Intel Arc is the company’s first big foray into dedicated gaming GPUs, coming in Q1 2022, but we got another preview at some of additional details for the upcoming graphics cards at the company’s Architecture Day 2021 event — including a first look at Intel’s AI-accelerated super sampling, now known as XeSS.
XeSS looks set to take on Nvidia’s own Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) tech, will make its debut alongside the first Arc GPU architecture, known as Alchemist, in early 2022. Much like DLSS, it will upscale games from a lower resolution to provide smoother frame rates without a noticeable compromise in image quality.
Intel is also using dedicated Xe-cores in its upcoming GPUs to power its XeSS technology, with dedicated Xe Matrix eXtensions (XMX) matrix engines inside to offer hardware-accelerated AI processing.
Similar to DLSS, XeSS works by using machine learning to rebuild detail from nearby pixels and previous frames, with Intel promising approximately two times performance improvements. AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution, on the other hand, takes a different track, using spatial upscaling techniques instead of the AI-based reconstruction methods used by Intel and Nvidia.
Additionally, Intel promises that XeSS won’t just be limited to products with XMX. It plans to offer XeSS on a wide range of hardware in the future — including integrated graphics — with a version that supports the DP4a instruction set, too.
A brief demo showed off how XeSS looked in practice, showcasing a real-time demo rendered both in native 4K and at 1080p scaled to 4K using XeSS — but running at twice the frames per second thanks to the reduced demand. The demo (obviously) looked good, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Intel only showed off a controlled slice of a demo moving at a fairly slow clip. We’ll have to wait to see how XeSS actually fares in a fast-paced gaming environment, and how it looks next to other AI-based upscaling solutions like Nvidia’s DLSS technology.
Intel also confirmed that Alchemist will offer full support for DirectX 12 Ultimate, along with hardware-based ray tracing with support for both DirectX Raytracing (DXR) and Vulkan Ray Tracing. Additionally, the company also announced that Unreal Engine 5 is already working on its Alchemist SoCs.
Intel also announced that it won’t actually be manufacturing its Alchemist SoCs on its own. As part of its IDM 2.0 strategy, Intel will actually be outsourcing the manufacturing of its Arc products to TSMC, with Alchemist in particular being built on the company’s N6 node.
Lastly, the company reiterated its long-term roadmap for its Arc GPUs: Battlemage (a second-gen Xe-HPG architecture), Celestial (third gen), and Druid (described as featuring “Xe Next Architecture). No release windows for the future products were given, but it’s clear that Intel isn’t just viewing its GPU strategy as a one-time experiment.