XeSS 1.3 improves performance by up to 28% with refined image quality — adds Ultra Quality Plus and Native AA modes

Intel XeSS
(Image credit: Intel)

Intel released a new update for XeSS, version 1.3, which offers significant top to bottom changes and improvements. It boasts higher performance, increased image fidelity, new scaling factors, and new modes of operation for Intel's best graphics cards. The updates come from continued training of the models, and apply to both the XMX (Xe Matrix eXtensions) and DP4a (INT8) modes of operation, with up to 28% higher performance on Arc desktop GPUs.

The key improvements in XeSS 1.3 revolve around its updated AI models for the upscaler. Through additional training and optimizations of its deep learning algorithm, Intel has been able to squeeze out more performance while simultaneously improving image quality in areas where XeSS 1.2 (and prior versions) was weak. Specifically, XeSS 1.3 provides better anti-aliasing, less ghosting and more temporal stability than its predecessors.

Intel XeSS is now included in over 100 games, though it's important to note that there's no indication on that page as to what version of XeSS is in use. The original XeSS 1.0 was generally lacking in image quality, particularly when running in DP4a mode (i.e. on non-Intel Arc GPUs). 1.1 and 1.2 offered quite a few improvements, though many games still only use 1.0. As for 1.3, nothing officially supports it yet, but we'll likely see at least a few games add support in the next month or two.

Intel shared a video comparison between XeSS 1.3 and 1.2 running side by side in Like a Dragon: Ishin!, which we've embedded above. Intel’s XeSS 1.3 implementation provides noticeably better image reconstruction on the bamboo curtain in the back, which emits horrible flickering on the older XeSS 1.2 model. XeSS 1.3 rectifies most of the flickering, making the image far more stable, though there's still some slight flickering present, particularly as the scene starts to move.

Intel's internal testing of XeSS 1.3 shows it provides up to a 28% improvement in framerate, using a desktop Arc A750. Intel also shows performance on a laptop equipped with a Core Ultra 7 155H and and integrated Arc Graphics GPU. Testing was done with eight modern games: Hitman 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Hogwarts Legacy, The Witcher 3 (Next-Gen Update), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Diablo IV, and Ghostrunner 2. All testing was done at 1440p Ultra with RT on with the Arc A750, and 1080P Medium with the Ultra 7 155H, using Performance mode upscaling (half the vertical and horizontal resolution, or 4X overall pixel upscaling).

While Diablo IV saw the largest performance boost, it's something of an outlier. Overall, framerates improved by 10% average on the Arc A750, ranging from just 3.2% in 5% in Ghostrunner 2 to Diablo IV's 28%. Most of the games show single digit percentage improvements. Note also that these are internal test versions of the games that Intel created, and may or may not reflect upcoming support for XeSS 1.3.

On the Core Ultra 7 155H with Arc integrated graphics, performance improved by 8% on average. The gains were somewhat more consistent here, ranging from 5% in Hitman 3 to as much as 12% in Hogwarts Legacy 12%.

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XeSS scaling factors in 1.3 versus earlier versions
PresetXeSS 1.3 scalingXeSS 1.0-1.2 scaling
Native AA1.0x (Native)N/A
Ultra Quality Plus1.3xN/A
Ultra Quality1.5x1.3x
Quality1.7x1.5x
Balanced2.0x1.7x
Performance2.3x2.0x
Ultra Performance3.0xN/A

The performance improvements appear to chiefly come via a change in the scaling factors. Every mode uses more upscaling than before, depending on the AI training to make up the difference in quality. Note that the new Ultra Quality Plus uses the same 1.3X scaling as the previous Ultra Quality mode, and there's a 0.2X–0.3X increase in the scaling factors (0.4X–0.9X more pixels generated rather than rendered) across all presets.

XeSS 1.3 also introduces three new presets: Native AA, Ultra Quality Plus, and Ultra Performance. Native AA and Ultra Performance bring Intel up to parity with FSR 2/3 and DLSS 2/3 options, while the Ultra Quality Plus option is for those who want maximum image quality with only a small amount of upscaling.

As with FSR3 and DLAA, the Native Anti-Aliasing preset runs at native resolution and is designed purely to improve image quality via anti-aliasing and sharpening without any upscaling. Ultra Performance mode is mostly for the highest display resolutions and matches DLSS and FSR with a 3.0X ratio — in other words, that would mean upscaling 1280x720 to 3840x2160, or alternative if you're after performance at a lower target resolution, upscaling 640x360 rendered content to 1920x1080. Based on what we've seen with FSR and DLSS, we wouldn't expect great image quality with the Ultra Performance mode.

