Radio frequency discharges in Ar/He/Xe gas mixtures have been studied in the range 5-150 MHz, and the importance of the ion sheaths in Xe laser excitation has been recognized. The discharge data have been used to improve the cw Xe laser performance, and efficiencies up to 0.8% observed. Area scaling in the slab geometry has been studied for a discharge excitation at 49 MHz, and multimode cw laser power up to 5.5 W has been observed. High quality beams have been produced at 4.9 W using a hybrid waveguide/unstable resonator. © 1995 American Institute of Physics.