Intel’s Xe-HPG GPU Unveiled: Built for Enthusiast Gamers, Built at a Third-Party Fab

Among the many announcements in today’s Intel Architecture Day, the company is also offering a major update to their GPU roadmap over the next 24 months. The Xe family, already jam-packed with Xe-LP, Xe-HP, and Xe-HPC parts, is now getting a fourth planned variant: Xe-HPG. Aimed directly at the enthusiast gamer market, this latest Xe variant will be the company’s most gaming-focused part yet, and the biggest step yet in the company’s plans to be more diversified in its foundry sources.

At a high level, Xe-HPG is meant to be the missing piece of the puzzle in Intel’s product stack, offering a high-performance gaming and graphics-focused chip. This is as opposed to Xe-HP, which is specializing in datacenter features like FP64 and multi-tile scalability, and Xe-HPC which is even more esoteric. In that respect, Xe-HPG can be thought of as everything in the Xe family, distilled down into a single design to push FLOPs, rays, pixels, and everything else a powerful video card might need.

Like with the rest of Intel’s forward-looking Xe announcements, the company is not offering performance projections, features, or the like. First and foremost, beyond going after the enthusiast performance space, the company has confirmed that this part will support ray tracing. A marquee feature of high-end video cards, ray tracing will take on even greater important over the coming years as the soon-to-launch next-generation consoles head out the door with the feature as well, eventually transforming it into a baseline feature across all gaming platforms.

Similarly, ray tracing is a critical component of Microsoft’s DirectX 12 Ultimate standard, which given the timing of this GPU and Intel’s intentions, it would be shocking if Intel did not support in full.

The chip will be built on the foundation that is Xe-LP. However it will also pull in technologies that Intel is pioneering for Xe-HP and Xe-HPC. Not the least of which is raw scalability, which is being able to take the Xe-LP foundation and scale it up to hundreds, if not thousands, of GPU execution units. But Intel is also pulling what they are calling “compute frequency enhancements” from Xe-HPC, which presumably will allow them to maximize the chip’s overall clockspeeds.

All told, it will not be too surprising if Xe-HPG looks a lot like Xe-HP in general, except with server-driven features like fast FP64 support and multi-tiling stripped out. But Xe-HPG will also bring something new to the table for the entire Xe family: GDDR6 support. Intel is confirming that the microarchitecture the chip will be based on, will be designed to work with GDRR6.

This is as opposed to Xe-HP(C), which as high-end server parts use HBM, and Xe-LP, which is designed for use with more conventional memory types. GDDR6 compatibility is a unique need that reflects this is a gaming focused part. GDDR6 provides the memory bandwidth needed for high-performance graphics, but without the stratospheric costs of HBM memory, a problem that has impacted some other high-end GPUs over the years.

In a further twist, Intel apparently licensed the GDDR controller IP from outside the company, rather than developing it in-house.

So Xe-HPG will have a very notable bit of external IP in it. But perhaps most interesting of all for graphics insiders and Intel investors alike is where Xe-HPG will be built: not at Intel. As part of their Architecture Day roadmap, Intel has confirmed that the part will be made at an external fab. In fact it is the only Xe part where the GPU, or at least the compute element, is being made entirely at a third-party fab.

Intel of course will not reveal which fab this is, but it means we are going to see a complete Intel GPU built at another fab. If nothing else, this is going to make comparing Xe-HPG to its AMD and NVIDIA rivals a lot easier, since Intel will be using the same fab resources. Looking at the same roadmap, it is worth pointing out that Intel will not be using any of their advanced packaging technologies for the part.

Since they are not using HBM and they are not doing multi-tiling, there is no need for things like EMIB, never mind Foveros. There is still a lot of unknowns with the cost aspects of Intel’s advanced packaging technologies, so keeping it out of Xe-HPG will presumably help keep costs in check in a very competitive marketplace. And that is the scoop on Xe-HPG.

The latest and most gaming-focused member of Intel’s Xe GPU product stack is set to launch in 2021 as Intel looks to break into the wider GPU market. This will not be the last we will hear of it between then and now.

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