Intel challenges Nvidia and AMD with a trio of workstation GPUs • The Register

Intel this week unveiled its answer to AMD’s FirePro and Nvidia’s earlier Quadro workstation GPUs with the introduction of a trio of new graphics cards aimed at professional applications such as architectural design, engineering and content creation.

Intel’s professional lineup – marketed as the Arc Pro series – includes a mobile workstation GPU called the A30M, the single-slot A40, and the dual-slot A50. Both desktop cards feature 6GB of GDDR6 memory, but the biggest difference between the two is that the A50’s dual-slot cooler allows for higher power consumption of 75W. Meanwhile, the A30M comes with 4GB GDDR6 and a TDP between 35-50W.

Oddly enough, Nvidia also sells one A40 GPUbut this card comes with 48GB of GDDR6 and claims between 37.4 and 74.8 teraflops of FP32 performance at a consumption of 300W.

Despite the similarities in naming, Intel’s Arc Pro cards are aimed at a very different audience – mostly low-end workstations and applications that can take advantage of the platform’s strengths.

Did someone say AV1

Intel’s top tier Arc Pro A50 offers Peak performance of 4.8 teraflops of FP32 performance, which Moor Insights and Strategy analyst Anshel Sag puts the card somewhere between Nvidia’s T1000 (2.5 teraflops) and the recently released one A2000 (8 teraflops).

However, part of this difference in performance may be due to a limitation needed to fit within the PCIe slot’s 75W power budget. For example, the Nvidia GA106 used in the A2000 is the same one used in the RTX 3060, which offers more than 12 teraflops of FP32 performance while consuming roughly twice the power.

However, Intel’s performance isn’t all that surprising or even unexpected for a first-generation product, Sag notes.

“Arc was generally never intended — at least at launch — to compete with the highest-performing graphics cards from AMD or Nvidia,” he said. “They always wanted to enter the market with a mainstream target profile as far as consumers are concerned because building a flagship GPU is very difficult; it is very expensive; and it’s actually a fairly low-volume business.”

He explained that while products like Nvidia’s 3090 TI might grab people’s attention, they represent very low volume, a decent profit margin, and ultimately, very little of the company’s bottom line. “The reality is that most of the revenue and profits are in the middle,” Sag said.

But while Sag doesn’t find it surprising that Intel was pursuing the low- to mid-tier graphics market for its first crack at Arc, he was surprised by the company’s decision to launch a workstation-class chip at this point .

However, he notes that features like AV1 encoding – which Intel claims to be first to offer – could be valuable for application developers and content creators looking to get a head start when working with the codec. “When it comes to any type of rendering, as long as you don’t compromise on quality, faster is always better,” added Sag.

Arc Pro also allows Intel to target OEMs with a relatively inexpensive workstation part that’s good enough for a variety of workloads. However, Intel firmly believes that these cards will not be limited to OEM builds and specifically emphasizes their PCIe 4.0 8x interfaces and PCIe 3.0 backwards compatibility.

Given the relatively low performance target for these cards, Intel could probably have gotten away with a PCIe 4.0 4x interface, as AMD has done with many of its recent entry-level gaming and workstation cards. This would likely have affected performance on older systems.

Can Intel Displace AMD in Workstation Graphics?

Sag notes that while Intel has a lot of work to do when it comes to competing with AMD and Nvidia in gaming graphics, the company has a far better chance of being competitive in the workstation market.

Here AMD’s offer is relatively weak compared to Nvidia, Sag said. In comparison, Intel has a certain advantage because it “has already spent a lot of time and effort qualifying its CPUs for these very workloads and has established relationships with all ISVs.”

In its marketing materials, Intel highlighted support for several popular software platforms and frameworks, including Handbrake, Premier Pro, Davinci Resolve, and Gigapixel AI.

This is especially true for Intel’s media encoding capabilities, which it calls QuickSync on its onboard graphics. And with Arc Pro, Intel claims it can split encoding tasks between the integrated and discrete graphics when paired with a compatible GPU.

Don’t count Intel Arc just yet

The launch also casts doubt on rumors that Intel’s graphics division was destined for the chopping block after a painful Second Quarter Results. At the end of last month, the company reported a net loss of $454 million and painted its Optane business with persistent memory and SSD.

These rumors were not supported by reports medium performance and lackluster Start driver.

“On the driver side, they’re definitely struggling a bit,” Sag said, noting that it’s not uncommon for drivers to improve significantly over the lifespan of a GPU.

“This launch of workstations debunks a lot of the rumors that they’re going to shut down their discreet business, which they haven’t even really gotten off the ground yet,” he added, arguing that many of those rumors likely arose out of fear that Intel could pose a threat represent the duopoly of Nvidia and AMD.

Sag adds that Intel’s graphics business is on a different path compared to the other product areas in his calculations and has therefore been spun off into a separate product line. ® Intel challenges Nvidia and AMD with a trio of workstation GPUs • The Register

Laura Coffey

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