Author:
Subject: Displays
Manufacturer: AMD

What is FreeSync?

FreeSync: What began as merely a term for AMD’s plans to counter NVIDIA’s launch of G-Sync (and mocking play on NVIDIA’s trade name) has finally come to fruition, keeping the name - and the attitude. As we have discussed, AMD’s Mantle API was crucial to pushing the industry in the correct and necessary direction for lower level APIs, though NVIDIA’s G-Sync deserves the same credit for recognizing and imparting the necessity of a move to a variable refresh display technology. Variable refresh displays can fundamentally change the way that PC gaming looks and feels when they are built correctly and implemented with care, and we have seen that time and time again with many different G-Sync enabled monitors at our offices. It might finally be time to make the same claims about FreeSync.

But what exactly is FreeSync? AMD has been discussing it since CES in early 2014, claiming that they would bypass the idea of a custom module that needs to be used by a monitor to support VRR, and instead go the route of open standards using a modification to DisplayPort 1.2a from VESA. FreeSync is based on AdaptiveSync, an optional portion of the DP standard that enables a variable refresh rate courtesy of expanding the vBlank timings of a display, and it also provides a way to updating EDID (display ID information) to facilitate communication of these settings to the graphics card. FreeSync itself is simply the AMD brand for this implementation, combining the monitors with correctly implemented drivers and GPUs that support the variable refresh technology.

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A set of three new FreeSync monitors from Acer, LG and BenQ.

Fundamentally, FreeSync works in a very similar fashion to G-Sync, utilizing the idea of the vBlank timings of a monitor to change how and when it updates the screen. The vBlank signal is what tells the monitor to begin drawing the next frame, representing the end of the current data set and marking the beginning of a new one. By varying the length of time this vBlank signal is set to, you can force the monitor to wait any amount of time necessary, allowing the GPU to end the vBlank instance exactly when a new frame is done drawing. The result is a variable refresh rate monitor, one that is in tune with the GPU render rate, rather than opposed to it. Why is that important? I wrote in great detail about this previously, and it still applies in this case:

The idea of G-Sync (and FreeSync) is pretty easy to understand, though the implementation method can get a bit more hairy. G-Sync (and FreeSync) introduces a variable refresh rate to a monitor, allowing the display to refresh at wide range of rates rather than at fixed intervals. More importantly, rather than the monitor dictating what rate this refresh occurs at to the PC, the graphics now tells the monitor when to refresh in a properly configured G-Sync (and FreeSync) setup. This allows a monitor to match the refresh rate of the screen to the draw rate of the game being played (frames per second) and that simple change drastically improves the gaming experience for several reasons.

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Gamers today are likely to be very familiar with V-Sync, short for vertical sync, which is an option in your graphics card’s control panel and in your game options menu. When enabled, it forces the monitor to draw a new image on the screen at a fixed interval. In theory, this would work well and the image is presented to the gamer without artifacts. The problem is that games that are played and rendered in real time rarely fall into a very specific frame rate. With only a couple of exceptions, games frame rates will fluctuate based on the activity happening on the screen: a rush of enemies, a changed camera angle, an explosion or falling building. Instantaneous frame rates can vary drastically, from 30, to 60, to 90, and force the image to be displayed only at set fractions of the monitor's refresh rate, which causes problems.

Continue reading our first impressions of the newly released AMD FreeSync technology!!

HSA Version 1.0 arrived today

Subject: General Tech | March 17, 2015 - 01:18 PM |
Tagged: hsa foundation, hsa, amd, arm, Samsung, Imagination Technologies, HSAIL

We have been talking about the HSA foundation since 2013, a cooperative effort by AMD, ARM, Imagination, Samsung, Qualcomm, MediaTek and TI to design a heterogeneous memory architecture to allow GPUs, DSPs and CPUs to all directly access the same physical memory.  The release of the official specifications today are a huge step forward for these companies, especially for garnering future mobile market share as physical hardware apart from Carrizo becomes available.

Programmers will be able to use C, C++, Fortran, Java, and Python to write HSA-compliant code which is then compiled into HSAIL (Heterogeneous System Architecture Intermediate Language) and from there to the actual binary executables which will run on your devices.  HSA currently supports x86 and x64 and there are Linux kernel patches available for those who develop on that OS.  Intel and NVIDIA are not involved in this project at all, they have chosen their own solutions for mobile devices and while Intel certainly has pockets deep enough to experiment NVIDIA might not.  We shall soon see if Pascal and improvements Maxwell's performance and efficiency through future generations can compete with the benefits of HSA.

