Mostly known for its processor technology, Intel® is also a leader in PC graphics, with a long reputation for integrated graphics and, more recently, discrete graphics, too. If you've shopped for a PC lately, you've no doubt seen these popular Intel graphics options, including a dedicated GPU for gamers and creators that Intel launched to great reviews in 2022:
- Intel® Arc™ graphics—Released March 2022
- A high-performance discrete graphics brand with hardware, software & services
- Intel® Iris® Xe and Intel® Iris® Xe MAX graphics
- Intel® Iris®, Intel® Iris® Pro, and Intel® Iris® Plus graphics
- Intel® HD and Intel® UHD graphics
Intel graphics are popular in gaming laptops, creator workstations, and work and home PCs. They deliver exciting visuals with sharp color and fast frame rates. And they do it while promising less energy use and heat production than competitors.
Buying a PC involves a series of decisions. Which processor speed is best? How much storage space do you need? How much RAM will it have? And, of course, what graphics to choose. Do you prefer integrated graphics or discrete/dedicated graphics? And if you're buying an Intel-based system, which Intel graphics option is right for you?
Let's take a deeper look at the leading Intel graphics options—available on a variety of Lenovo laptops and desktop PCs.
Choosing the best Intel graphics option
The release of Intel® Arc™ GPUs was noted by analysts, who said it marked Intel's serious return to the discrete/dedicated graphics market after focusing for years mostly on integrated graphics. And when you think about it, it's a natural evolution.
As everyone knows, Intel has built its reputation making PC processors, where each new, smaller CPU die enables faster, more efficient calculations that can also speed up built-in (integrated) graphics functions. So what happens when the company applies this expertise to discrete GPUs?
The answer—as of 2022—is Intel Arc graphics. Here's a deeper look at what makes Intel Arc dedicated graphics such a game-changer, as well as Intel's most popular integrated graphics options, the Intel® Iris® Xe family and ever-popular Intel® UHD graphics.
Intel Arc graphics
New Intel® Arc™ is Intel's latest high-performance consumer graphics brand. It was launched to great fanfare in early 2022, aimed at competitive gamers, content creators and others who had been waiting for Intel to release an advanced, discrete GPU to compliment it's world-famous Intel® Core™ CPUs.
Intel Arc graphics are built on the new Intel® Xe HPG microarchitecture, combining the best of recent Xe family technology to enable scalable graphics functionality that's highly resource-efficient. You get hardware-based ray tracing, AI-driven super sampling and more. Take a look:
- High performance gaming
- Enthusiast-class gaming for laptops (desktops due later in 2022)
- New game-maker partnerships; optimized day-of-launch game drivers
- High fidelity visuals
- Next-gen realism with full support for DirectX 12 Ultimate
- Performance and visuals bolstered by Super Sampling technology
- High speed creation
- Advanced codec support, encode capabilities and performance
- Pro streaming features and high-bandwidth media pipeline
Plus, the company bills Intel Arc differently: It's not just hardware (the GPU and related components) but software and services, too -- all designed to support today's creators and gamers.
Intel Arc technology
The intelligence behind Intel® Arc™ graphics is highlighted by two especially notable features:
- Intel® Deep Link Technology delivers what Intel calls intelligently-boosted performance by simultaneously using the main processor, the integrated graphics within the main processor, and one of the company's new, discrete GPUs (such as Intel Arc) to handle workloads faster. Performance improvements apply across all areas, from gaming to streaming to creating:
- Hyper Encode: By utilizing multiple media engines, encoding is accelerated so you can create faster.
- AI-Enabled Editing: Keep your creative flow as your PC handles many AI video and image workloads.
- Dynamic Power Share: Smart CPU-GPU power routing boosts performance based on what you're doing.
- Xe Super Sampling (XeSS) is AI-enhanced upscaling. It uses AI algorithms and hardware acceleration to deliver fully immersive, high definition visuals – even at performance levels that might otherwise force lower resolution rendering. Intel has built XeSS on open standards and is collaborating with major game manufacturers to promote wide adoption.
Of course, innovative Arc graphics are just the latest Intel option. As we'll explain next, many other Intel graphics alternatives remain highly popular with laptop and desktop buyers.
Intel Iris, Iris Pro, Iris Plus, Iris Xe and Iris Xe Max
Intel's integrated graphics offerings are led by the Intel Iris family -- comprised of Intel Iris and Intel Iris Pro (2013), Intel Iris Plus (2016) and Intel Iris Xe (2020). Iris graphics are higher performing than Intel® UHD graphics, for example, because they’ve got more graphical execution units than other, earlier integrated options (which also means they draw more power).
