Intel Xe graphics have a killer feature to fight Nvidia RTX 3080 and AMD Big Navi

Intel Xe
(Image credit: Intel)

Intel looks ready to take on Nvidia and AMD in the discrete GPU arena, as it’s confirmed to be releasing its Xe graphics card in 2021. 

At Intel’s latest Architecture Day, the chip maker detailed the ambitions for its next-generation ‘Xe’ GPU architecture, which will replace the current Gen11 GPUs found in its Ice Lake CPUs in devices like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. We’ve known Intel has plans to make a dedicated graphics card from its Xe GPU, but it’s finally confirmed that it will be coming in 2021 — and will support ray-tracing.  

Intel will have four tiers of its Xe graphics: the Xe-LP for its upcoming Tiger Lake chips, XE-HP for datacenter use, Xe-HPC for supercomputers, and Xe-HPG for gaming. The latter is expected to have speedy GDDR6 and be a scalable GPU, meaning it could be used for multiple tiers of graphics cards. 

However, Intel hasn’t spilt a lot of details about the architecture or core specs of its Xe-HPG, only noting that it will be aimed at gamers and come with the ability to run ray-tracing like the current-gen GeForce RTX graphics cards. Whether it will have dedicated hardware to run ray-tracing, like the RTX cards, or it will use a smart software system, has yet to be revealed. 

But ray-tracing requires quite a lot of graphics grunt, which suggests the Xe-HPG GPUs will be properly powerful discrete graphics cards and could end-up challenging the likes of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 and AMD Big Navi GPUs due to hit this fall. Another player in the graphics card arena could inject more competition, and lead to  more innovations from Nvidia and AMD. 

Loading up laptops 

We have also known for a while that the Xe graphics will form the integrated GPUs of Intel's upcoming Tiger Lake processors, which are expected to come in upcoming devices such as the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4. With the current-generation Ice Lake CPUs sporting Gen11 Iris Plus GPUs, Intel delivered a noticeable uptick in graphics performance over its Intel UHD graphics. 

But we’ve been told to expect Tiger Lake chips with Gen12 Xe GPUs to deliver at least two times the performance of Iris Plus. The Xe integrated GPUs will come with 96 execution units compared to the 64EUs of the top-end G7 Iris Plus. 

Intel Tiger Lake SoC

(Image credit: Intel)

With optimizations and new underlying architecture, the claimed performance boost seems rather likely. And a tweet from Intel’s chief performance strategist Ryan Shrout in June showed how a prototype Tiger Lake system running Xe graphics could run Battlefield V at what appears to be 1080p resolution at a smooth framerate, all thanks to the power and efficiency gains in graphical performance delivered by Xe-LP. 

Intel’s Architecture Day presentation also highlighted how the Xe GPU will have the ability to sharpen game graphics as well as tune the GPU for specific games without requiring driver updates. In short, Xe in Tiger Lake chips could allow for thin and light laptops to run modern games at reasonable settings without needing a dedicated graphics card.

That doesn’t mean it's game over for gaming laptops. But it does promise more capable ultraportables; the scope for a Dell XPS 13 to run PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds or Doom Eternal on the go is rather tantalizing.

Laptops with Tiger Lake chips and Xe graphics are expected to start arriving in September. So we’ve not got long to wait to see whether Xe GPUs are worth the hype.

Roland Moore-Colyer

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.