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No, you won’t need a Core 10th Gen CPU or newer for Intel Arc graphics cards

Demystifying Intel’s Arc quick start guide

Last week Intel published a “quick start guide” for their upcoming Arc A-series graphics cards, including a “Supported Hardware Configurations” section that only specifically namechecked their own 10th, 11th and 12th Gen Core CPUs. Cue a heady mix of confusion and perturbation – surely Intel weren’t suggesting that Arc GPUs would only function when paired with an Intel CPU, and a relatively new one at that?

No, they weren’t, though the guide’s vague wording isn’t doing it – and worse, potential Arc users – any favours. Parts of the guide appear to conflate support for Resizable BAR with support for the Arc A-series in general, which further muddies things as Resizable BAR works on AMD Ryzen chips as well as those three Core CPU generations. I asked Intel directly for clarification and essentially, Arc GPUs won’t have such super specific CPU requirements just to run - though they’ll apparently perform better in systems that do support Resizable BAR.

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Resizable BAR is Intel’s name for a feature that aims to improve PC performance by making the entirety of your graphics card’s frame buffer accessible to the CPU at once, as opposed to the usual tiny chunks. The Arc guide’s contentious Supported Hardware Configurations section explains that “Resizable BAR must be enabled for optimal performance in all applications using Intel Arc A-Series Graphics,” but then immediately lists only the 10th, 11th and 12th Core generations as supported chips.

While Resizable BAR specifically won’t work on Intel 9th-gen chips and older, it’s easy to read this as suggesting the newer chips are also the only confirmed compatible chips for Arc graphics in general. That would be strange, especially since on Nvidia GeForce GPUs, Resizable BAR works with AMD CPUs as well. AMD simply call the same tech Smart Access Memory (SAM) instead.

The statement I received from Intel is much clearer, at least in the sense that it confirms Arc graphics can be used without Resizable BAR, and thus with older Intel CPUs; they just might not run as fast.

“Intel Arc GPUs were built to be a modern design and take full advantage of Resizable BAR,” it reads. “Because of this, Resizable BAR must be enabled for optimal performance in all applications. Using Intel Arc Graphics in a system without Resizable BAR enabled will reduce performance, which will vary by platform and the application used.”

A render of the Intel Arc A380 graphics card as it appears in a Chinese press release.
The Intel Arc A380 has gone on sale in China, though we haven't seen any performance reviews for it yet.

Intel also confirmed that AMD Ryzen chips should work fine with SAM enabled: “Resizable BAR is the industry generic name, whereas Smart Access Memory is AMD’s naming for the feature. If you are using Intel Arc A-series Graphics products on an AMD system, simply ensure that Smart Access Memory has been enabled. Some manufacturers may vary in naming the option in the system’s firmware configuration page.”

So there you have it: older chips should work with Arc, Intel just reckon that Resizable BAR makes enough of a performance difference that it’s best pair with a 10th Gen Core CPU or newer (or a newer Ryzen chip, but then it’s not surprising Intel’s don’t want to list competitors’ processors on their own site).

I’ve previously found Resizable BAR to only have a tiny performance impact on Nvidia hardware, and sometimes an outright adverse one. But Arc cards may be better able to take advantage of it, and even if doesn’t, newer CPUs will probably help Arc's performance simply by virtue of being faster than older models.

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