Intel’s desktop Arc GPUs have been the subject of much speculation regarding a potential delay of their launch, and now we have news from the chip giant itself that the discrete graphics cards won’t arrive any time soon for regions outside of China.
This is disappointing, of course, but not exactly a surprise given that over the past couple of weeks, it’s been looking more and more likely that Arc Alchemist desktop products were going to slip going by the rumor mill. What’s really dismaying here is how far they may have potentially slipped for regions outside of Asia.
The news came from a blog post penned by Lisa Pearce, Vice President and General Manager for the Visual Compute Group at Intel.
Pearce wrote: “We will release our entry-level Intel Arc A-series products for desktops (A3) first in China through system builders and OEMs in Q2. Etail and retail component sales will follow shortly in China as well. Proximity to board components and strong demand for entry-level discrete products makes this a natural place to start. Our next step will be to scale these products globally.
“Roll-out of Intel Arc A5 and A7 desktop cards will start worldwide with OEMs and system integrators later this summer, followed by component sales in worldwide channels.”
“This staggered approach gives us confidence at each step that we can effectively serve our customer base.”
Analysis: A substantial delay that Intel can ill afford
Where does this leave us? It’s pretty bad news regarding an expected timeframe for the arrival of Arc Alchemist desktop graphics cards in the US and Europe, that much is clear. And indeed where does it leave Intel? Not in a good place, we’d suggest.
There’s bound to be some anger and frustration from gamers (outside of China) who are keenly awaiting an alternative to AMD and Nvidia – along with a surge of even more GPU stock, exerting further downward pressure on pricing – and who’d been promised a Q2 launch for these discrete Arc GPUs. And yes, Intel again underlined its commitment to a Q2 launch as recently as just over a week ago.
The fact is, of course, that Intel will have a Q2 launch, just one that’s solely in Asia, and there was no mention of such an approach, or a staggering on a regional basis (or a staggering of OEMs then standalone cards, for that matter).
There are a few interesting points to highlight in the blog post, including that sentence about ‘proximity to board components’, with the choice of China apparently being based on production concerns to some extent, then?
Pearce also says the following as a kind of excuse for the delay: “Unlike notebook designs, desktop systems have a vast set of combinations, including memory, motherboards, and CPUs. To initially limit some of this variation, we will launch working with system builders and OEMs with specific configurations.”
While that’s true enough, it’s not like Intel suddenly realized this, at this point in the Arc desktop development process. So why all the bluster about a Q2 launch – which was taken as read as being global – always being in the cards if the company knew the complexities around making the desktop products were continuing to be a thorny problem.
We – and many others – have speculated for a while now that Intel is needing extra time to nail the drivers, and there’s also a mention of software issues in the post, albeit relating to sluggish availability of laptop GPUs. Again, the situation with those mobile Arc graphics cards was that they launched in Q1 (just), but have only been available in Korea thus far – sound familiar? – with Pearce noting that Intel has “had some software readiness delays” which have contributed to delaying wider global availability of Arc-powered notebooks (plus Covid lockdowns are in the mix here, too).
Tracing a timeline…
All in all, this is grim-sounding news given how far out Arc Alchemist desktop GPUs look to have been pushed, if we try to trace out a rough timeline based on what we’re told here (Pearce doesn’t give any dates at all, save that Q2 availability will happen, just in China).
So, while the discrete Arc GPUs will be out in China from Q2 onwards, presumably late June, they will just be supplied to OEMs, meaning the cards will only be purchased as part of a prebuilt PC. Retail sales of standalone graphics cards will “follow shortly”, so let’s say that’ll be late July (or maybe early August).
The next step will be the rollout of Intel Arc A5 and A7 desktop GPUs worldwide, but only to OEMs, and that will happen “later this summer” – so late August, we can guess, is when these first Alchemist offerings will be available in the US and Europe (presumably).
And that’ll be “followed by component sales in worldwide channels”, and we note that there’s no mention of ‘shortly’ or ‘soon’ here, which seems to suggest there could be a little bit of a wait after the launch of Arc GPUs in prebuilt desktops. If the latter is happening late in August, then, we can guess September would be labeled as ‘soon’, so we’re most likely looking at October as a best-case scenario of standalone Arc GPUs actually being on shelves outside of Asia. Potentially, things could slip even further than that…
Even if Intel doesn’t suffer any further issues and hits this October release, there’s a big problem with discrete Arc Alchemist coming that late in the year – AMD and Nvidia have next-gen GPUs which are also due around that time.
This means that Intel’s Arc products will be going up against RTX 4000 and RDNA 3 graphics cards, most likely – these ranges are rumored for Q3, or early Q4, so September or October time – and both are expected to make some serious performance leaps. (Nvidia is purportedly ramping up frame rates massively, admittedly with equally big power demands in theory, and AMD is rumored to be running with an all-new MCM or multi-chip module design, a radical change which could have huge benefits for its higher-end models).
To sum up the situation in a nutshell, this means the Intel Arc desktop flagship – which might be one of the later models to arrive in the Alchemist line-up anyway, or so we’ve heard – is currently rumored to trade blows with Nvidia’s RTX 3070 Ti, and so it might end up squaring off against more like the RTX 4060, which, er, isn’t a good look for Team Blue (in terms of flagship equals mid-range).
Surely, if that’s the case, pricing will then become the only viable way Intel can attack the market, particularly considering it’s looking like GPU availability issues are easing already – meaning prices are normalizing – and inventory issues could have largely evaporated completely as we roll towards the end of 2022 (so gamers won’t be scrabbling for any vaguely palatable stock they can get their hands on in certain price segments).
And if this scenario plays out, will Intel be willing to go for the throat with some truly bargain-basement price tags? Well, sadly, the buzz on the grapevine thus far doesn’t seem to suggest that’s the case…