Tested: Arc A370M, Intel’s first discrete GPU to seriously battle Nvidia and AMD

Tested: Arc A370M, Intel's first discrete GPU to seriously battle Nvidia and AMD

It’s finally happening.

After several years of teases, leaks, hints, and one extremely soft desktop graphics card, Intel’s debut Arc discrete GPUs are finally arriving in mainstream notebooks like the Samsung Galaxy Book2 Pro and Lenovo Slim 7i.

But how well do they perform? To find out, I paid a visit to Intel’s Jones Farm campus in Portland, Oregon, where Intel invited me to put an Arc A370M reference laptop (based off MSI’s Summit E16 Flip Evo) through the wringer. I was given a little more than an hour to test Intel’s entry-level GPU using benchmarks of my choosing, in a similar arrangement to our recent early performance preview for 12th-gen Core i9 laptop processors.

Bottom line? Intel might just be getting started in discrete graphics, but Arc’s results are already impressive.

3DMark Time Spy

We start in 3DMark Time Spy, a classic synthetic graphics benchmark PCWorld frequently uses to judge the performance of anything that comes across our test bench.

The Intel Arc A370M posted a strong score of 4,405 in 3DMark Time Spy. This is almost two and half times quicker than Intel Iris Xe on its own, a significant uplift that certainly puts Arc A370M in a different performance class.

Matt Smith/IDG

Of course, it’s the entry-level discrete GPUs that provide the real challenge, and here the Arc A370M holds its own. It’s roughly 15 percent quicker than Nvidia’s RTX 3050, as tested in HP’s Spectre x360 16, and essentially tied with the Asus Vivobook Pro 15 OLED, which again equipped an Nvidia RTX 3050.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arc A370M falls behind the more mid-tier discrete graphic options found in laptops that explicitly target gaming. The RTX 3050 Ti in the MSI GF76 Katana is just a bit less than 50 percent quicker, and the Acer Nitro 5 with an RTX 3060 nearly doubles the Arc A370M’s performance in this benchmark.

Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker benchmark

The game tests begin with Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker. This is not a test PC World normally runs but, given that the Arc A370M is an entry-level discrete offering, I thought testing an older, popular game with no cutting-edge features could provide some insight. After all, many people (myself included) spend more time in games like this than in Cyberpunk 2077 or Metro Exodus.

Matt Smith/IDG

This test pegs the Intel Arc A370M’s performance a bit less than 50 percent above that of Intel’s Iris Xe graphics with 96 EUs. It’s a much smaller gain than in 3DMark Time Spy, but still large enough to substantially improve the real-world experience. Iris Xe just gets by at 1080p and High (Desktop) settings, while the A370M is rather smooth.

Intel’s reference laptop with Arc A370M falls slightly behind the HP Spectre x360 16 with RTX 3050 in this benchmark, but the margin of victory is so small that it’s a hair away from being a tie. I doubt most players would see any real-world difference playing Final Fantasy XIV on each system.

Of course, the Acer Nitro 5 is in a different realm, as expected given its use of Nvidia’s RTX 3060. This sort of mid-tier discrete GPU lets players set their sight well beyond 60 FPS and gain benefit from a high refresh display.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider is now four years old, believe it or not, but remains an excellent game for gauging how well a PC will handle the most attractive games of the “last-gen” console era.

Matt Smith/IDG

Intel Arc A370M provides a beefy gain over Iris Xe here, coming oh-so-close to an average of 60 frames per second. Iris Xe can’t really handle this game at 1080p and Highest settings, struggling along at an unacceptable average of 21 (with many dips into the mid-teens).

Arc A370M also beats the HP Spectre x360 16 with Nvidia RTX 3050 by more than 15 percent, a greater margin than I expected. That’s a nice boost and shows that Arc A370M can indeed beat Nvidia’s entry-level graphics in some situations.

Once again, the Acer Nitro 5 with RTX 3060 shows the difference between a mainstream laptop with entry-level discrete graphics and a “real” gaming laptop, beating all competitors handily.

Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition

We come last to Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition, the most demanding game I tested, and the only game I tested with ray tracing on. Even then, I used only the High graphics preset, which sets ray tracing to its lowest “normal” setting and uses hybrid reflections instead of fully ray traced reflections.

Matt Smith/IDG

Intel Arc A370M beats Iris Xe by an infinite percentage because, well, Iris Xe doesn’t meet the game’s minimum system requirements. Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition is unusual because ray tracing is required to run the game at all. That leaves Iris Xe out in the cold of nuclear winter.

