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Feburary 7th, 2021

Intel’s Unorthodox Approach at the GPU Market 20 Years After Their First Failed Attempt

Intel has always been at the top of the “food chain” of consumer microprocessor design. That was the case until in 2017, AMD’s Ryzen line of microprocessors knocked Intel off its throne. Intel is trying to fight back, but in a very unusual way. It has been nearly 20 years since Intel has released a discrete GPU. Now in a time where, if it was not for AMD’s microprocessor shortages, Intel most likely would have lost nearly all of its market share in consumer microprocessor sales, Intel is fighting back with a new discrete GPU of their own. Why would Intel attempt to dive into a brand new market, with the previous attempt failing horrendously? More importantly, is it even any good?

Intel’s previous attempt was an utter failure - everyone knew that Intel would strike again, but nobody knew when. Back in 1998, Intel released the i740; it could be described with a single word: dreadful. It only supported a now obsolete standard and was short-lived. However, it was decent at one facet -- value. At a MSRP of only 35 dollars, it was extremely affordable. Last week, Intel unveiled the Intel DG1 GPU. There was one catch -- you can’t buy it. The DG1 is only available to OEMs (system integrators). Perhaps Intel’s way of striking is a bit more unorthodox, knowing that performance is not one of Intel’s strong elements.

Intel’s first discrete GPU in over 20 years is not for enthusiasts. From an Asus-branded version of the DG1, it can be seen that it is passively cooled. A passively cooled GPU’s performance speaks for itself -- with no fan, the DG1’s development card’s performance leak depicts it barely keeping up with a 7 year old graphics card. However, it is important to keep in mind Intel’s strengths -- reliable and relatively high performing integrated GPUs. Perhaps by total coincidence, the DG1 perfectly sits between iGPU performance and dGPU performance. Intel’s DG1 is not for the average computer geek. Rather, it is for your neighbor next-door who doesn’t know the difference between a laptop and a desktop.

However, there is good reason behind Intel’s seemingly laughable and foolish attempt. If Intel can actually get the DG1 to be produced at a high volume quickly, it could be a huge hit with OEMs who build value desktops. Since the DG1 is faster than iGPUs, it might be the perfect choice for people who want something higher performing than an iGPU but for only 100 dollars. As Ars Technica pointed out, this is where the Nvidia GTX 1050 and RX 560 should sit, but it is difficult to find a GTX 1050 or a RX 560 under 180 dollars. If Intel can pull this off, it may be a major victory for them as OEM’s flock to build value desktops that outperform computers with iGPUs but are significantly cheaper than computers with dGPUs.

The DG1 will not be garnering support from the enthusiast market, but that is exactly what Intel was expecting as they engineered this GPU -- the people who need this are not part of enthusiast communities and do not watch or read enthusiast reviews. Perhaps Intel might break the ongoing trend and be in stock, unlike the Nvidia 30 Series GPUs and the AMD RX 6000 Series GPUs. If that is the case, Intel might have a change at the GPU market.