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Watch out, Nvidia. Intel Xe GPUs will finally target gamers in 2021

Intel has announced its first gaming-specific discrete graphics card, which will launch sometime in 2021. The announcement came during its 2020 Architecture Day, where the company laid out the technology behind Xe graphics, upcoming Tiger Lake processors, memory, and much more.

Intel didn’t provide many details about this new graphics card, such as product specifications or branding. The company did, however, explain where the new GPUs would fit into its current stack of Xe microarchitectures.

The gaming design will be known as Xe HPG (presumably standing for high power gaming), and it’s based on the microarchitecture of Xe HP. Raja Koduri, the chief architect at Intel, explained that these gaming GPUs would take Xe HP and optimize it specifically for the performance needs of games, such as better performance-per-watt.

Intel says the cards will also use a new memory subsystem based on GDDR6 that will “improve performance per dollar.” Koduri even gleefully added that these cards will support hardware-accelerated ray tracing. Ray tracing has become a highly sought-after feature, present on current Nvidia RTX cards, as well as in the upcoming console launch later this year.

It sounds like Intel’s “enthusiast” graphics cards will be competing with the higher-end Nvidia RTX Super GPUs, as well as the AMD Radeon 5700XT. Both Nvidia and AMD have rumored graphics card launches coming later this year, though, which could tighten the competition even further.

Intel also announced some software features for these upcoming graphics cards, not unlike the suite that both Nvidia and AMD offer. Instant Game Tuning is an interesting feature that allows Intel to deliver game optimizations without requiring you to install a driver update. Simply opt in to the feature in the Intel Graphics Command Center, and you won’t be bothered by minor tweaks to game performance again.

Other software features include Variable Rate Shading and Game Sharpening, both of which are ways for developers and gamers to improve image quality without sacrificing frame rates. Variable Rate Shading allows developers to pull back color shading to alter game performance, whereas Game Sharpening is a post-processing filter that boosts clarity in upscaled images. Intel showed off titles such as the racing game Grid using Variable Rate Shading to increase performance.

Until now, a GPU for enthusiast gamers has never been explicitly mentioned by Intel. Instead, the company has focused its GPU efforts on improving integrated graphics and scaling up to data center applications.

While the Xe HPG GPUs won’t be available until 2021, that doesn’t mean you can’t game on Intel graphics before then. Later this year, Intel plans to release its first discrete graphics card, the DG1. When asked, Intel representatives implied the DG1 was targeted toward entry-level gaming and creative applications.

Intel hasn’t specified desktop versus mobile, but it showed off this first DG1 desktop graphics card earlier this year at CES 2020. In that demo, an early developer model of the DG1 was shown playing Warframe on a small PC at 1080p resolution.

Intel also boasted about the advancements in its latest Xe integrated graphics, which will be featured in Intel’s upcoming series of processors, known as 11th-gen Tiger Lake.

These Xe LP (low power) integrated and entry-level discrete graphics will be the first to hit the market, and are the cornerstone of Intel’s strategy.

“Xe LP is the foundation for all our GPU dreams at Intel,” Koduri proudly stated at the Architecture Day.

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