Intel’s New Arc Family Of Discrete Mobile Graphics Is AMomentous Messaging Opportunity
Earlier today, Intel unveiled its new Arc portable GPUs via livestream. The new, highly anticipated Arc brand covers both the hardware and software fueling Intel’s high-end discrete GPUs and various hardware generations.
From a strategic importance standpoint, Arc is not a run-of-the-mill, casual product announcement for Intel. For multiple decades, Intel laid the foundation for PC platform innovation. Over the years, Intel has played a pivotal role in bringing features like USB, Thunderbolt, PCI and Wi-Fi to the PC, creating a superhighway-like connectivity infrastructure at the system level. More recently, the company has leveraged its considerable engineering expertise to develop the Evo platform, an evolving prescription of technology ingredients that the company believes a mobile product must have to stimulate and inspire professional content creators, consumers and gamers. This morning’s launch of the Arc graphics family for laptops completes an essential puzzle piece of Intel’s platform strategy.
It’s important to note that this morning’s announcement, designated as the A-Series component of the Arc graphics portfolio, is Intel’s first discrete GPU designed for laptops. Intel will unveil additional discrete graphics solutions for desktop and workstation-class products later in the year.
What are the big takeaways about the A-Series?
Before detailing some of the innovative features that jump out about the A-Series, it’s clear that Intel has a profound view that immersive, high-performance graphics experiences can only be delivered by integrating the right combination of hardware, software and services. This point is not trivial since the underpinning of the A-Series GPUs is derived from a platform-level approach that utilizes a new X High Performance Graphic microarchitecture (X HPG), specifically designed for creators and gamers. The X Media engine architecture (optimized for DirectX 12 Ultimate) comprehends hardware acceleration for ray tracing, which is vital to process heavy-duty creator workloads efficiently.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Arc A-Series GPUs is the comprehension of AI capability in the platform itself. Intel calls it X Matrix Extensions (XMX) AI engines, and the technology provides additional compute capability for quickening AI workloads. Intel states that these AI engines have 16 times the compute power to execute inferencing operations when likened to traditional GPU vector units, which has the potential to generate additional performance in creator, gaming and productivity applications.
Intel claims another industry first with the deployment of full AVI1 hardware acceleration (including both encode and decode) that facilitates faster video encode and quality streaming without demanding additional bandwidth. Intel says that it is working with its industry partners and other parties in the ecosystem to utilize the new AV1 codec in well-known media applications. While it will take some time to see broader codec adoption, this could be a massive deal for the plethora of applications in the entertainment and content creation market that utilize video encoding and streaming.
Finally, the new Arc GPUs will take full advantage of the company’s Deep Link technologies that work effortlessly with Intel CPUs, such as the company’s new family of Alder Lake 12th Gen processors. This particular feature, in my view, is a standout as it demonstrates the benefits of using an Intel-branded CPU and GPU simultaneously: dynamic power-sharing that helps intelligently distributes powers across the platform to increase application performance by up to 30% in creation and compute-intensive applications.
Importantly, these are all “baseline” capabilities found in the Arc 3 GPUs, with more robust designs in the upcoming (summer timeframe) with Arc 5 and Arc 7 iterations that will have amplified graphics and computing performance.
The messaging challenges that Intel faces
There is broad industry consensus that Intel’s entrance into the discrete graphics space is good for the company and the overall PC market itself. Both AMD and NVIDIA have dominated both the desktop and laptop market for years with their discrete graphics solutions, a glaring gap for Intel that became particularly noticeable as the PC gaming and professional content creator categories evolved into significantly bigger markets. One could argue that Intel should have entered the discrete graphics market years ago. Still, the counter-argument is that the company had to wait until it got its core CPU business back on track, which the company appears to be well on the way to getting done with its new, well-received Alder Lake CPU family.
Intel’s more considerable challenge is that Arc is the “new kid” on the block in the discrete graphics space. AMD and NVIDIA have influential (and longtime) constituencies in the graphics space, and it will take some time to win some of these groups over. The good news is that Intel’s technologies to market with Arc are so persuasive and compelling that I believe Intel’s entrance into the discrete graphics space will be warmly welcomed.
With that, the “marketing guy” in me can’t resist the opportunity to make a few suggestions to the Intel team on how it might message Arc to a broader mainstream audience:
#1: DON’T TRY TO CONVERT THE ALREADY CONVERTED: There will be the strongest temptation for Intel to focus its marketing resources disproportionately on gamers. While PC gamers are incredibly influential, I think it’s wise for Intel to shift more of its energies to professional media and content creators. If third-party benchmarks confirm the performance potential of these new Arc GPUs, PC gamers will inherently gravitate to them without a lot of marketing assistance from Intel. The opportunity for Intel is to win over professional media and content makers who might be otherwise predisposed to Apple’s M1 story. Stated a bit more succinctly, lead with professional content benefits — — an excellent gaming experience is a bonus.
