XeSS on a gaining stride: Intel’s DLSS competitor

Intel’s Xe Super Sampling, XeSS for short, seems to do a reasonable job of holding its own against more mature technologies.

Digital Foundry has unleashed an in-depth peek into the upscaling tech included with Intel’s upcoming Arc GPUs and approximated its performance to Nvidia’s offering, Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS).

The idea behind XeSS and technologies like it is to handle your game at a lower resolution, then use many machine learning algorithms to upscale it in a manner that looks way better than more basic upscaling methods. This approach lets you run games at more increased frame rates or turn on fancy effects like ray outlining without giving up many performances. Your GPU renders fewer pixels and then upscales the resulting image, often using dedicated hardware.

XeSS counted two to four milliseconds to frame times or the dose of stretch a frame was displayed on the screen before being substituted. That could make the game less responsive in theory, but in practice, you’re fetching more FPS benefits a bit.

XeSS had a few hiccups that either wasn’t present or were noticeably less intense when using DLSS. Intel’s tech struggled with delicate details, sometimes showing flickering moiré patterns or bands. Depending on where they showed up, these artifacts could be distracting. They got more alarming as Digital Foundry pushed the system, asking it to upscale lower and lower resolution images to 1080p or 4K.

Nvidia’s tech wasn’t immune to these issues, especially in modes that focused more on performance than image quality, but they seemed less prevailing. XeSS also added some incredibly noticeable jittering results to water and some less severe ghosting to detailed models while driving.

Intel also labored to hold up with Nvidia regarding a few particular issues — DLSS endured Lara Croft’s hair significantly better than XeSS. There were one or two times when the results from XeSS peeked better to my eyes, though, so your mileage may vary.

XeSS is still apparently in its early stages, and specs about the Arc GPUs it’ll mainly be assisting are starting to emerge. That makes it hard to tell how it’ll perform on Intel’s lower-end desktop lineup and the laptop graphics cards that have been around for a few months. It’s also worth noting that, as with DLSS, XeSS won’t work with every game — so far, Intel’s listed around 21 games that will support XeSS, compared to the approximately 200 titles that DLSS works with.

Still, it’s agreeable to get at least a bite of how it will work and know that it’s skilled at the most undersized. Without detailing names, other first tries at this tech haven’t necessarily held up to DLSS, and XeSS has. While we still don’t understand whether Intel’s GPUs will be any good, it’s good to realize that at least one aspect of them is a triumph. And if Intel’s cards are bad for gaming, XeSS may be able to assist with that — it’s the small wins.