What Is Intel’s XeSS Technology, and How Does It Work?

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Intel’s very first ARC gaming GPUs are touting a new technology called XeSS. It promises amazing FPS improvements, but what is it exactly, and how well does it work?

What Is Intel XeSS?

Intel XeSS, also known as Intel Xe Super Sampling, is, in a nutshell, Intel’s response to NVIDIA’s DLSS and AMD’s FSR. It’s an upscaling technology that works by rendering frames at low resolutions and upscaling them into bigger resolutions with a negligible loss in actual image quality. It does its magic using, of course, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Related: What Is DLSS 3, and Can You Use It on Existing Hardware?

There are actually two versions of XeSS that you need to be aware of. The first one is open-sourced and works on any graphics card that supports DP4A instructions — it’s basically an instruction set supported in a range of GPUs that helps accelerate artificial intelligence calculations. That instruction set is supported on pretty much all NVIDIA GPUs since the Pascal architecture (2016) and all AMD GPUs since the Vega 20 (2018) and RDNA 1 (2019). It’s pretty rudimentary super sampling, like what AMD currently has with FSR.

The second one takes advantage of Intel’s XMX units (AI-boosting hardware cores that are the equivalent to NVIDIA’s Tensor cores), included in the Intel Arc A770 and A750, to achieve a better-quality result. Contrary to the first version, this one is exclusive to Intel cards, since it uses proprietary hardware that cards from other manufacturers lack.

AMD and NVIDIA took different approaches to their upscaling tech. NVIDIA made something that leveraged its own exclusive hardware, making something that works really well but only works on its own RTX cards. AMD, on the other hand, made something that was open source and didn’t depend on any proprietary hardware, making it work with GPUs from all manufacturers, not only AMD GPUs. With this two-version approach, Intel is making XeSS something that can effectively compete with both AMD and NVIDIA.

Intel Arc A770 GPU laying on a blue and black background.

The XMX version of XeSS is currently supported on Intel’s Arc Alchemist range of GPUs, which includes the Arc A770 and the Arc A750 GPUs. Meanwhile, the open-source DP4A version is supported across a wide range of GPUs, including cards from NVIDIA and AMD.

How Well Does Intel XeSS Work?

In a nutshell, while Intel Xe Super Sampling is not the best supersampling technology out there — that prize goes to NVIDIA’s DLSS, which was recently greatly improved thanks to DLSS 3 — it’s still pretty good, although it could use some improvements.

In-depth testing by sites like Digital Foundry has shown that the technology is able to beat and exceed native rendering in some scenarios, and it’s able to come close to DLSS in many games. With the exception of a few artifacts, XeSS has great potential that Intel can tap into for improvements in upcoming versions of the standard. And, of course, it gets the job done, resulting in amazing framerate improvements.

While the technology could still very well be improved upon, the fact that it’s able to get very close to DLSS is surprising, especially given this is Intel’s first try. As long as it’s widely supported on games, this means that regardless of whether Intel’s GPUs are mid-range or not, you should be able to play games in amazing quality.

Other reviews, though, have a lot less praise for Intel’s upscaling tech, especially when it’s being used in non-Intel GPUs. Hardware Unboxed calls it a disappointment, saying it’s slower than the competition while also having a lot of odd artifacts in many games. Even if this is the case, though, Intel certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt. Not only is this the company’s first time upscaling games, but it’s also its first time selling gaming GPUs. There’s still room for improvement, and we’re certain Intel is going to get better over time.

Should You Use Intel’s XeSS?

Related: Intel’s ARC Graphics Cards Are a Big Deal, But Don’t Buy One Yet

If you have purchased an Intel Arc A770 or A750 GPU, then you should most certainly give it a spin. While it’s not perfect right now, it’s a way to get extra frames out of a game while not losing a lot of quality, or in some cases, losing pretty much no quality at all.

If you’re using another graphics card belonging to AMD or NVIDIA, you might want to try out a different resolution if it’s available. If you can use DLSS, then it’s a no-brainer. If you’re using an AMD card and you’re presented with a choice between FSR and XeSS, then it’s probably up to you — maybe try both and see which one you like better.

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