Intel Arc graphics cards: 7 vital details you need to know

The problem is that the arc is first-generation technology, and still has toothaches to get through. If you play the right kind of games, the Intel Arc A770 (available in $349 16GB and $329 8GB flavours) or the $289 Intel Arc A750 might work for you. But if not, you must wait or get a different card altogether.

Our comprehensive review of the Arc A770 and A750 covers all the details, but here are the basics of what to expect when those cards arrive on October 12.

Only modern PCs need to be applied

Was your processor manufactured before 2019? If you own something older than an AMD Ryzen 3000 (2019) or Intel 10th Gen Comet Lake (2020) processor, you’ll likely want a graphics card from a competing vendor.

The reason: Intel’s Arc boards rely heavily on a feature called the scalable BAR, which is only available on modern processors. In fact, they were only shipped as an out-of-the-box feature on 12th Gen Ryzen 5000 and Intel chips. You must perform a motherboard BIOS update before enabling it for older compatible chips.

Resizable BAR (aka ReBAR) allows your CPU to access your GPU’s entire framebuffer memory at once, instead of 256MB chunks. On Nvidia GeForce and AMD Radeon graphics cards, turning on ReBAR moderately increases performance. But the Arc’s memory controller design relies much more on ReBAR, with the most noticeable impact on in-game framerates and gameplay smoothness when it’s off or unavailable. In five of our benchmarks, the difference between ReBAR on and off in DirectX 12 performance starts at 14%, with a difference of up to 38%.

Essentially, if you have an older PC and are hoping for a more affordable graphics card to extend its life even further, Arc is not it. You’re better off with an Nvidia or AMD option.

Performance is amazing on modern APIs

Intel Arc 7 GPUs really love modernity – not just hardware, but APIs like DirectX12 and Vulkan as well. The top-tier Arc A770 can crush the competition in optimized games running these modern graphics APIs. In titles like Exodus subway and borders 3, The bow provides a significant performance boost compared to Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 and AMD Radeon RX 6600, both at 1080p and 1440p.

Intel Arc gaming benchmarks
When Arc shines, it really shines – as it does in Exodus subway. Longer bars indicate better performance.

Brad Chacos/IDG

It’s not all wins for Arc cards, however. Driver optimization is still a work in progress and therefore AMD and Nvidia take a clear lead in some games such as in Cyberpunk 2077 and F1 2020 at 1080p. But dive into the numbers and you’ll see that it’s not a real loss – players still get close to 60fps in Cyberpunk 2077 with all ray-trac bells and whistles activated. In other games, framerates are well above that.

Intel Arc gaming benchmarks
Longer bars indicate better performance.

Brad Chacos/IDG

But dips into DirectX 11 in most cases

Arc shines in modern games with DirectX 12 and Vulkan support, but there’s a problem: many games still use DirectX 11. Think indie games, or even AA projects (titles with tangible investments and resources, but not the blockbusters). . A lot of people also have a huge backlog of older games to go through, and those rely on similarly older APIs like DirectX 9.

Intel Arc gaming benchmarks

Brad Chacos/IDG

Consider for example Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Using DX12, the game’s recommended API, both the Arc A770 and A750 easily keep pace with the competition. (Although the $350 16GB A770 is where Intel shines – it holds its own against the more expensive RTX 3060, while the A750 gives some ground to its cheaper RX 6600 rival.)

But switch to DX11 and the A770’s performance plummets. With the resizable BAR on, it runs 49 percent Slower. Turn off reBAR and it drops to 55%. The other games in our benchmark set show performance drops of between 25 and 50 percent with reBAR on in DX11 mode, and 29 to 51 percent with reBAR off. There.

(The only eccentric exception: F1 2020where the A770 receives a impulse on performance when switching to DX11 and turning off reBAR.)

Outperforms Nvidia’s RTX 30 series cards in ray tracing

Hold on to the safety bar – this roller coaster is about to hit another thrilling loop-de-loop.

