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Intel says that both Intel and AMD CPUs can update Arc GPU firmware [Updated]

An Intel Arc GPU.
Enlarge / An Intel Arc GPU.


Update, 7:35 pm ET: Intel told Ars Technica that it is possible for both Intel and AMD-based platforms to update Arc GPU firmware, and that Intel’s Management Engine wasn’t actually required for firmware updates.

“Intel Arc products do not require the host CSME to update Arc firmware,” an Intel spokesperson told Ars. “Firmware updates will work on both AMD and Intel platforms. Arc products have their own Graphics Security Control for firmware updates and leverage existing Intel technology like the HECI interface protocol to implement the firmware update flow.”

A follow-up from Richard Hughes, the developer who originally discovered the limitation, said that another user had told him that an “HECI-using GSC device shows up in Windows” when an Arc GPU is installed, which ought to allow updates on x86 devices. We confirmed this ourselves on a Windows PC with an Arc GPU installed and saw Intel’s GSC firmware interface listed in the device manager, which ought to work the same way on both Intel and AMD platforms since it’s a part of the GPU itself. (How and whether it will work in x86 Linux is something we can’t confirm at this point.)

The GSC interface that Intel indicates will allow firmware updates, at least on x86 Windows PCs.
Enlarge / The GSC interface that Intel indicates will allow firmware updates, at least on x86 Windows PCs.

Non-x86 platforms, including those based on Arm CPUs and IBM’s Power architecture, still may not be able to update Arc GPU firmware. But the vast majority of consumer-oriented gaming GPUs won’t end up in these systems, making this firmware update issue something that almost no one will actually be affected by.

Original story: In our review of Intel’s Arc GPUs, we were generally impressed by their performance for the price, especially as a first-generation product. But buyers have plenty of potential caveats to consider, including unstable drivers, inconsistent performance, and a couple of weird problems that you need to dig around in your computer’s BIOS settings to resolve.

Linux developers working on Arc support appear to have uncovered another oddity about the cards. According to developer Richard Hughes (as reported by Phoronix), updating the firmware on Arc GPUs appears to be handled by the Intel Management Engine, a small microcontroller that is only included in PCs with Intel processors. Hughes ran into the problem specifically in the context of IBM’s POWER CPU architecture, but it seems to make firmware updates impossible on any non-Intel platform, including those based on AMD or Arm CPUs.

Luckily, these kinds of GPU firmware updates don’t happen all that often, and when they do happen, it’s usually to fix a specific obscure problem or add minor features—using a GPU with outdated firmware isn’t the end of the world. On the other hand, if ever a GPU was going to need important firmware updates somewhere down the line, it would be this first generation of Arc cards, which are Intel’s first widely released dedicated GPUs and have already proven to be exceptionally rough around the edges in a bunch of other ways.

We’ve contacted Intel to ask whether it plans to change how Arc firmware updates are installed, and we’ll update this article if we receive a response.

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