The current problem is of course hardware, Bald Eagle and Carrizo are scheduled to arrive on the market soon but currently they are not available.  Sea Islands GPUs and Kaveri have some HSA enhancements but with limited hardware to work with it will be hard to convince developers to focus on programming HSA optimized applications.  The release of the official specs today is a great first step; if you prefer an overview to reading through the official documents The Register has a good article right here.

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"The HSA Foundation today officially published version 1.0 of its Heterogeneous System Architecture specification, which (if we were being flippant) describes how GPUs, DSPs and CPUs can share the same physical memory and pass pointers between each other. (A provisional 1.0 version went live in August 2014.)"

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

MSI Announces New AMD And Intel Motherboards With USB 3.1

Subject: Motherboards | March 14, 2015 - 12:33 AM |
Tagged: usb 3.1, msi, FX, atx, asmedia asm1352r, amd, am3+

MSI recently announced a torrent of new motherboards that feature USB 3.1 ports. The refreshed lineup includes ten Intel models and, in an interesting twist, two AMD motherboards. MSI’s new motherboards support USB 3.1 by using an Asmedia ASM1352R controller that interfaces with the system via two PCI-E 2.0 lanes (PCI-E 2.0 x2). The controller is rated for the full 10Gbps USB 3.1 speeds. 

MSI X99 Z97 990FA 970A Motherboards WIth USB 3-1.png

It is worth noting that the boards use the traditional USB Type-A connector with one exception. The MSI Z97A Gaming 6 features the new reversible Type-C connector in the form of a single Type-C USB 3.1 port on the rear I/O panel. The other boards have at least two USB 3.1 ports on their rear I/O panels.

The new USB 3.1-supporting lineup is listed below:

  • AMD (970 chipset):
    • SLI Krait Edition
  • AMD (990FX chipset):
    • 990FXA Gaming
  • Intel (Z97 chipset):
    • Z97A Gaming 9 ACK
    • Z97A Gaming 7
    • Z97A Gaming 6
  • Intel (X99 chipset):
    • X99A Gaming 9 ACK
    • X99A Gaming 7
    • X99A Xpower AC
    • X99A Mpower
    • X99A SLI Krait Edition
    • X99A SLI Plus
    • X99A Raider

These new boards are all essentially minor refreshes of previous versions that add the Asmedia controller and faster USB 3.1 ports. You can expect all the multi-GPU and overclocking-friendly features to remain present on these new motherboards.

MSI USB 3.1 Motherboards.jpg

MSI's X99 Xpower AC (left) and Z97A Gaming 9 ACK (right) now support 10Gbps USB 3.1 ports.

AM3+ is still technically AMD's enthusiast platform, but it is still somewhat odd that MSI chose to add USB 3.1 support to AM3+ motherboards with AMD’s aging 990FX and 970 chipsets rather than FM2+ boards with the newer A88X chipset. On the other hand, you can now add much faster external storage to your AM3+ system to give it a bit more life. 

There is no word on pricing but expect the USB 3.1 models to come at a slight premium over the older models in each respective series.

Source: MSI

Podcast #340 - News from GDC 2015, FreeSync Release Date, Vulkan and Mantle, and more!

Subject: General Tech | March 12, 2015 - 02:09 PM |
Tagged: western digital, vulkan, video, SSD 750, Re+, raptr, r9 390x, podcast, nvidia, Mantle, Intel, imagination, gtx 960, gsync, gdc 15, freesync, Broadwell, amd

PC Perspective Podcast #340 - 03/12/2015

Join us this week as we wrap up news from GDC 2015, FreeSync Release Date, Vulkan and Mantle, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts:Ryan Shrout, Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, and Paul Heimlich

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

 

It has been a rough quarter for the tech industry

Subject: General Tech | March 10, 2015 - 12:36 PM |
Tagged: Q1, gigabyte, earnings, msi, TSMC, amd, Intel, nvidia

There is quite a bit of news on how various component manufacturers have fared at the beginning of 2015 and not much of it is good.  Gigabyte has seen revenues drop almost 20% compared to this time last year and a significantly higher overall drop and while MSI is up almost 4% when compared to this quarter in 2014, February saw a drop of over 25% and over the total year a drop of nearly 8%.  TSMC has taken a hit of 28% over this month though it is showing around 33% growth over the past year thanks to its many contract wins over the past few months.  Transcend, Lite-On and panel maker HannStar all also reported losses over this time as did overseas notebook designers such as Wistron, Compal and Inventec.

Intel is doing well though perhaps not as profitably as they would like, and we know that NVIDIA had a great 2014 but not primarily because of growth in the market but by poaching from another company which has been struggling but not as much as previous years.  The PC industry is far from dead but 2014 was not a kind year.

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"Gigabyte Technology has reported consolidated revenues of NT$3.216 billion (US$101.93million) for February 2015, representing a 39.31% drop on month and 26.75% drop on year.

