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What is Intel XeSS, and how does it compare to Nvidia DLSS?

Intel XeSS is an exciting development in the world of upscaling PC games. We first heard about the feature more than half a year ago, and Intel has maintained a choked drip-feed of details since then. We know much more about Intel XeSS now, but some critical details remain a mystery.

We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about Intel XeSS, how it works, what games it supports, and when it’s coming.

What is Intel XeSS?

A quality comparison of Intel XeSS.

Intel XeSS, or Xe Super Sampling, is an upcoming upscaling feature of Intel Arc Alchemist graphics cards. It works by rendering your game at a lower resolution and then upscaling it using machine learning to improve performance while maintaining as much image quality as possible.

XeSS works a lot like Nvidia’s Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS). The key difference is that Intel XeSS supports graphics cards from multiple vendors, while DLSS is limited to Nvidia graphics cards.

In supported games, players will be able to select between five quality modes. Higher-quality modes offer better image quality at the cost of performance, while low-quality modes boost performance more but may not look as great:

Mode Resolution scaling factor
Ultra performance 2.3x
Performance 2x
Balanced 1.7x
Quality 1.5x
Ultra quality 1.3x

In addition to more options, it looks like XeSS will be able to scale the input resolution even further than AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR). Five quality modes should give players more options, as DLSS and FSR only offer three quality modes, with some titles supporting an optional fourth.

How Intel XeSS works

XeSS isn’t too complicated to understand. Instead of running a game at native resolution (let’s say 4K), it takes a variety of inputs from the game at a lower resolution (like 1080p). Those inputs feed into the XeSS upscaling engine, which includes an A.I. model to enhance the upscaling. The final result, theoretically, should be an image that looks like native resolution but with much higher performance.

A chart showing on Intel XeSS works.
Intel

For specifics, XeSS takes depth, motion, color, and lighting inputs from the game. After performing the upscaling, the final results from these inputs are stored in an internal history. That history feeds data to the next incoming frame and the cycle continues. While that’s happening, XeSS takes the frame you see and performs temporal anti-aliasing (TAA) to clean up jagged edges. XeSS replaces traditional anti-aliasing, as it can upscale and perform anti-aliasing in the same step.

The secret sauce is machine learning. Intel Arc Alchemist graphics cards include Xe Matrix Extension (XMX) cores, which run the A.I. model to perform the upscaling. They’re similar to Nvidia’s Tensor cores on RTX 30-series graphics cards, and Intel says they provide the best quality with XeSS.

However, XeSS can also work without the XMX cores. Graphics cards that support DP4a instructions — useful for A.I. calculations — also work. We have a full list of supported GPUs below, but the latest RX 6000 graphics cards from AMD support these instructions, as do the last several generations from Nvidia.

Intel XeSS release date

Intel hasn’t announced a release date for XeSS yet. The feature will arrive alongside Intel Arc Alchemist graphics cards, which are slated to launch in the first half of 2022. These cards were supposed to arrive in the first few months of 2022, but rumors suggest Intel pushed them back after suffering internal delays.

Intel XeSS games

Agent 47 standing on a rainy street in China.

Intel has only announced a few key titles that will support XeSS when it launches, though the company says it has several additional partnerships in the works. Here are the announced games that will support Intel XeSS when it releases:

  • Hitman 3
  • The Riftbreaker
  • Death Stranding: Director’s Cut
  • Grid Legends
  • Super People
  • Grit
  • Dolmen

Although Intel has only revealed a few titles that will support XeSS, we should see broader support in the future. Intel says it’s working with studios like Techland (Dying Light 2), 505 Games (ControlGhostrunner), and Ubisoft to bring XeSS to more titles.

Support will be a key factor for the upscaling tech’s success. Between Nvidia DLSS and AMD FSR, a lot of games already have an upscaling feature, so XeSS is entering a crowded market.

Intel XeSS compatibility

Intel Arc Alchemist XMX cores.
Intel

Intel XeSS has competition from Nvidia DLSS and AMD FSR, but it looks to combine the best of both pieces of tech under a single roof. That’s because XeSS supports both Intel and third-party graphics cards, including some that are a few generations old.

Only Intel’s Arc Alchemist graphics cards will have the dedicated XMX cores, and Intel says they provide the best quality and performance. However, GPUs that support DP4a instruction can also run XeSS, just with a slight trade-off between image quality and/or performance. Here are the GPUs that support DP4a for Intel XeSS:

  • Intel Arc Alchemist (Xe-HPG)
  • Intel Xe-LP integrated graphics (11th-generation mobile)
  • AMD RX 6000 (RDNA 2)
  • Nvidia RTX 30-series (Ampere)
  • Nvidia RTX 20-series (Turing)
  • Nvidia GTX 10-series (Pascal)

Although XeSS doesn’t have as broad compatibility as FSR, it covers a lot more ground than Nvidia DLSS — and it appears to function in the same way.

Intel is offering XeSS as an open-source package for developers, free of charge. In addition, XeSS will be offered through a plugin in Unreal Engine, making it easy for developers to implement in their games. We don’t know if XeSS will make its way to consoles like AMD FSR has yet.

Intel XeSS versus Nvidia DLSS

Intel XeSS looks a lot like Nvidia DLSS, and the two upscaling features should offer similar performance based on what we know now. Intel has only shown brief glimpses of XeSS in action, however, so it’s important to wait until the feature is here before drawing any firm conclusions.

Both DLSS and XeSS use A.I. to enhance upscaling, and they offer TAA to smooth the image after it has been upscaled. The main difference is that XeSS can run on dedicated XMX cores or on general hardware that supports DP4a instruction. DLSS can only run on dedicated Tensor cores on Nvidia 20-series and 30-series graphics cards.

Intel has confirmed that XeSS won’t require per-title training. This was a major hurdle for DLSS when it was first released, but Nvidia has since built the feature to run on a general A.I. model instead of a per-title one.

We won’t know how these two features stack up until XeSS is here. For now, Intel claims that XeSS can scale higher than DLSS. We haven’t heard anything about performance gains yet, so we’ll need to wait on those before saying one is better than the other.

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