#2: LEAD WITH CONTENT CREATOR BENEFITS: Intel has a unique opportunity here. Digital photography and video editing are quickly becoming mainstream usage models. Ten years ago, photo, music and video editing/production were viewed as “specialty” usage models for a relatively narrow group of users. Today, many mainstream users who would have never defined themselves as professional content creators are now routinely editing and producing premium-grade content, a trend exacerbated by social media apps’ seemingly insatiable appetite for content that looks polished. Apple’s desktop and portable brands have had an almost unfair association with professional content creators for years. With its new Alder Lake line of 12th gen processors and the Arc lineup, Intel is now positioned better than it’s ever been before to compete in this segment of the PC market strongly.
#3: DOUBLE DOWN ON DEEP LINK MESSAGING: As Intel rolls out the Arc brand to the world, it must remain mindful that the ability of Intel CPUs and GPUs to work seamlessly together is still very much an esoteric topic for many users. The company must be unabashedly explicit in explaining its benefits. The same could be said about the AI dynamics of Deep Link. This aspect is an area where simple messaging will rule the day. Marketing references like Hyper Encode, Hyper Compute and Dynamic Power Share are undeniable catnip to PC gamers and high-end users, but mainstream users may shrug their shoulders. Intel’s focus must be on “plain as day” messaging that highlights the ability to work smarter, faster, more productively and longer.
#4: LET THIRD-PARTY BENCHMARKS SPEAK: During a confidential briefing with industry analysts earlier in the week, Intel did not publish any internal benchmark data on the new Arc 3. With the brouhaha still percolating around some of the misleading benchmarks that Apple revealed during its M1 Ultra announcement a few weeks ago, Intel is taking a wise approach by letting third-party benchmarks (which will become public shortly) speak for themselves. Intel has a remarkable opportunity to take the high road, and I commend Intel on letting others do the talking when it comes to benchmark performance.
#5: FOCUS ON THE ADVANTAGES OF INTEL’S BROAD ECOSYSTEM: The combination of Alder Lake CPUs and the new Intel Arc CPUs presents Intel with an extraordinary opportunity to show the world that no other company is better positioned from a technology offerings standpoint to lead the PC space. From a price point range, form factor and usage model standpoint, Intel can set itself apart with versatile product designs that are innovative and aspirational. Intel’s strong OEM relationships, an often underestimated asset, allow the company to deliver unique solutions that can captivate and inspire. In that context, Arc should be viewed as one more element that enables Intel to fulfill its vision of where PC computing is headed. Conversational and straightforward messaging, which is often uncommon in large parts of Silicon Valley, resonates with mainstream users who comprise the bulk of the overall consumer PC market.
Some closing thoughts
It’s no small matter when a new competitor enters a legacy product space (like discrete graphics) that a duopoly has dominated for decades. Intel’s entrance into this category is a big deal, and the company knows it.
There are several genuinely promising hardware and software features that Intel is bringing to market with Arc. Intel Arc A-Series aims to allow the company to create a firm grip on the mobile graphics market. Intel understands that many (if not all) of Arc’s baseline capabilities appeal to gamers and will strongly reverberate with professional content developers. The requirements overlap between what gamers and professional content creators need is almost impossible to separate.
It should also be called out that Intel’s penchant for looking forward is very much evident in the Arc lineup. A good example is that Arc comprehends “next-gen” display connectivity (beneficial for content creators) that is nowhere to be seen in many existing “high-end” graphics solutions, such as Apple’s exorbitantly priced Mac Studio, which limits users to a maximum of 4K/60Hz via the HDMI port (or 6K/60Hz using a Thunderbolt connection). Intel Arc blows this away with 1080p/1440p support at 360Hz, support for up to four connected 4K/120Hz HDR displays, or two HDR displays that support 8K/60Hz. That translates into powerful “future-proofing” messaging that Intel must pounce upon as professional content creators will drool over it.
Other practical, non-gamer benefits are baked into Arc. One intriguing demo shown during the analyst briefing focused on real-time video resolution enhancement during livestream calls. Intel was mum about whether it would provide post-production support for this feature to developers, but the demo’s impact was jaw-dropping.
Finally, it’s good to see Intel continuing to invest in community-level activities to drive awareness around the company’s solutions in the gaming and content creation space. Intel has played a vital role with partner bundles, contests, giveaways, and gaming event sponsorships for several years. While this work is excellent and critical, I’d like to see the content creation dimension of these activities amped up a bit, as Intel has the marketing heft to position itself as one of the leading technology providers that individuals and companies depend on for producing top-shelf media content.
To be sure, it is premature for Intel to uncork the champagne until the Arc solutions are put through their paces by the usual benchmarking outfits. Regardless, the story that Intel has assembled is absorbing, and it raises the bar for the entire industry. The task at hand is now getting the word out in a conversational, understandable and technobabble-free manner.
Mark Vena is the CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research based in Silicon Valley. As a technology industry veteran for over 25 years, Mark covers many consumer tech topics, including PCs, smartphones, smart home, connected health, security, PC and console gaming, and streaming entertainment solutions. Mark has held senior marketing and business leadership positions at Compaq, Dell, Alienware, Synaptics, Sling Media and Neato Robotics. Mark has appeared on CNBC, NBC News, ABC News, Business Today, The Discovery Channel and other media outlets. Mark’s analysis and commentary have appeared on Forbes.com and other well-known business news and research sites. His comments about the consumer tech space have repeatedly appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, TechNewsWorld and other news publications.
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