Nvidia has long held the crown for ray tracing performance. It got to the party first and then rolled out its Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) technology to further boost performance by rendering frames at a lower resolution and then upscaling them.

But now that Intel has appeared on the scene, Nvidia can no longer claim the top spot universally. The A770 outperformed the RTX 3060 in raw ray tracing performance (without upscaling features like DLSS or Intel’s XeSS active) in three of the four games we tested. The A770 (and A750) also beat AMD’s Radeon RX 6600.

Intel Arc gaming benchmarks
The raw performance of the Arc A770 and A750 in Watch Legion of Dogs with ray tracing turned on and all the graphical bells and whistles turned on it’s stunning.

Brad Chacos/IDG

The problem: DLSS is much more developed, with more representation in games. In the real world, that means Nvidia can deliver higher frame rates. Intel has an equivalent technology for their boards, XeSS, but supporting the game will take time. DLSS is currently in hundreds of games, while XeSS is only in a handful.

Still, in terms of raw performance, Intel should be able to hold this award for a while. The next release of Nvidia’s RTX 40 series of cards will initially focus on high-end flagship cards – well above the price point of the A770 and RTX 3060. An RTX 4060 (with presumably better ray-tracing performance) will likely not be released until the next year.

High power consumption, especially at idle

Intel Arc gaming benchmarks
Long bars indicate more power consumption.

Brad Chacos/IDG

In the US, power draw used to be less of a conversation. It was more of a thing checked for intellectual curiosity. But now, with energy costs rising across the world, the focus on hardware electricity usage is increasing. (For example, our recent review of AMD’s Ryzen 7000 CPUs addresses this same issue.)

Unfortunately, Intel Arc 7 cards consume more power than their Nvidia and AMD counterparts, both under load and idle. In fact, idle power usage is staggering – in our system-wide power consumption measurements, our Arc machines used nearly twice as much as rivals. Even under load, you’re seeing about 50% more usage than the RX 6600. (The A770, however, offers at least higher performance.)

This news is not a complete surprise, as the RTX 3060 and RX 6600 use single 8-pin connectors, while the Arc uses 8-pin + 6-pin. But if your electricity rates have gone up, that could be another point of high consideration.

More beautiful and less looking bandwidth encodings

Intel Arc Av1 vs competition screenshots
A side-by-side comparison of Intel’s AV1 encoding with competing methods. To view full size, right-click (PC) or press and hold (mobile) to open in a new tab.

Adam Taylor/IDG

Intel is currently the only company that supports AV1 encoding — a form of encoding that improves image quality while reducing the bandwidth required to view video. This is a huge benefit for streaming and capturing uploads, and as our Arc AV1 test shows, Intel’s results look incredibly promising.

However, don’t rush to get an Arc 7 card only for this benefit. All Arc cards support this encoding feature, including the Arc A770 and the A750’s much cheaper sibling, the $140 Arc A380. Grab an Arc 7 card if you want stellar modern AAA gaming performance and AV1 encoding support as well. Otherwise, if your only goal is to overload your capture/streaming PC, you can save yourself some money.

Driver support is a work in progress

Cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing enabled
Driver optimization in games is just one aspect of the driver improvements Intel needs to make. (And honestly, the much less troublesome aspect.)

Thiago Trevisan/IDG

When Intel’s Arc A380 launched in China earlier this year, driver issues plagued the hardware. The situation has improved a lot since then, but Intel’s newest Arc GPUs still suffer from glitches at launch.

If you buy one of these cards, keep a reserve of patience on hand. During our tests, our benchmark machine crashed several times – nothing recurring or impressive, just annoying. Windows also required permissions approval for Intel’s Arc Control application on every reboot.

That said, Intel also fixed a large number of issues just during the review period: games not starting all together, app crashes when using a certain API mode, or features like ray tracing and game corruption.

Nvidia and AMD have a lot of progress on this front, with AMD in particular having largely changed the public perception of their drivers. Intel still has a bumpy road ahead, as noted in our full review of the Arc A770 and A750 – so you need to decide if you’re willing to accept that noise in exchange for an affordable graphics card.