August 19, 2022

Intel is slowly moving into the dedicated graphics market, and its graphics driver releases are looking a lot more like Nvidia’s and AMD’s than they used to. For its dedicated Arc GPUs and the architecturally similar integrated GPUs that ship with 11th- and 12th-generation Intel CPUs, the company promises monthly driver releases, along with “Day 0” drivers with specific fixes and performance enhancements for just-released games.

At the same time, Intel’s GPU driver updates are beginning to de-emphasize what used to be the company’s bread and butter: low-end integrated GPUs. The company announced yesterday that it would be moving most of its currently supported integrated GPUs to a “legacy support model,” which will provide quarterly updates to fix security issues and “critical” bugs but won’t include the game-specific fixes that newer GPUs are getting.

The change affects a wide swath of GPUs, some of which are quite recent. Among others, the change affects all integrated GPUs in the following processor generations, from low-end unnumbered “HD/UHD graphics” to the faster Intel Iris-branded versions:

  • 6th-generation Core (introduced 2015, codenamed Skylake)
  • 7th-generation Core (introduced 2016, codenamed Kaby Lake)
  • 8th-generation Core (introduced 2017-2018, codenamed Kaby Lake-R, Whiskey Lake, and Coffee Lake)
  • 9th-generation Core (introduced 2018, codenamed Coffee Lake)
  • 10th-generation Core (introduced 2019-2020, codenamed Comet Lake and Ice Lake)
  • Various N4000, N5000, and N6000-series Celeron and Pentium CPUs (introduced 2017-2021, codenamed Gemini Lake, Elkhart Lake, and Jasper Lake)

Intel is still offering a single 1.1GB driver package that supports everything from its newest Iris Xe GPUs to Skylake-era integrated graphics. However, the install package now contains one driver for newer GPUs that are still getting new features and a second driver for older GPUs on the legacy support model. The company uses a similar approach for driver updates for its Wi-Fi adapters, including multiple driver versions in the same download package to support multiple generations of hardware.

Almost all of these many, many processor generations have one thing in common: a GPU based on Intel's aging, 2015-era "Gen9" graphics architecture.
Enlarge / Almost all of these many, many processor generations have one thing in common: a GPU based on Intel’s aging, 2015-era “Gen9” graphics architecture.

Intel

Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs and their accompanying integrated GPUs are only 3 years old, and the Jasper Lake Pentium and Celeron processors are actually Intel’s newest offerings for low-end PCs. The problem is that their GPUs (based on the creatively named “Gen9” architecture) are all much older, dating back to late 2015’s 6th-generation Skylake chips. Intel used Kaby Lake-era UHD 620 and UHD 630 GPUs in four different processor generations, opting to increase the CPU core count in newer chips rather than devoting more chip space to a redesigned GPU.

Intel shipped a newer, faster GPU in the 10 nm Ice Lake processors, which shared the 10th-generation Core branding with 14 nm Comet Lake CPUs. Ice Lake GPUs are being moved to the legacy support model, too. But these were mostly used in thin-and-light portables like the 2020 Intel MacBook Air and the Surface Pro 7—not systems that are being asked to do much gaming.

The upshot is that these GPUs’ drivers are about as fast and well-optimized as they’re going to get, and the hardware isn’t powerful enough to play many of the newer games that Intel provides fixes for in new GPU drivers anyway. Practically speaking, losing out on a consistent stream of new gaming-centric driver updates is unlikely to impact the users of these GPUs much, especially since Intel will continue to fix problems as they occur.

AMD and Nvidia offer similar legacy driver packages for older GPUs that won’t benefit from new optimizations but occasionally need security or stability fixes.

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