Intel’s first Arc Alchemist desktop graphics card was released last month – but as you may recall, it’s still only on sale in China – and countless reviews of the low-end model from manufacturer Gunnir are now emerging, complete with disappointing conclusions. about performance. However, a review gives us a possible explanation for what might be happening here.
These Gunnir Arc A380 Photon reviews have surfaced in China (of course), Germany and a few other countries including Russia, the latter being what we are interested in here.
Generally speaking, revisions (as signaled by VideoCardz (opens in new tab)) were not pretty for Intel, with Igor’s Lab declaring the Gunnir board ‘unapproved’ for example (with a score of 1/5, but note that there has been considerable criticism of Gunnir, the manufacturer itself, and the quality of its board, as opposed to Intel which only produces the GPU).
However, as verified by hot hardware (opens in new tab)there is brighter news – more or less – here in the aforementioned Russian review, carried out by Pro Hi-Tech on YouTube (opens in new tab). While the Gunnir A380 trailed Nvidia’s GTX 1650 and disappointed with its overall performance, the reviewer noted that the graphics card only pulled just over 35W despite being equipped with an external power connector – indicating it could be consuming a lot more. than that, as a GPU can get a modest amount of power directly from the motherboard and only needs external power from the PSU if it’s a 75W+ model.
So the reviewer decided to bump up the A380 and see the results, and while Arc GPUs won’t work with third-party overclocking utilities, luckily Intel has its own built-in overclocking feature built into the graphics driver itself (Arc Control Center).
The reviewer boosted GPU performance to 55%, while increasing the core voltage by 255mV, which resulted in an increase in power usage from around 35W to 55W – and some big performance gains.
Some games fared better than others under the new setup, as will always be the case, but to give you an idea of the big difference that was witnessed in some titles, Doom Eternal benefited from a 60% boost. Yes – that’s huge. Other games still had plenty of turbocharging, like God of War with a 40% performance boost.
Analysis: Is it a kind of magic? No, not really…
So what’s going on here? Is Intel’s overclocking tool working on some kind of sorcery to significantly increase frame rates? Because with a typical overclocking scenario with existing AMD and Nvidia desktop graphics cards, gamers get small (but still worth it) boosts, but nothing on that kind of scale.
The key here is that there’s a big difference between tweaking a graphics card’s clock speeds to increase them a little bit, and cranking up the power to that point. Remember, this is a 20W jump, and with the graphics card running at 35W by default, it represents a more than 55% increase in supplied power. So all of a sudden those 40% to 60% jumps in performance in some games start to make a little more sense…
The question then becomes – if this A380 GPU is apparently running on a much lower power envelope than it could achieve, why is this happening?
Hot Hardware points out that in a conversation with Intel Fellow Tom Petersen, he said that Team Blue clock speeds for Arc were dropped at lower levels and were ‘worst case’ numbers, indicating that much more could be pushed to outside of Alchemist GPUs – and the same can be true for power caps. Intel may have set these values low to err on the side of caution and really ensure stability and reliability for the A380, particularly on these early cards, which are running with drivers that are still unstable.
And yes, looking at the various revisions available at the moment, the Arc driver is still a work in progress, and that’s kind of nice (one reviewer noted finding a ‘minefield’ of driver issues when evaluating the A380).
We theorized that the decision to only release in China to begin with was about dipping your toes in the water with a desktop GPU that still had teething issues, and it looks like that might be the case if these reviews are any basis. And rather than risk any damage to the reputation surrounding the Arc A380 failing in this early incarnation – and the possible perception that the Arc brand might disappoint when it launches outside of Asia – Intel has been particularly cautious around power caps, thermals and clocks.
This is just speculation, of course, but the good news is that if this is the case, the situation with drivers will improve over time, as will the tuning applied to graphics cards along with performance levels. (Whether the kind of jump in power seen here is palatable in the long term, we don’t know, of course, and pushing that far might not be wise – but it looks like there’s a fair amount of breathing room with the A380, at any rate.)
This tight power envelope would also theoretically explain why these early benchmarks make the A380 seem like a poor rival to the Nvidia GTX 1650 or AMD RX 6400 (the latter of which is not unlocked for overclocking) at the budget end of the GPU market. .
Aside from the prospect of there being a lot of room for improvement, perhaps in terms of default power levels and definitely with drivers, there’s also been other positive news surrounding desktop Arc GPUs recently, namely that they don’t support crypto mining.