Intel ARC Graphics: Bad Start, Impressive Progress

Late last year, Intel sent me two of its latest ARC graphics cards. While I was excited about the physical design of the cards in terms of looking good in a case, I couldn’t for the life of me get them to work on my AMD test rig, and others were having driver issues with the cards, as well. Around six months later, I built an Intel test rig. The cards, which had a list price under $300, performed in line with cards costing closer to $500, making them one heck of a bargain until Intel discontinued them. 

Last week Intel announced a significant performance improvement with their A750 Graphics card, enough of an increase to make them even more of a bargain at just under $250. 

Performance bump

Typically, users don’t notice a performance increase under 20%. Since a typical generational increase in performance is closer to 10%, you’d want to skip generations because paying a ton of money for a performance increase you wouldn’t really notice would be pointless. However, Intel reports that its new A750 card gives up to a 77% performance increase with this update on some games, and over a 20% improvement on most tested games. 

This is by no means competitive with high-end cards that cost nearly or over $1K, but it should allow the card to still outperform cards costing twice as much, making them a bargain.  It is doubtful that Intel can continue to display generational performance increases of this level, but this jump makes the cards an attractive option not only for those using older cards and imbedded graphics, but for those that had bought the earlier Intel cards. 

Generally, I recommend avoiding first generation products, but Intel has improved their offering enough since it was launched to make it feel more like a more mature 2nd generation product.     


One of the things that NVIDIA can’t do (but AMD could and doesn’t) is create bundles where you buy both a processor and a graphics card at a discounted bundle price. With this latest GPU release, Intel is pulling another rabbit out of its hat because it will be offering bundles starting at $419 for both a GPU and a new CPU. This bundled price is for a 12th Gen i5. Typically, you’d probably want to get a 13th generation processor, so I expect bundles with the later or more powerful processor to be more expensive.  

Given much of the loading these days is on the GPU not the CPU, a bundled, upgraded i5 processor with this card should be a pretty good deal if you are on an older CPU platform and it’s time to do a swap. 

Bundles to PC design change

Back before Intel’s CEO Pat Gelsinger first left Intel, he led an effort to create more creative and interesting PC designs. This bundle pricing reminds me that desktop PC architectures are well past the time when they should have been improved to make upgrading desktop systems easier. It isn’t that different in terms of components (motherboard, socketed processor, slotted GPU and accessories) than things were over 20 years ago. Yes, the sockets and slots have been upgraded, but it still requires you to pull the motherboard (which is a pain given all the secondary connections for fans, switches, and ports) needed to pull it off. 

Years ago a company called the Panda Project put forth an idea to change motherboards to a passive model so that everything could be added as an accessory. In effect, you’d just swap out boards to update the processor, GPU, chipset and memory type which would allow you to upgrade any system indefinitely just by swapping out a few cards. This would reduce the upgrade process, when you’d typically need a new motherboard from hours to minutes and make upgrading the chipset and processor far more convenient, potentially increasing the market opportunity for CPUs.  

I can imagine a future where one card updates the CPU, GPU, NPU (Neural Processing Unit) and then you’d clamp on your cooler, which could cool the entire card, and you’d be done without feeling like you were building some kind of science experiment from scratch.  And it would be far more sustainable than our current designs, as well, because users were even more motivated to upgrade rather than replace an aging PC. 

Intel is one of the few companies that could do something interesting here, and this bundled pricing suggests such a move may be in their future. 

Wrapping up:

Intel has made incredible progress with its graphics cards. Beginning with hardware that was hardly usable at the end of last year, it has turned its GPU offerings into one of the biggest bargains in the market and, for a new player in the discrete GPU space, which is over-the-top amazing. Hats off to the Intel folks who have done something truly impressive here.  

I can hardly wait to see what happens next.