Intel is finally back in the desktop graphics business, at least if you squint. The company has announced a partnership with certain PC OEMs to bring DG1 silicon to specific pre-built systems.
This isn’t exactly a full-on desktop graphics launch — that’ll come later in 2021 with the launch of DB2 — but Intel is still indisputably shipping at least a handful of discrete GPUs in the low end of the desktop market, for the first time in more than 20 years. The company announced it had partnered with “two ecosystem partners, including Asus” in its initial PR, but LegitReviews thinks the GPU featured in the image above is manufactured by Colorful. The other DG1 card identifies itself, ships without a fan, and is clearly an Asus-branded product.
Unfortunately for anyone hoping to play around with Intel’s latest desktop card and/or hoping to find a low-end GPU at a reasonable price, this GPU is OEM-only. Sometimes, OEM-only products will surface on secondary markets like eBay, but that’s not going to happen in this case. According to Intel, these GPUs will only work on very specific systems. LegitReviews inquired on this point and was told:
The Iris Xe discrete add-in card will be paired with 9th gen (Coffee Lake-S) and 10th gen (Comet Lake-S) Intel® Core™ desktop processors and Intel(R) B460, H410, B365, and H310C chipset-based motherboards and sold as part of pre-built systems. These motherboards require a special BIOS that supports Intel Iris Xe, so the cards won’t be compatible with other systems.
So, that’s that, then. It’s not clear why a motherboard would require a special UEFI to use a new GPU. Presumably DG2, when it arrives, will not have this problem.
It’s interesting to see Intel back in the graphics market because it’s been so long since we had an actual three-way fight. Once 3dfx died, the only company to offer any kind of competition to the ATI/Nvidia duopoly was PowerVR with the Kyro and Kyro II. While these GPUs were an interesting alternative to the Radeon and GeForce product lines, they did not find mainstream success and faded from the market.
Intel has not previously covered itself in glory where GPUs are concerned. The company’s first attempt at a discrete GPU, the Intel i740, was custom-designed to showcase the capabilities of Intel’s new AGP bus. It didn’t compare well against GPUs with onboard RAM, and Intel didn’t stay in the market very long. Intel’s Larrabee was based on a modified Pentium architecture with 512-bit vector processing units. Overall interest in Larrabee was high, but Intel canceled the product and used Larrabee as the basis for the first generation of Xeon Phi processors.
It’s not unfair to be skeptical of Intel’s ability to launch a competitive GPU. We don’t even necessarily expect Intel’s first-generation cards to be all that great, objectively speaking. So long as they’re good enough to get a little traction somewhere in the market, Intel has an opportunity to iterate and improve the design. With a third player on the field, both AMD and Nvidia are presented with new challenges — but also, potentially, with new opportunities depending on how Intel’s presence impacts user GPU purchases.
All of this hinges on Intel building competitive products and being willing to stay the course over the long term. Incoming CEO Pat Gelsinger may have his own ideas about where to take the company. These DG1-equipped systems aren’t going to make a huge splash in the wider market, but we should know how effectively DG2 will compare against AMD and Nvidia before the end of the year. Given how hard AMD and Nvidia cards have both been to source, Intel could spin a modest GPU into a smash hit just by shipping it on-time, at MSRP.
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