One tidbit Intel confirmed at the International Supercomputing Conference this week: It’s now shipping DG2 GPUs to developers as part of its slow ramp into the GPU market. Up until now, Intel has confirmed itself to shipping integrated Xe-based graphics and a small, low-power GPU dubbed DG1. Intel positioned DG1 more as an AI accelerator than a dGPU, so the company’s expectations around the part were undoubtedly modest.
DG2 is different. This is the first iteration of Intel’s gaming-focused Xe HPG line. It’ll also be Intel’s first effort to enter the GPU market in decades. Larrabee had noble intentions, but the product died before coming to market and was repurposed as a test platform for what would eventually become Xeon Phi. You have to go all the way back to the i740 to find Intel’s last GPU launch, and it didn’t go particularly well.
The i740 was designed to emphasize the capabilities of AGP Texture acceleration at a time when CPUs were already memory bandwidth bound. Diverting additional bandwidth to allow the GPU to transfer texture data from DRAM via the AGP bus was faster than using PCI, but not as fast as putting VRAM directly on the GPU and storing data there. Intel zigged on graphics technology at a time when the rest of the market zagged, and years of poor IGP performance did nothing to help matters.
Intel’s onboard GPUs stagnated from 2015-2018, but Intel took notable steps forward with Ice Lake and then again with Tiger Lake. Interest in DG2 would be high no matter what — we haven’t had had three-way competition in graphics since the PowerVR-based Kyro II — but the ongoing GPU shortage and the prospect of cards that might actually be affordable have generated interest.
Rumors suggest desktop gamers may not see a launch this year, unfortunately. While Intel is telling fans that we are “soon heading toward a milestone moment, the pending release of the Xe HPG microarchitecture from Intel,” RedGamingTech (via NotebookCheck) claims Intel will target mobile platforms first with a DG2 variant intended to compete with RTX 3060 Ti or RTX 3070. The desktop variant of the card is expected to target higher-end cards at the top of its range.
DG2 will have the advantage or burden of launching in the strangest GPU market we can remember. If crypto demand drops and stays low, AMD and Nvidia GPUs may be available at something like historic values by the time the card launches. If they don’t, it’ll benefit from a scenario in which its two competitors are selling for far higher prices. Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see how Intel decides to price its upcoming cards and what kind of performance and power efficiency it can deliver as it returns to the market.
Feature image shows Intel’s DG1 developer board. Credit: Intel
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