Just yesterday, Intel released a massive driver update to its Arc Alchemist GPUs, resulting in a near 2x FPS (frames per second) increase in DX9-based titles. Now, according to a report by GamingOnLinux, we know how Intel was able to accomplish this task in some games. Intel has added another translation layer to its latest graphics driver, featuring Steam’s DXVK translation layer. This is the same translation layer Steam uses in its Proton API to translate Windows games to Linux (like we saw on the Steam Deck), allowing Intel to translate DX9 code to the open-source Vulkan API.
According to Intel’s blog post from yesterday, Intel is apparently only using the DXVK translation layer in some cases; its driver will take a hybrid approach of opportunistically utilizing a combination of API techniques that take advantage of translation layers using one or more modern API implementations. As a result, Intel won’t be using DXVK for the entirety of its DX9 processing, and will only use DXVK when it can provide better performance over Intel’s DX12 emulation technique.
Intel never actually stated it was using DXVK in its official blog post, but thanks to Gaming On Linux, we now know DXVK translation is what Intel is referring to, based on a readme document Intel published on the same topic. Unfortunately, we do not know how effective DXVK actually is with Intel’s implementation, but it must be a very effective solution for Intel to implement the translation layer into its latest driver at all.
Intel’s Arc GPUs - and its associated Xe integrated graphics, no longer feature native DX9 support. Instead Intel has opted to rely solely on translation layers to replicate native rendering. One such example is Intel’s utilization of the Microsoft D3D9On12 mapping layer, which translates DX9 commands to DX12.
Intel’s reliance on translation layers may not be ideal, but it actually gives the company a shortcut in garnering good DX9 GPU performance quickly. Translation layers allow Intel to use DX12 optimizations for both modern DX12 titles and for older DX9 games, which severely cuts down the development time needed to optimize both new and old APIs. This was a necessary move for Intel, because it needed a way to compete with Nvidia and AMD, which have nearly twenty years of experience developing DX9 drivers for discrete GPU hardware.
The awesome part about DXVK is that Intel no longer needs to rely on Microsoft’s DX12 emulation layer to play DX9 games on Arc. With DXVK, Intel can now run DX9 games on other operating systems such as Linux, and gain additional performance benefits that might not be available in Microsoft’s emulator.