Exclusive: Arctic Sound Family, Ponte Vecchio, and the Future of Intel Xe Graphics
We’ve received what may be our final Intel Xe Graphics leak. Why final? Because, well, Xe is on its way out, according to our sources in Taiwan. But that’s not going to happen for perhaps another 2 or more years. Before Xe finally dies, we will see the launch of Arctic Sound, DG1, and Ponte Vecchio, as well as some restructuring of the Xe graphics team. Allow me to walk you through the brief future of Intel Xe Graphics.
Arctic Sound and DG1 Rebranding
First, let’s start with Arctic Sound. We’ve already reported on Arctic Sound’s issues, but here’s a refresher for those that have forgotten or don’t know: it has many functions, does all of those functions inefficiently, and is made on the 10nm node which reduces its volume. Intel is likely to use some marketing magic to make it appear passable; they may omit the power consumption figures, for instance, in a demo or benchmark. What’s even worse for Intel is that Arctic Sound, much like Cascade Lake AP, has 0 design wins. Not a single OEM wanted Arctic Sound for datacenter products.
So, what is Intel to do? Well, although the two GPUs are totally different in terms of architecture, Intel is apparently planning to create the Arctic Sound family with both the Xe HP Arctic Sound and the Xe LP DG1. Since DG1 can still fulfill the original purpose of Arctic Sound, streaming, Intel can just substitute DG1 for the actual Arctic Sound GPU. By practically giving away “Arctic Sound” DG1 graphics cards to big companies, Intel can make it look like the Xe HP Arctic Sound has any design wins. Intel, of course, loses money on this; they are simply trying their best to put lipstick on a pig.
When does the Xe HP Arctic Sound (paper) launch? We’re not too sure, but we expect it to at least get some sort of mention during Intel’s upcoming Architecture day, which is being held in early August. It doesn’t matter too much, however, when this GPU launches, because it will be just like Cascade Lake AP in terms of availability.
One last thing about DG1: even though it is practically being given away, it just has one single laptop design win that we know of. It’s not nearly fast enough to justify it over Tiger Lake, which has basically the same GPU. And that win was only possible because Intel gave a discount on the CPU, a discount as large as 50%. You would be forgiven if you thought DG1 was canceled given its lack of presence.
Aurora to Drop Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio was originally the debut for Intel’s 7nm node, but as we all know, 7nm got delayed by 6-12 months and Intel said they were looking into outsourcing some components of Ponte Vecchio. It is highly likely Intel is going to outsource the GPU component to TSMC. Ponte Vecchio is still supposed to come out and it’s supposed to be used for Aurora, but we have been told that Argonne National Laboratory has been courting AMD and Nvidia for GPUs. Argonne’s contract with Intel for GPUs can still be canceled, and it is highly likely they will cancel and end up with Nvidia GPUs, or even AMD GPUs. The contract has not been terminated yet because Argonne can use it as leverage and give the impression that they can only be swayed with great effort.
The 7nm delay and outsourcing of the GPU component to TSMC is a major cause of Argonne’s second thoughts about Ponte Vecchio. Although DG2 is Xe HP and being fabbed at TSMC, unfortunately it is a very, very different GPU from Ponte Vecchio, which is more of a vector machine and has no graphics pipeline at all. Intel is starting from scratch with Ponte Vecchio at TSMC, which is obviously a big problem for Argonne.
This announcement was made in conjunction with Murthy Renduchintala’s departure from Intel, as a result of the 7nm node delay. 3 of the 5 executives in the announcement have been promoted to positions that were originally Reduchintala’s responsibility; Koduri is one of the two that did not receive any new responsibilities. If Koduri had a future at Intel, and given his esteemed reputation as a graphics engineer, then he would have received a promotion. He didn’t, and that’s likely because he will be leaving imminently. Where to? Who can say.
Intel Will Dissolve Xe
Finally, our Taiwanese sources say Intel will eventually cancel Xe and dissolve the graphics division. [Edit: To be clear, “the graphics division” refers to the team Raja Koduri assembled to work on discrete graphics like Xe HP and HPC, not to integrated graphics (such as Xe LP or Gen 12) which existed well before Raja Koduri was even hired.] We can’t be quite sure when this will happen, but given DG3’s cancelation and its prior launch target of 2023, 2023 could be the year Xe finally ends. The reason for Xe’s cancelation is just down to money. It has cost Intel about $500 million to fund Arctic Sound and DG1 (with Arctic Sound taking the lion’s share of that sum of money) and these graphics projects have yielded few results. Bob Swan is a financially focused CEO and he will seek to start cutting Intel’s lowest margin and least profitable ventures. Xe is first on the chopping block.
So, there you have it, the rough timeline of Intel Xe Graphics from today to 2023. Intel’s second foray into high end graphics ended much in the same way as the first: a slow death preceded by incredible hope and hype. Third time’s the charm, perhaps?
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