Intel’s first Arc Alchemist desktop graphics card was launched last month – but as you may recall, it’s still only on sale in China – and numerous reviews of the low-end model from manufacturer Gunnir are now cropping up, complete with disappointing conclusions on performance. However, one review gives us a possible explanation for what might be happening here.
These reviews of the Gunnir Arc A380 Photon have popped up in China (of course), Germany, and a couple of other countries including Russia, the latter being the one we’re interested in here.
Broadly speaking, the reviews (as flagged up by VideoCardz (opens in new tab)) have not been pretty for Intel, with Igor’s Lab declaring the Gunnir card ‘not approved’ for example (with a score of 1/5, but note, there was considerable criticism leveled at Gunnir, the manufacturer itself and the quality of its card, as opposed to Intel which produces only the GPU).
However, as spotted by Hot Hardware (opens in new tab), there is a brighter bit of news – sort of – here in that aforementioned Russian review, carried out by Pro Hi-Tech on YouTube (opens in new tab). While the Gunnir A380 came out behind Nvidia’s GTX 1650 and disappointed with its overall performance, the reviewer observed that the graphics card only pulled just over 35W despite being equipped with an external power connector – indicating it could be chugging a lot more than this, 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 juice up the A380 and see the results, and while Arc GPUs don’t work with third-party overclocking utilities, luckily Intel has its own integrated overclocking feature built into the graphics driver itself (Arc Control Center).
The reviewer cranked the GPU performance boost to 55% while also upping the core voltage by 255 mV, which resulted in power usage rising from around 35W to 55W – and some major performance gains.
Some games did better than others under the new configuration, as will always be the case, but to give you an idea of the big difference that was witnessed for some titles, Doom Eternal benefited from a 60% boost. Yep – that’s huge. Other games still got a good deal of turbocharging, like God of War with a 40% performance increase.
Analysis: It’s a kind of magic? No, not really…
So what’s going on here? Is Intel’s overclocking tool working some kind of sorcery to majorly up frame rates? Because with a typical overclocking scenario with existing AMD and Nvidia desktop graphics cards, gamers get small (yet still worthwhile) boosts, but nothing on this kind of scale.
The key here is that there’s a big difference between tinkering with the clock speeds of a graphics card to bump them up a bit, and ramping up the wattage to such an extent. Remember, this is a jump of 20W, and with the graphics card pottering along at 35W by default out of the box, it represents over a 55% boost in the power supplied. So suddenly those 40% to 60% jumps in performance in some games start to make a bit more sense…
The question then becomes – if this A380 GPU is apparently being run in a much lower power envelope than it could reach, why is that so?
Hot Hardware points out that in a chat with Intel Fellow Tom Petersen, he said that Team Blue’s clock speeds for Arc were pitched at lower levels, and were ‘worst case’ numbers, indicating a good deal more could be pushed for out of Alchemist GPUs – and the same could be true for the power limits. Intel may have set these low out of the gate to err on the side of caution and really ensure stability and reliability for the A380, particularly in these early cards, which are running with drivers that are still wonky.
And yes, going by the various reviews out there right now, the Arc driver is still very much a work in progress, and that’s putting it kindly (one reviewer remarked on encountering a ‘minefield’ of driver issues when evaluating the A380).
We theorized that the decision to release just in China to begin with was about dipping toes in the water with a desktop GPU that still had teething issues, and it seems this could be the case if these reviews are anything to go by. And rather than risk any reputational damage around the Arc A380 misfiring in this initial incarnation – and the possible perception that the Arc brand might disappoint when launched outside of Asia – Intel has been particularly cautious around power limits, thermals, and clocks.
That’s just us speculating, of course, but the good news is that if this is the case, the situation with drivers will improve given time, and so should the tuning applied to the graphics cards along with performance levels. (Whether the kind of jump in wattage seen here is palatable longer-term, we don’t know of course, and pushing that hard may not be wise – but it does seem like there’s a good amount of breathing room with the A380, at any rate).
This constrained power envelope would also theoretically explain why these early performance assessments make the A380 seem like a poor rival for 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 plenty of room for improvement, perhaps in terms of default power levels, and definitely with drivers, there’s also been some other positive news around desktop Arc GPUs recently, namely that they don’t support crypto-mining.