A single line of code – that was all it took for a massive increase in ray tracing performance in Intel Arc Alchemist GPUs, thanks to Intel graphics driver engineer Lionel Landwerlin. With Intel’s new graphics cards struggling a bit with performance issues and early driver issues, it’s a welcome sight.
Landwerlin describes the change as “like a 100x improvement (no kidding)” in the text description of his merge request to the new line of code. This sounds like hyperbole, but a quick look at the request details immediately makes it clear that it is not.
Don’t worry; we won’t get too complex with this explanation. Intel’s DG2 “Alchemist” GPU has been in development for years, and Intel has been aiming to implement Vulkan ray tracing features since at least 2020. When this driver was originally written, a minor oversight by the original engineer saw the GPU extract system memory (the RAM mounted on the motherboard) instead of local memory (the GPU’s onboard VRAM).
This resulted in a huge performance drop because the GPU needed to communicate with system memory to process ray tracing directives, which introduced an unacceptable level of memory latency. The fix – a single line of code that flags local memory for allocating ray tracing processes – means that performance is now at the level it should have been all along.
Analysis: Intel needs every advantage it can get right now
Intel’s Arc GPU series is finally appearing in the wild, with budget A3 cards now available in some Asian markets, while more powerful gaming-oriented A7 GPUs are already being announced for a global release.
Still, Intel should be worried; Arc’s initial impressions were mediocre, and serious competition is on the way in the form of Nvidia’s Lovelace and AMD’s RDNA 3 GPUs. First-gen Arc cards appear to compete with current-gen offerings from Team Green and Team Red, but Intel needs to get these cards on sale quickly if it wants to secure significant market share.
This driver fix, combined with signs that Intel may have erred on the side of caution with the power consumption of Arc cards resulting in lower initial game performance, indicates that Intel can still remain competitive with the best graphics cards in the market. We still have hope that the Arc series will become a serious competitor to GeForce and Radeon, but only time will tell. But hey at least Cryptocurrency Miners Won’t Scalp Them.
From Phoronix (opens in new tab).