Arc A370M slugs it out with the HP Spectre x360 16 with RTX 3050 graphics and ultimately loses by three frames per second. That reflects a 15 percent performance advantage for the RTX 3050, and hints that the Arc A370M may fall slightly behind in ray tracing relative to Nvidia’s hardware.

Acer’s Nitro 5 with an RTX 3060 once again stomps everything else in the field, beating both the Arc A370M and RTX 3050 machines by a three-fold margin. This thumping may have something to do with the more limited 4GB of video memory available on the Arc A370M and RTX 3050, compared to 6GB on the RTX 3060. Ray tracing is notoriously memory intensive.

The last test is different – a content creation workload. Topaz Video Enhanced AI is a tool that can upscale or improve the quality of video clips. I’ve used Topaz Video Enhance AI to upscale videos for my own YouTube channel, Computer Gaming Yesterday, and I’ve found discrete graphics can provide a serious lift in this app’s performance.

One quirk to note is that I ran this test using Topaz’s experimental multi-GPU support. Intel collaborated with Topaz to make this feature work with Intel hardware. Intel Arc systems can use both the Arc discrete graphics and Xe integrated graphics simultaneously, one of the the unique and intriguing “Deep Link” features offered by Intel Arc laptops with Intel Core processors. I did try using this experimental feature with the Nvidia laptops I had for comparison, in which case the Nvidia GPU was paired with Iris Xe integrated graphics, but it made performance significantly worse. So for those systems, the results below show performance when running only on the Nvidia GPU.

Matt Smith/IDG

Comparing Intel Arc A370M to Iris Xe shows the advantage of using even entry-level discrete graphics for content creation. Arc A370M cuts through the sample clip nearly four times more quickly than the Iris Xe laptop. This could literally save you hours if looking to upscale video files more than a few minutes in length.

The Arc A370M proved about 40 percent quicker than the HP Spectre x360 16 with Nvidia RTX 3050 graphics. That is a very significant win. Arc scores a larger margin of victory over the RTX 3050 here than in other tests, which shows Intel’s hardware is using the experimental multi-GPU support to its fullest.

How we tested

These tests were performed on Intel Arc A370M reference laptops located at Intel’s Jones Farm campus. I was given access to not one, but five identical reference systems, which meant I was able to repeat test runs multiple times to verify results. The results here are averages of systems tested.

Intel also provided an Alder Lake reference system, the equivalent of an MSI Summit E14 Flip, to provide comparison to Intel’s Iris Xe graphics. The other systems benchmarked, including the HP Spectre x360 16 and Acer Nitro 5, are review systems not provided by Intel. The Intel reference platforms and HP Spectre x360 16 were set to “performance” power management, while the Acer Nitro 5 was at its default setting.

Here’s the run-down on settings for each benchmark.

3DMark Time Spy: Time Spy standard demo at default settings.Shadow of the Tomb Raider: DX12 1080p Highest settings, Ray Tracing off, TAA on.Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker: 1080p at Highest (Desktop) settings.Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition: 1080p at High benchmark settings.Topaz Video Enhance AI: An eight-second 1080p .MOV file was upscaled to 4K using the Artemis Medium Quality AI model.

Conclusions

Intel

What most gamers and enthusiasts want to know is simple: can you buy a laptop with Intel’s Arc and expect performance in league with Nvidia and AMD?

The answer, it seems, is yes.

These are strong results for Intel’s Arc A370M. The quicker of Intel’s two entry-level discrete GPUs appears to be an even match for Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050 as implemented in a variety of mainstream professional and enthusiast notebooks (though initial Arc laptops cost much more than RTX 3050 notebooks). Intel Arc A370M can easily handle “last-gen” 3D games and can deliver a big boost in content creation apps that lean on the GPU.

The Arc A370M is no match for the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 in Acer’s Nitro 5, but it’s not meant to compete in that segment. That task will go to Intel’s Arc A550M, which has twice as much memory (8GB vs 4GB) and twice as many Xe Cores (16 vs. 8) when compared to Arc A370M. We’ll have to wait and see how Arc A550M performs when it arrives this summer, but napkin math suggests it could be nipping at the heels of RTX 3050 Ti and RTX 3060 laptops.

I’m pleased with these numbers. Intel Arc provides a third option for people seeking a slim, portable Windows laptop to handle gaming and content creation. Now let’s just hope Intel—and OEM system manufacturers—can turn the current trickle of Arc-equipped machines into a flood.

Further Intel Arc reading:

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