Xe-LP Feature Set: DirectX FL 12_1 with Variable Rate Shading

Kicking off the proper part of our architectural deep dive, let’s start with a quick summary of Xe-LP’s graphics feature set. I call this a quick summary as there is unfortunately not a whole lot new to talk about here.

From an API-level perspective, Xe-LP’s feature set is going to be virtually identical to that of Intel’s Gen11 graphics. Not unlike AMD with their RDNA1 architecture, Intel has decided to concentrate their efforts on updating the low-level aspects of their GPU architecture, making numerous changes downstairs. As a result, relatively little has changed upstairs with regards to graphics features.

The net result is that Xe-LP is a DirectX feature level 12_1 accelerator, with a couple of added features. In particular, tier 1 variable rate shading, which was first introduced for Intel in their Gen11 hardware, is back again in Xe-LP. Though not as capable as the newer tier 2 implementation, it allows for basic VRS support, with games able to set it on a per-draw call basis. Notably, Intel remains the only vendor to support tier 1; AMD and NVIDIA have (or are) going straight to tier 2.

DirectX 12 Feature Levels
(DX12 Ult.)
GPU Architectures Intel: Xe-HPG?
NVIDIA: Turing
Intel: Gen9, Gen11, Xe-LP
NVIDIA: Maxwell 2, Pascal
AMD: Vega, RDNA (1)
Ray Tracing
(DXR 1.1)
Yes No
Variable Rate Shading
(Tier 2)
Yes No
(Gen 11/Xe-LP: Tier 1)
Mesh Shaders Yes No
Sampler Feedback Yes No
Conservative Rasterization Yes Yes
Raster Order Views Yes Yes
Tiled Resources
(Tier 2)
Yes Yes
Bindless Resources
(Tier 2)
Yes Yes
Typed UAV Load Yes Yes

The good news for Intel, at least, is that they were already somewhat ahead of the game with Gen11, shipping 12_1 support for even their slowest integrated GPUs before AMD had phased it into all of their products. So at this point, Intel is still at parity with other integrated graphics solutions, if not slightly ahead.

The downside is that it also means that Intel is the only hardware vendor launching a new GPU/architecture in 2020 without support for the next generation of features, which Microsoft & co are codifying as DirectX 12 Ultimate. The consumer-facing trade name for feature level 12_2, DirectX Ultimate incorporates support for variable rate shading tier 2, along with ray tracing, mesh shaders, and sampler feedback. And to be fair to Intel, expecting ray tracing in an integrated part in 2020 was always a bit too much of an ask. But some additional progress would always be nice to see. Plus it puts DG1 in a bit of an odd spot, since it’s a discrete GPU without 12_2 functionality.

The Intel Xe-LP GPU Architecture Deep Dive Xe-LP By The Slice: 50% Larger With 96 EUs
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  • mode_13h - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    I can't speak to Direct 3D, but OpenGL talks about work group invocations. I don't believe "threads" is mentioned anywhere in the API.
  • Dolda2000 - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    Admittedly I haven't read the whole article yet, but it strikes me how the presentations seems to be comparing the new GPU to the previous GPU, rather than presenting it as a new architecture. Does this confirm that using the "Xe" moniker for this product is just marketing, and that it in fact is an evolution of previous Gen architectures?

    I mean, I don't mind if that's the case, I just wish they wouldn't overmarket it.
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    " is an evolution of previous Gen architectures?"

    It is an evolution of the previous Gen architectures. A major evolution, but an evolution none the less. Not even Intel is going to do a clean sheet design when they have bits and pieces that already work fine.
  • Dolda2000 - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    Certainly, they're not going to create a new clean-slate ALU design just for the sake of it, but it has always been my impression that Xe (at least Xe-HPC) was going to be a more-or-less new architecture. Maybe that has just been my misunderstanding the whole, and Xe-HPC too is going to be fundamentally Gen-based (though I seem to recall that being explicitly denied at some point), but what I was getting at here was that Xe-HPC is going to be the new architecture, and meanwhile this is "merely" an evolution of Gen for which they're just borrowing the product name of their higher-end offering to make it seem like more than what it is.
  • mode_13h - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    You should distinguish between the ISA and uArch of the shader cores (EUs) vs. the macro-architecture of the GPU (e.g. buses, memories, caches, fixed-function units, etc.).

    So, you can have a macro-architecture that's *very* different, even while the ISA is a small evolution and the uArch of the EUs is somewhere in between.
  • tipoo - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    RDNA 1 still has significant GCN bits in it, I'm sure Nvidia does the same a few generations in a row, there's no necessary contention between it being an evolution and it being marked as something substantially new.
  • abufrejoval - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    IMHO the overhead of multi GPU rendering with an iGPU and dGPU can't really be offset by the small contribution the iGPU is likely to make to a beefy dGPU.

    More likely will be dGPU via Thunderbolt 4 and very seamless transitions on docking/undocking and that's good enough.

    Too bad that won't work nearly as well with Ryzen notebooks so there again consumer choice goes down the drain somewhat. Not that I believe TB dGPU is a really an attractive market unless prices change dramatically.
  • mode_13h - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    Agreed. I think it would work much better to task the iGPU with other compute tasks that involve less communication bandwidth with the dGPU. Things like physics, AI, audio processing, etc.
  • brucethemoose - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    Maybe post processing? Like an Intel version lf ReShade? IIRC the frames have to come back to the IGPU's display block anyway.
  • tipoo - Thursday, August 13, 2020 - link

    In this case the IGP would be nearly equivalent to DG1

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