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Intel’s new Xe GPU will have hardware-accelerated ray tracing

2021 might be the year for graphics competition - let's hope this is reflected in graphics card prices, eh?

Intel Xe DG1 scale

August 13, 2020 Intel has now confirmed that the Xe-HPG microarchitecture exists and that it will have ray tracing.

With all the expectation surrounding upcoming Nvidia Ampere and AMD Navi 2X graphics cards, you could be forgiven for forgetting all about Intel Xe. The company’s latest graphics architecture has been in the works for a while now and has gained the spotlight thanks to its promise of a third discrete graphics vendor to potentially rival both Nvidia and AMD in the gaming space. Well, now it looks like Xe might get hardware ray tracing, too.

Intel’s chief architect Raja Koduri today announced that the company has “added a fourth microarchitecture to the Xe family: Xe-HPG optimized for gaming, with many new graphics features including ray tracing support. We expect to ship this microarchitecture in 2021 and I can’t wait to get my hands on this GPU!” The Intel “architecture day” webcast can be viewed on the company’s newsroom site for more info from Raja Koduri and others on Intel’s latest developments.

What we’ve seen of Intel Xe for gaming so far has been in the form of its Xe-LP (‘low power’) GPU. The Intel DG1 graphics card that first excited us (and that might actually never hit the market in a discrete form) – the company’s first discrete graphics card since its circa 2010 cancelled Larrabee project – is made from this Xe-LP architecture, and we’ve already seen that Xe-LP can run Battlefield 5 on high settings.

But now it looks like Xe-LP isn’t what we should be looking towards for gaming. No, we should have an entirely different GPU for that – one that includes hardware-accelerated ray tracing.

Now is the perfect time to get in the ray tracing game, too. Perhaps if Xe gaming GPUs actually hit the market a couple of years ago they could have got away with no ray tracing – AMD’s current RDNA GPU generation doesn’t have hardware-accelerated ray tracing, after all. But with next-gen consoles supporting it, Nvidia’s upcoming RTX 30-series GPUs being expected to dramatically increase ray tracing performance, and AMD’s upcoming Big Navi and Navi 2X GPUs being expected to support the technology, it makes sense that Intel’s upcoming gaming GPUs should also support it.

VideoCardz says, “Based on we have heard, the Xe-HPG will be manufactured by an external foundry. The Xe-HPG GPUs are currently being evaluated at Intel labs. The plan is to ship this architecture in 2021.” So, we’ll likely have to wait until next year to see what Intel’s offering for desktop PC gaming graphics, but considering how strongly Nvidia’s gripped the market for so long, any competition is welcome. Hopefully AMD’s RDNA 2 and Intel’s Xe-HPG GPUs form part of the rising tide to raise all boats, meaning hopefully they’re competitive enough to lower graphics card prices over the coming year.