrete graphics was clearly underperforming," said Gelsinger. "We thought that we would be able to leverage the integrated graphics software stack, and it was wholly inadequate for the performance levels, gaming compatibility, etc. that we needed. So we are not hitting our four million unit goal in the discrete graphics space, even as we are now catching up and getting better software releases."

Signs of this issue emerged earlier this week when Intel ended Day 0 game GPU driver support for integrated GPUs based on its 'Gen' architecture (10th-Gen and below). However, Intel will continue to provide Day 0 game GPU driver support only for its integrated and discrete GPUs based on its latest Xe architectures (ie, Tiger Lake, Rocket Lake, and newer). As a result, the Intel Graphics Driver package will now contain two drivers: one for Xe-based GPUs (11th-Gen and newer) and another for legacy Gen-based GPUs (10th-Gen and older).

The move will allow Intel to refocus its software development resources (people, time, hardware) on driver development for Xe discrete GPUs and make them more competitive. Meanwhile, with the drivers that Intel's Xe-HPG-based GPUs have today, the company can address laptops and less demanding customers in China and Southeast Asia with entry-level Arc A380-series graphics cards.

"While we will not hit our GPU unit target, we remain on track to deliver over $1 billion in revenue this year," said Pat Gelsinger, chief executive of Intel, at the company's earnings call on Thursday. "In Q2, we started to ramp Intel Arc graphics for laptops with OEMs, including Samsung, Lenovo, Acer, HP, and Asus. COVID-related supply chain issues and our own software-readiness challenges caused availability delays that we continue to work to overcome. Intel Arc A5 and A7 desktop cards will start to ship in Q3."

Nowadays, PC OEMs and end-users demand one unified GPU driver that supports all existing and several previous-generation products. This simplifies PC building for OEMs as well as maintenance for IT departments and end users, but unified drivers have several caveats when it comes to PC gaming in general, and Intel's integrated and standalone GPUs in particular:

  • If you promise a consistent gaming experience for all of your GPUs launched in the last eight years, you have to ensure that new games can run properly on eight different generations of products based on different architectures (Gen and Xe). 
  • This requires resources for testing previous-generation integrated GPUs and then writing optimized appropriate code paths for GPUs that very few people will use for new games. As a result, resources that could be spent on tweaking the performance of shiny new discrete GPUs are wasted on outdated integrated GPUs.
  • Meanwhile, since users of built-in GPUs tend to play old games, GPU makers have to ensure that their new drivers do not affect compatibility with outdated software that is not used by owners of the latest standalone GPUs.
  • All programs are iterative, so some code written for Gen-based integrated GPUs years ago might end up serving Xe-powered discrete GPUs, which may be extremely inefficient.
  • Certain performance optimizations that work fine with integrated GPUs might be enabled for Xe-powered discrete graphics processors for some reason as well, which might cause instability or quality loss.
  • Things like GPU memory management work differently on built-in and standalone graphics processors, so this part of the stack has to be completely re-written for the latter.

Ironically, we discussed Intel's repositioning of Arc graphics from demanding gamers to content creators and laptop users when we first learned that Intel might miss its Q1 launch window in early January.

It's a bit mind boggling that Intel even thought its integrated graphics drivers would be appropriate for desktop GPUs that potentially deliver up to 20X more compute performance than even its best integrated GPUs. We've known for years that Intel's graphics drivers often had compatibility issues with new games, and a completely revamped architecture would naturally require completely new drivers. But then, Intel is new to the dedicated GPU game and apparently made some poor assumptions. Here's hoping the Arc GPUs and drivers can eventually merge into the fast lane — or at the very least get on the freeway.

Anton Shilov
Anton Shilov

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • Lorien Silmaril
    oh hey, but AMD is in the rear view mirror right?? 🤣
    Reply
  • LolaGT
    Well, you can't sell what you don't have. At least not for long.

    "Intel Arc A5 and A7 desktop cards will start to ship in Q3."

    Right, that means they should be going out the door now or very soon, which also doesn't seem to be happening.

    I'm not sure how late one can be to this party, but it looks like it is so close to being over.

    Again, if I needed a decent card right now I sure would not wait on intel. There are boatloads of GPUs out there for a great price, with drivers that are actually very good(the 6600 is still in a really sweet spot for the price, and sketchy AMD drivers are long in the past).
    Reply
  • waltc3
    If this article includes what Intel thinks discrete GPU drivers are supposed to be, then Intel is going to be a long, long time in offering any mainstream GPU competition. First, unified drivers are not a single driver to cover all your GPUs released "in the last eight years." A unified driver is a single package continuing multiple drivers for your various released hardware! Gelsinger is almost unintelligible here.
    Reply
  • JamesJones44
    waltc3 said:
    If this article includes what Intel thinks discrete GPU drivers are supposed to be, then Intel is going to be a long, long time in offering any mainstream GPU competition. First, unified drivers are not a single driver to cover all your GPUs released "in the last eight years." A unified driver is a single package continuing multiple drivers for your various released hardware! Gelsinger is almost unintelligible here.

    That stuck out to me as well! I hope they are not building one monolithic driver, if they are, they are in for a very long a frustrating road!!
    Reply
  • zodiacfml
    shocking. Everyone who has a slightly grasp of the GPU industry knew of AMD's, and Nvidia's driver problems in the past. It is not a walk in the park. I really wished Intel shipped the graphics cards as crypto mining cards in 2021 with basic/almost broken drivers so that it gets bought by miners. It is all too late now. I don't need even want to buy 3000, 6000 cards in the future, just being salty they were too expensive from 2020-2022.
    Reply
  • watzupken
    This comes as no surprise at all. Even someone like me who knows little about software is not expecting their existing driver to propel Intel dGPU to the same level as AMD and Nvidia. Again, it’s not the hardware that is the biggest hurdle because big companies like Intel, Apple, etc, have the resources to deliver great hardware. Yet why is Apple not gaining traction in their foray into gaming? Isn’t it software support? And for Intel it’s both game support and driver. And to be brutally honest, existing UHD driver is as basic as it gets because the iGPUs were never meant for gaming only until recently with the introduction of XE iGPUs. Still I won’t consider it gaming grade.
    Reply
  • systemBuilder_49
    This is an area where Intel has invested $0 since 2013! Since Iris Pro 5200 their GPUs have not gotten better but the marketing department - stuffed with suits - did a bang-up job inventing new marketing names for the same old <Mod Edit> for 8Y straight!

    Intel is a hardware company they hate software it's really not important to them! In fact Intel sees itself as a great chemistry company (vlsi process tech) and CPU hardware is less important to them than the chemistry!

    Under these circumstances going to work for Intel on GPU drivers would make you third fiddle in a company that is going downhill fast!

    You'd have to be a fool....

    And it shows....
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    systemBuilder_49 said:
    Intel is a hardware company they hate software it's really not important to them!
    Yup, checks out!
    oneAPI
    https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/developer/tools/oneapi/overview.html#gs.7a4ra0Intel C compiler freeware since forever
    https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/developer/tools/oneapi/dpc-compiler.html#gs.7a98rohttps://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/developer/tools/overview.html#gs.7a4v4yhttps://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/software/software-partnerships.htmlhttps://www.theregister.com/2022/03/11/intel_software_expansion/
    Reply