Intel Confirms Its Game-Boosting APO Tech Is Not Coming To 13th And 12th Gen CPUs

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We tested Intel's Application Performance Optimizer last week and came away with a tentatively-positive opinion. The technology helps games leverage the hybrid architecture of Intel's CPUs more effectively, improving performance when CPU-limited, and it seems to really work. However, it's currently limited to the company's newest 14th-generation CPUs, and only a subset of those. Now, it seems that this is completely intentional and it may stay that way.

If you're lost, the short version is that Intel's latest CPUs support a feature called Application Performance Optimization or "APO". APO is combination of firmware and software that performs advanced scheduling and resource allocation to improve performance in supported software on supported hardware. Right now, that means just two games on two CPUs, and only if your motherboard has the requisite firmware update and drivers available.

metro exodus enhanced apo test

Popular YouTube channel Hardware Unboxed (HUB) tested APO and found much the same thing that we did: real performance gains in CPU-limited situations in the two supported games. However, HUB was disappointed with the lacking software support and also with the 14th-gen CPU requirement.

You see, Intel's 14th-generation processors are based on the exact same silicon as its 13th-generation processors. There's probably no technical reason that this feature couldn't work on its 12th-generation Alder Lake processors either, but there's absolutely no technical reason that the 13th-gen Raptor Lake processors couldn't use APO. So, why the latest-gen limitation?

HUB went right to the source and asked Intel whether it would bring this tech to its previous-generation CPUs, as well as whether it would continue to update APO. The company gave surprisingly straightforward responses to both questions, which you can see in the screenshot below:

response1 intel hwub

As HUB says, they're very standard corporate PR responses. "No plans" doesn't mean that it won't happen, but it certainly means that it isn't going to happen unless people make a stink about it. HUB calls Intel's remarks "really garbage", not because of the standard corporate PR-ness, but because of the content of it; there's no technical reason this feature couldn't come to previous-generation CPUs, so why not do so?

The real answer is because Intel needs something to differentiate the 14th-generation CPUs. As we noted, they're literally the same silicon as the 13th-gen CPUs; there are some changes in the product stack to add more E-cores and extra clock rate to some SKUs, but in practical terms they are the same chips. APO gives something Intel can show to separate the 13th- and 14th-gen CPUs.

response3 intel hwub

Hardware Unboxed also asked Intel when the company would be adding new games to APO. Right now, the feature only supports two games: Rainbow Six: Siege and Metro Exodus Enhanced Edition. Intel's response above is more corporate PR boilerplate text, but at least the company intends to continue adding games to the program.

The question is, which games? Intel's remark says "current and future triple-A game titles", but arguably neither Rainbow Six: Siege nor Metro Exodus are "current triple-A game titles," with the latter dating to 2019 and the former releasing all the way back in 2015. The choice of games is odd and makes us wonder if Intel perhaps tried to implement APO on other titles but found it to have little benefit.

The limited support of Application Performance Optimization right now reminds us of the original version of DLSS. For those who don't know, DLSS originally required users to download game-specific AI models. As a result, it wasn't a particularly popular feature, and it was only when NVIDIA managed to generalize DLSS to allow its implementation into any game that the smart upscaler really caught on.

Hopefully, Intel can figure out an automated process to add APO support to more games. It seems to have a real benefit, and if the company is married to this P-core and E-core hybrid design idea, then something like APO may be necessary to allow Chipzilla to better compete with AMD's simpler Ryzen processors, particularly in games.