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Intel boosts tech as it prepares for graphics card battle with AMD, Nvidia

Intel Corp. has beefed up its graphics technologies, as it inches closer to entering the graphics card market where it will try to disrupt a two-horse race between NVIDIA Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc..

The chip maker revealed graphics technologies on the hardware and software side March 20 at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco. The technology will ultimately be part of its first graphics card offering due next year.

The technologies revealed by Intel include a new software interface to handle Intel graphics on computers. Some technologies used in the integrated graphics technologies announced on March 20 will also be in the graphics cards by 2020, the company said. Intel's previous attempts to develop graphics cards have failed, most notably a chip code-named Larrabee, which was discontinued in 2010.

Film studios produce computer-generated imagery effects using graphics cards, which bolt into computer slots. High-end gamers also need graphics cards for high-end gaming. Graphics cards were in 27.78% of computers that shipped in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to a study released on March 1 by graphics research firm Jon Peddie Research.

Graphics cards and gaming are a main source of revenue for AMD and Nvidia. AMD's revenue from selling graphics processors and ancillary components totaled US$4.13 billion out of a total company revenue of US$6.48 billion for the financial year ending Dec. 29, 2018. Nvidia's gaming revenue was US$6.25 billion out of a total revenue of US$11.7 billion for the fiscal year ending Jan. 27, 2019.

There are 2.3 billion gamers today, and that number will grow as gaming spreads to more devices, Kim Pallister, chief technology officer of virtual reality, gaming and eSports at Intel said. Chip makers say that number will also grow as new titles are released and gamers demand better visuals.

Beyond gaming, Intel next year will also ship graphics cards for use in artificial intelligence applications in data centers, where the market is dominated by Nvidia.

Intel's technological developments in graphics are happening partly with a goal to become a graphics card vendor, Pallister added.

During an investor meeting on March 19, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang acknowledged Intel's entry into the market. "We have to pay respect to all of our competition," he said, adding that Nvidia has competed with 120 graphics companies to date.

There's plenty of technical depth and passion at Nvidia and competition will drive innovation, Huang said.