Intel Arc graphics cards could be in serious trouble - will Team Blue throw in the towel?

Intel Arc Alchemist GPU
(Image credit: Intel)

*Update: After this story published, Intel was able to respond to our request. Intel pointed us to a tweet by Raja Koduri, Intel's executive vice president and general manager of the Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics (AXG) Group. We have updated this story with Koduri's statement.* 

There's finally some news on Intel Arc Alchemist's release date, but not the kind that anybody outside of Nvidia and AMD really wanted to hear: Arc Alchemist and Battlemage might get the ax entirely over unfixable hardware flaws that are kneecapping their performance, and it's threatening to scrap Intel's entire Arc discrete graphics line.

This report comes from YouTuber Moore's Law is Dead, and it is a doozy, full of internal politics, bitterness, and recriminations at Intel over the company's graphics unit being unable to actually deliver the discrete graphics cards that have been hyped up for more than a year.

I highly suggest you watch the video for all the tea, but the key takeaway is that internal sources at Intel told Moore's Law is Dead that there is a potentially unfixable hardware flaw in the Arc Alchemist GPU that the graphics unit had hoped to address using a driver fix, but that fix isn't working. That's the hardware challenge, reportedly, and it might extend to Battlemage as well. If this is true, then it definitely would explain why the Intel Arc launch has been, well, strange.

Where things get real messy is that the Intel Arc graphics unit has been doing PR for Arc Alchemist cards that Intel told investors would have launched to western markets by the end of the second quarter of this year. We are now in Q3, the cards have not launched, and Intel insiders outside of the graphics unit are angry that the graphics unit is doing PR saying that cards are ready when they do not appear to be ready at all.

On top of that, there are apparently issues with Intel AIB partners who, according to a purportedly leaked presentation, were lined up to produce Intel Arc cards starting at the end of July. Moore's Law is Dead is saying that none of the board partners he's spoken with have any idea what is going on, and the AIBs are not at all happy with the situation.

Finally, cue Pat Gelsinger, Intel's CEO, who is reportedly now looking into whether the entire Arc discrete graphics project should just be canceled. As Moore's Law is Dead highlights in the video, there were some strong hints of this frustration during Intel's earnings call this week where Gelsinger acknowledged the disappointing earnings and said that while the global chip shortage was still very much an issue, problems of "execution" on Intel's part also contributed to Intel's falling far short of earnings expectations for Q2.

So, that is more or less the report that Moore's Law is Dead presented, and we have not independently confirmed anything ourselves. For Intel's part, Intel's AXG chief Raja Koduri tweeted out Intel's commitment to Arc Alchemist this year. 

"We are very much committed to our roadmap," Koduri said. "We are ramping Alchemist and will continue to improve the experience. You will see more updates from us this quarter. AXG is also on track to ramp 4 new product lines by the end of the year."

So, um, when exactly are we going to see these cards? Asking for a friend

It's still too soon to tell what exactly is happening with Intel Arc, but Moore's Law is Dead's report isn't coming out of nowhere. Intel Arc Alchemist is more than a month late from its target launch date in the US, and the smattering of cards we have seen in the wild have been bizarrely inconsistent, with performance throttling from single lines of code to the head-scratcher that Intel's first discrete graphics card was going to launch in China and India first.

Fair enough, those are two of the largest consumer markets in the world, and China has more than enough tech heads that want to get their hands on some Intel cards, too, but there's no way to shake an uneasy feeling about all this. This doesn't feel like a well-planned product launch, and the recent PR appearances by some Intel reps on the graphics card team invariably fail to answer the question everybody is asking, which is when are these cards coming out? 

Sure, they're available in China and India, so they are technically "out", but I mean globally. That's a question Intel can't seem to answer right now, and it's a damned shame if there ever was one.

Budget builders can't catch a break

Earlier this week, I wrote about the problem of semiconductor manufacturers like Nvidia, AMD, and, yes, Intel, pursuing increasingly more powerful hardware in an arms race with rivals and how that is having very real consequences in the real world. The wholesale abandonment of any pretense towards energy efficiency in all but the most basic Chromebook processor is disturbing.

Not as bad but still awful is the pricing out of an increasing number of people, mostly gamers but also academics and researchers who actually do need high-performance GPUs for scientific work, and who are simply not the target consumers for these cards anymore. 

There are rumors that Nvidia's RTX 4090, when it launches later this year, will cost less than the RTX 3090. That's a nice start, but the RTX 3090 costs $1,499. Will the RTX 4090 cost $1,449? $1,299? You know what else costs $1,499? A 3-credit-hour graduate course at the City University of New York-Brooklyn College. The cost of the RTX 3090 was obscene, frankly, when it launched, and it remains so.

It used to be you could rely on AMD to come in with a lower-cost option for the rest of us who couldn't afford a GeForce card anymore, but that ship is sailing, too. There is still value to be found among graphics cards out there, which is why the Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti is at the top of our best graphics card list, but that herd is thinning rather quickly.

That, ultimately, was my hope for Intel Arc. As a newcomer to the graphics card cold war between Nvidia and AMD, there was room for Intel to sweep in with a solid budget to lower-midrange lineup and clean up on that cost-conscious-friendly market. I hope Moore's Law is Dead turns out to be dead wrong on this, but it's looking rather iffy out here for all the gamers stuck on aging hardware like the RTX 1050 and AMD RX 470.

If Intel does end up shelving or axing Arc entirely, it will be a real blow to budget-minded gamers and builders out there, and the budget side of things could really use a solid win these days.

John Loeffler
Components Editor

John (He/Him) is the Components Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.

You can find him online on Threads @johnloeffler.

Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 (just like everyone else).