Intel drops Kaby Lake-G chips, primes renewed push into graphics

A tweeted photo from Intel exec Raja Koduri hints of an Xe graphics card coming in June, which would put Intel in a race with AMD and Nvidia two decades after its last attempt. (Koduri)

Intel has discontinued its Kaby Lake-G processors, an unusual collaboration of technology between competitors AMD and Intel that first arrived in 2017. 

The move comes as Intel re-enters the add-in graphics card space for the first time in decades to compete against both AMD and Nvidia in graphics. The tech giant has been hinting recently of an Xe graphics card or cards for gamers and others to be unveiled in June 2020 about the time of Computex Taipei.

The biggest hint came on Oct. 3 when Intel executive and chief architect Raja Koduri tweeted a photo of the license plate on his Tesla which reads, “ThinkXE” and includes tags with the month of June and the year 2020.

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Tuesday’s announcement to discontinue Kaby Lake-G arrived amid Intel’s growing threat from AMD, especially in processors for PCs and workstations used mainly in graphics, gaming and data analysis. With the discontinuation, Intel showed it plans to lean on its own proprietary Gen11 graphics technology rather than that of AMD.  

Intel explained the Kaby Lake-G stoppage this week in a statement issued to Tom’s Hardware that said: “Intel is refocusing its product portfolio. Our 10th Gen Intel Core Processors with Iris Plus graphics are built on the new Gen11 graphics architecture that nearly doubled graphics performance. We have more in store from our graphics engine that will bring further enhancements to PCs in the future.”

The threat from AMD is real. While AMD has one-tenth the annual revenues of Intel in microprocessor sales, it is growing at a much faster pace and has earned the admiration from some investors and industrial analysts. 

RELATED: Intel-AMD horse race leads to lower chip prices, market buzz

The Kaby Lake-G processors have used a discrete Radeon RX Vega M graphics processor combined with Intel’s Kaby Lake 14nm processing cores. Radeon is a division of AMD. The original idea behind the collaboration was to offer gamers and others more horsepower than what Nvidia could offer with its GPU chips. 

Intel’s new graphics architecture called Xe Graphics came after Kaby Lake-G chips arrived. Intel hopes to use it for everything from mobile devices to data centers. Kaby Lake-G did appear in some laptops, but following generations used Nvidia graphics cards. Kaby Lake-G was dropped from the Intel roadmap and then on Tuesday Intel said it would be discontinued and unavailable for additional orders after Jan. 31, 2020, with last shipments on July 31, 2020. Seven different Intel Core processor varieties are affected. In its official public notice, Intel said, “Market demand for the products…have shifted to other Intel products.”

The Gen11 graphics architecture that Intel mentioned in its Tuesday statement was first unveiled last December. In a statement at the time, Intel said it would have greater than 1 TeraFLOPS performance for increased game playability and support 4K video streams and 8K content creation. The statement said Intel will introduce a discrete graphics processor by 2020.

The latest rumors in various media accounts on Intel’s Xe graphics cards say it will debut in 2020, not before then, offering an alternative to Nvidia and AMD. Once the card (or cards) appears, it will be the first add-in graphics card since the Intel740 released in 1998.

Koduri’s tweet of his license plate with “ThinkXE” and the June 2020 date comes from a colorful guy with a heavy-duty resume. He joined Intel in 2017 after long stints working at both AMD and Apple where he led groups devoted to graphics technologies.

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