Intel Xe GPU: The first Xe graphics card looks ‘interesting’

Intel has revealed new information about its GPU plans, revealing the first chip to use the 7nm Intel Xe architecture. 

Intel plans to use the Xe architecture in discrete graphics cards for desktops and to integrate it into notebook processors for laptops – not too dissimilar to the integrated graphics found in Intel’s Ice Lake processors. 

Ponte Vecchio, a high-powered GPU designed specifically for data centers, has been confirmed to be the very first chip to feature the Xe architecture. This will also be the very first 7nm product from Intel, beating Intel’s own line of processors which is a big surprise. 

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Ponte Vecchio is not a consumer product, and will instead feature in a supercomputer called ‘Aurora’ located in Chicago at the Argonne National Laboratory. But Ponte Vecchio does provide an insight into Intel’s Xe architecture, and what we should expect when it inevitably becomes the foundations of the company’s consumer products. 

The first noteworthy element of Intel’s Xe architecture is that it uses Multi-Chip Module (MCM) arrangement and so can join multiple chiplets together. This means the architecture is scalable, and the reason why Intel will be able to use the same GPU architecture for both a supercomputer and a consumer gaming graphics card. 

This differs greatly to how Nvidia and AMD design GPU architecture, typically opting for a single monolithic die instead. The disadvantage of this is that Nvidia and AMD have had to design separate architectures for every industry segment. Nvidia, for example, currently uses the Turing architecture for its consumer-level GTX and RTX graphics cards, while using Volta architecture for the Titan series cards made specifically for supercomputers. 

Related: Intel Ice Lake what you need to know

Intel meanwhile will keep its Xe architecture consistent across multiple markets, instead using different microarchitectures to scale the performance power of the GPU for different uses. 

With Ponte Vecchio not expected to be installed until 2021 though, it’s going to be a long, long time until the Xe GPU architecture will be used for consumer products. There’s also many questions yet to be answered, including how powerful Intel’s future GPUs will be and whether it will be able to compete with the likes of AMD and Nvidia. 

There’s no denying though, that this is an exciting first step for Intel into expanding its remit and manufacturing GPUs as well as CPUs.  

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