Chip giant Intel is getting ready to put pressure on the dedicated graphics card business with its new Iris brand of graphics processors that are be built into next-generation Haswell chips.
Haswell is Intel's codename for its fourth-generation of Core processors that are slated to be unveiled in June and it is key to Intel's future plans, because unlike current-generation Ivy Bridge processors, it has been designed from the ground up to be very power efficient. In fact, according to Intel CEO Paul Otellini, Haswell's 22-nanometer processor will deliver "the single largest generation-to-generation battery life improvement in Intel history". As the PC industry is forced to transition from power-hungry desktop systems to notebooks and tablets, and the company is keen to squeeze as much runtime out of battery packs as possible, Intel hopes that Haswell will be at the core of these devices.
However, it's not just extra battery life that these processors bring to the table. This hardware also packs a punch, bumping CPU performance by 10 percent and GPU performance by 50 percent, giving users performance and good battery life. GPUs integrated into the processor also means that OEMs can build smaller, lighter, and thinner devices that require less cooling.
In an attempt to push integrated graphics into the mainstream, Intel has decided, wisely I think, that rebranding is needed. However, in order to not pollute the brand, Intel is reserving the Iris name for higher-voltage laptops and desktops. Intel wants Iris to be the brand that people look out for when they want the best performance possible from integrated graphics.
While this is not going to be of much concern to hardcore gamers using expensive desktop system — these consumers don't care about power efficiencies — that's a small niche audience. The target for Intel's Iris assault are those who are looking to buy budget to mid-range notebooks, ultrabooks, or desktops, and want something that will offer a decent gaming experience.
This market, unlike the hardcore gamer market, is massive, and one that is currently dominated by AMD's Radeon and Nvidia's GeForce brands. Intel's HD graphics brand — which was what its previous generations of GPUs integrated into Core processors was called — failed to achieve much in the way of traction. But the rebranding, especially when combined with a focus on the high end, could make Intel graphics more desirable.
OEMs will also appreciate more GPU power built into processors, because it means being able to oust discrete graphics chips out of builds, allowing for cheaper systems because they don't need to include a separate GPU, saving not only on the cost of the component, but also on assembly and support. Given how consumers are more eager to spend their money on tablets and smartphones, this is just what the stagnating PC industry needs.
There is one caveat to bear in mind, which is that Intel has been promising to revolutionize integrated graphics for years, and so far, it hasn't delivered on that promise.