Intel’s first discrete GPU for laptops, the Iris Xe Max, will start shipping next month in three models from Acer, Asus, and Dell.
According to Intel, the GPU will arrive in Dell’s Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 convertible, which goes on sale Nov. 1 in the US. The Iris Xe Max will also be available later this year in the Acer Swift 3X and in a specific version of the Asus VivoBook Flip 14, model TP470.
The GPU—also known as the DG1, for the company’s first discrete graphics effort—marks Intel’s early foray into the dedicated graphics processor market, which AMD and Nvidia currently dominate. However, the company’s first product isn’t targeting PC gamers. Nor is it meant for heavy-duty 3D rendering.
Instead, the Iris Xe Max is akin to an entry-level laptop GPU, along the lines of Nvidia’s GeForce MX. The company designed the Iris Xe Max to focus on content-creation tasks such as video encoding, live streaming, and photo editing.
Iris Xe Max by the Numbers
The product itself is based on Intel’s integrated graphics technology, Iris Xe, which you can now find in some of the company’s 11th-generation “Tiger Lake” Core processors for laptops. The Iris Xe Max takes the same technology, but packs it in a discrete-GPU form for a higher GPU clock speed (1.65GHz) and dedicated video memory (4GB).
Although the Iris Xe Max GPU isn’t designed for PC gaming, Intel did supply some benchmarks to show how the chip performs against one of Nvidia’s own entry-level laptop GPUs, the GeForce MX350. As you can see, the company claims that the Iris Xe Max’s discrete GPU tech generally matches or outperforms Nvidia’s on light 1080p gaming in a selection of titles.
On non-gaming tasks, the Iris Xe Max can also tap some special abilities when paired with Intel’s Tiger Lake Core processors. The company has created a feature set under the umbrella name “Deep Link,” which can simultaneously tap both the GPU in the Iris Xe Max and the integrated graphics on a Tiger Lake chip to speed up certain workloads, such as video encoding.
Intel demonstrated this by showing a clip of Deep Link harnessing both the discrete and integrated GPUs to accelerate video conversion on the popular application Handbrake. The company’s benchmarks show that the setup can convert a 4K video to 1080p about 1.8 times faster than using the GPU acceleration afforded by Nvidia’s high-end GeForce RTX 2080 “Turing” GPU.
According to Intel, applications including OBS Studio, Topaz Labs’ Gigapixel AI, and XSplit Gamecaster will be able to tap Deep Link, and support for more third-party software is arriving in the future.
In addition, Deep Link can better control the power delivery and thermals to a laptop’s CPU and GPU to maximize the performance on application workloads for additional speed boosting. On Handbrake, in an example given, the boost can amount to a 20% improvement by leveraging additional processing power from the CPU.
Unfortunately, the Deep Link feature isn’t available for PC gaming. So you won’t be able to run the equivalent of a mini SLI setup on your laptop.
Interestingly, Intel revealed the Iris Xe Max may not necessarily render a PC game better than the integrated graphics on a Tiger Lake chip. It depends on the game.
“This is really because of preferences in games about how they like to access memory, or latencies across PCI Express buses,” said John Webb, Intel’s director of client graphics marketing.
“So we’ll introduce software that allows us to make sure the right game runs on the right (GPU) accelerator for the best performance,” he added.
Desktop DG1 Is Coming, Too (for OEMs)
For now, the Iris Xe Max is targeting only a select area of the PC market, but expect that to change in the near future. During the briefing, Intel also revealed the company’s plans to sell a desktop version of the DG1 discrete GPU in early 2021. However, you won’t be able to buy it as a standalone product. Instead, Intel plans on selling it to PC makers as an add-in card they can install in their “value desktop” models.
To take on the PC gaming market, Intel is preparing the DG2, another graphics processor that the company is already testing in its labs. Expect it to arrive next year, as well. Intel plans on hiring a third-party foundry to build the GPU, amid rumors TSMC may end up manufacturing the product.
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