The latest version, Iris Xe, also adds more L3 cache. Intel unveiled Iris Xe graphics with its 11th generation Core mobile processors, touting their performance on high-end, thin-and-light laptops where both visual quality and long unplugged times are valued.
And in a pre-cursor to later discrete graphics options, Intel expanded the Iris family further in 2020 with Intel® Iris Xe MAX, its first discrete GPU in some 20 years. Supported by Intel® Deep Link Technology, workloads are shared between the distinct Iris Xe MAX GPU and the integrated Iris Xe graphics on the main processor. [Learn more about Intel 11th gen CPUs and Iris Xe MAX.]
Intel HD Graphics and UHD Graphics
The release of Intel HD Graphics in 2010 is said to have moved Intel's integrated graphics to a new level, allowing them to compete, performance-wise, with many of the discrete GPUs of the time. Intel UHD Graphics, launched with the company’s 8th generation Intel® Core™ CPUs in 2017, improved performance yet again -- thanks in part to changes that allow UHD Graphics to utilize more system RAM than earlier versions.
Owing to their comparatively low power draw, Intel UHD Graphics remain highly popular today. They're most often found in consumer-focused laptops where price, portability and extended battery life are important considerations.
One simple way for a layman to understand how Intel graphics processing has improved is to look at the increasing number of execution units and shading units as each option has evolved. The first iterations of Intel HD Graphics back in 2010-2011 offered 6-12 execution units and 40-80 shading units. By the time Iris Xe arrived in 2020, those numbers had risen to 96 and 768.
Looking for a simple way to determine the relative quality of the Intel graphics in a desktop PC or laptop? Look at the processor numbers, as in i5-1035G1, i5-1035G4 and i5-1035G7. The only difference between these CPUs is the relative ability of the integrated graphics (i.e., a “G7” model has more execution units than one labeled “G4,” which has more than a “G1.”).
Integrated graphics vs. discrete graphics
Most PC buyers today are aware that Intel specializes in what’s called “integrated graphics,” that is, combining PC operations and graphics on the same processor chip or die, where they share RAM and other system resources. Competing CPU manufacturers focus on “dedicated graphics” or “discrete graphics,” where a PC’s visual functions are offloaded to a separate graphics processing unit (GPU) with its own video RAM and so on.
It’s a long-running competition: integrated graphics versus discrete graphics. There’s no one best answer; Lenovo sells dozens of different PCs and laptops in both categories. But Intel – and fans of Intel-powered systems – believe integrated graphics have an edge for most PC shoppers.
Benefits of PCs with integrated graphics
Trying to decide between a new PC with integrated or dedicated graphics? Here are the most oft-cited advantages of Intel-style integrated graphics:
- Integrated graphics are affordable – With no discrete GPU to add cost, comparably-equipped systems with integrated graphics can be considerably less expensive than those with separate, dedicated graphics hardware.
- Integrated graphics run cooler – With all computing and graphics operations performed within the same CPU die, there's significantly less heat output (too much heat can cause system crashes and harm components).
- Integrated graphics use less power – With just the CPU to keep running (and no separate graphics chip), you system will draw less electricity – a critical factor for laptop buyers who count on long battery life.
There’s one caveat about integrated graphics, however. Because your PC visuals are so intricately tied to the capabilities of the main processor or CPU, the newest/best integrated graphics options are typically found only in the latest/greatest CPUs. So your integrated graphics choices (see below) may be more limited in low-cost systems than in higher-cost ones.
Choosing the right graphics option for your new PC
Now that you know about Intel's many graphics options, how do you decide if you need an Intel integrated graphics solution or a discrete graphics option from another maker? Consider these questions before you choose.
How will you use your PC?
Your graphics needs depend on how you'll use your new computer. For everyday home or office activities, integrated graphics are ideal. They even support some PC gaming. But for high-end games, or advanced tasks such as video editing and engineering designs, a discrete GPU makes more sense.
How much do you want to spend?
As we've stated, PCs with dedicated graphics typically cost more than similarly-equipped systems with integrated graphics. But timing is everything. Manufacturers often put their latest systems on sale, or offer discounts on older models. Knowing your budget will help you shop.
Where is the middle ground?
For most buyers, the ultimate decision is a balancing act. You want the best desktop PC or laptop you can afford, with the best graphics available for the price. So keep searching until you find the best model for you – with the right graphics option, and price.
Most of all, be flexible when shopping for graphics solutions. Unless you have a clear technical preference, remain open to all possibilities. Try not to lock into a single graphics solution until you see what's available for your money. And remember that for PCs with integrated graphics, which utilize the same RAM as the rest of your system, it’s a good idea to find a system with a higher-than-minimum RAM allotment.
Intel, Intel Iris, Intel Arc, and Intel Core are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and/or other countries.