On top of this, XeSS 1.3 now supports dynamic resolution scaling, just like DLSS and FSR. This allows developers and gamers to target a specific frame rate and then let XeSS change its render resolution to compensate.

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XeSS 1.3 vs. DLSS 2/3 vs FSR 2/3 upscaling factors
PresetXeSS 1.3DLSS 2/3FSR 2/3
Native AA1.0x1.00x (DLAA)1.0x
Ultra Quality Plus1.3xN/AN/A
Ultra Quality1.5xN/AN/A
Quality1.7x1.50X1.5X
Balanced2.0x1.72X1.7X
Performance2.3x2.00X2.0X
Ultra Performance3.0x3.00X3.0X

Compared to AMD and Nvidia, Intel's new presets end up rendering fewer pixels. We're not entirely sure what to think about that, as we haven't had a chance to test XeSS 1.3 ourselves, but it certainly stinks of marketing. We were happier with Intel's prior XeSS scaling factors and names, as we could then let the image quality speak for itself while knowing that AMD, Intel, and Nvidia GPUs were all rendering similar numbers of pixels at each level. Intel's competitors can also improve performance via a similar tactic, but we'd rather they didn't.

Still, it's good to see Intel continuing to innovate with XeSS to make it more competitive with DLSS, as it is the only other image upscaler that currently utilizes deep learning technology. These improvements should put XeSS ahead of FSR 2/3 in terms of image quality as well, though AMD FSR 3.1 will be coming soon, and there are hints that AMD could be exploring deep learning and AI techniques for a future revision (FSR 4.0 perhaps). Nvidia also just released DLSS 3.7, though it's less forthcoming about the underlying changes.

All the changes with XeSS 1.3 apply to both XMX and DP4a modes, though we would expect XMX will bring the best results overall. It's optimized specifically for Intel’s XMX AI cores, where DP4a mode is used on Intel integrated graphics (including the new Arc iGPUs, which lack XMX cores) and GPUs from other vendors. It will be interesting to see how XeSS 1.3 performance and image quality compare to FSR 3 when running on AMD hardware.

Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to test all of these latest upscaling iterations soon, once we find a title that implements all three updates — but that might not be for a while. Microsoft is also working on a way to standardize upscaling integration into games on PC, through DirectSR, and there's also Nvidia's Streamline SDK that further simplifies upscaling in games today. Who knows, with these additions, we might see a game with all three of the latest upscaling solutions sooner than later. 

Aaron Klotz
Freelance News Writer

Aaron Klotz is a freelance writer for Tom’s Hardware US, covering news topics related to computer hardware such as CPUs, and graphics cards.

With contributions from
  • MatheusNRei
    Ultra Quality Plus?

    What's next, Super Ultra Quality?
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    It boasts higher performance...
    By simply shifting the names of each quality preset down to the next lower resolution tier. >_>

    There have likely been some improvements to rendering quality over what they had before at a given resolution, but I have many doubts that the improvements justify shifting the names of each present by an entire tier, especially considering that XESS, DLSS and FSR had all used roughly the same resolutions for each similarly-named quality tier previously.

    This shift in the names of each tier actually makes me suspect that XESS performance actually went down in order to fix these previous quality issues, and rather than admit to a reduction in performance, they shifted around names in an attempt to put a more positive spin on it. The image quality of upscaling tends to be a little harder to assess, while frame rates are easy to compare. So by renaming their "balanced" present to the "quality" present, they are hoping that a reviewer comparing the "quality" presets between competing cards will show better performance on the Intel card relative to its competitors, when really they should be testing the next higher tier for a more accurate comparison.
    Reply
  • Notton
    I, too, would fire sales and marketing if they came up with a ridiculous name like "Ultra Quality Plus".
    Reply
  • thestryker
    cryoburner said:
    By simply shifting the names of each quality preset down to the next lower resolution tier. >_>
    I honestly think they need to ditch naming, especially if they're adding modes like they did here. They should just expose the render scaling and leave it at that because only FSR and XeSS use the same scaling today.
    cryoburner said:
    There have likely been some improvements to rendering quality over what they had before at a given resolution, but I have many doubts that the improvements justify shifting the names of each present by an entire tier, especially considering that XESS, DLSS and FSR had all used roughly the same resolutions for each similarly-named quality tier previously.
    Given how good the native visuals and performance of DLSS are I'd bet that Intel's visuals are probably no worse even with the adjusted scaling. On the other hand I'm sure they do look worse for the non-native implementation. With any luck some tech journalists will evaluate it once it's in a shipping title.
    Reply