The company has totaled NT$8.515 billion in year-to-date revenues, down 18.47% compared with the same time last year."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: DigiTimes

GDC 15: Upcoming Flagship AMD Radeon R9 GPU Powering VR Demo

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 5, 2015 - 04:46 PM |
Tagged: GDC, gdc 15, amd, radeon, R9, 390x, VR, Oculus

Don't get too excited about this news, but AMD tells me that its next flagship Radeon R9 graphics card is up and running at GDC, powering an Oculus-based Epic "Showdown" demo.

amdgdc.jpg

Inside the box...

During my meeting with AMD today I was told that inside that little PC sits the "upcoming flagship Radeon R9 graphics card" but, of course, no other information was given. The following is an estimated transcript of the event:

Ryan: Can I see it?

AMD: No.

Ryan: I can't even take the side panel off it?

AMD: No.

Ryan. How can I know you're telling the truth then? Can I open up the driver or anything?

AMD: No.

Ryan: GPU-Z? Anything?

AMD: No.

Well, I tried.

Is this the rumored R9 390X with the integrated water cooler? Is it something else completely? AMD wouldn't even let me behind the system to look for a radiator so I'm afraid that is where my speculation will end.

Hooked up to the system was a Crescent Bay Oculus headset running the well-received Epic "Showdown" demo. The experience was smooth though of course there were no indications of frame rate, etc. while it was going on. After our discussion with AMD earlier in the week about its LiquidVR SDK, AMD is clearly taking the VR transition seriously. NVIDIA's GPUs might be dominating the show-floor demos but AMD wanted to be sure it wasn't left out of the discussion.

Can I just get this Fiji card already??

Podcast #339 - NVIDIA SHIELD and Titan X, AMD Mantle, OpenGL Vulkan, and much more from GDC!

Subject: General Tech | March 5, 2015 - 03:22 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, vive, video, valve, titan x, strix, Silverstone, shield, Samsung, rv05, re vive, raven, podcast, nvidia, Nepton 240M, liquidvr, Khronos, Intel, htc, gtx 960, glnext, coolermaster, amd, 750ti

PC Perspective Podcast #339 - 03/05/2015

Join us this week as we discuss the NVIDIA SHIELD and Titan X, AMD Mantle, OpenGL Vulkan, and much more from GDC!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

Hosts: Jeremy Hellstrom, Josh Walrath, Allyn Malventano, Scott Michaud and Ken Addison

Program length: 1:22:13

  1. Week in Review:
  2. News item of interest:
  3. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
    1. Jeremy: Um, I don’t know, SteamOS sales I guess?
  4. Closing/outro

Subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube Channel for more videos, reviews and podcasts!!

AMD To Release FreeSync Ready Driver on March 19th

Subject: Graphics Cards, Displays | March 5, 2015 - 11:46 AM |
Tagged: freesync, amd

Hey everyone, we just got a quick note from AMD with an update on the FreeSync technology rollout we have been expecting since CES in January (and honestly, even before that). Here is the specific quote:

AMD is very excited that monitors compatible with AMD FreeSync™ technology are now available in select regions in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). We know gamers are excited to bring home an incredibly smooth and tearing-free PC gaming experience powered by AMD Radeon™ GPUs and AMD A-Series APUs. We’re pleased to announce that a compatible AMD Catalyst™ graphics driver to enable AMD FreeSync™ technology for single-GPU configurations will be publicly available on AMD.com starting March 19, 2015. Support for AMD CrossFire™ configurations will be available the following month in April 2015.

A couple of interesting things: first, it appears that FreeSync monitors are already shipping in the EMEA regions and that is the cause for this news blast to the media. If you are buying a monitor with a FreeSync logo on it and can't use the technology, that is clearly a bit frustrating. You have just another two weeks to wait for the software to enabled your display's variable refresh rate.

freesynclogo-small.jpg

That also might be a clue as to when you can expect review embargoes and/or the release of FreeSync monitors in North America. The end is in sight!

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

Liquid...get it?

As GDC progresses here in San Francisco, AMD took the wraps off of a new SDK for game developers to use to improve experiences with virtual reality (VR) headsets. Called LiquidVR, the goal is provide a smooth and stutter free VR experience that is universal across all headset hardware and to keep the wearer, be it a gamer or professional user, immersed.

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AMD's CTO of Graphics, Raja Koduri spoke with us about the three primary tenets of the LiquidVR initiative. The 'three Cs' as it is being called are Comfort, Compatibility and Compelling Content. Ignoring the fact that we have four C's in that phrase, the premise is straight forward. Comfortable use of VR means there is little to no issues with neusea and that can be fixed with ultra-low latency between motion (of your head) and photons (hitting your eyes). For compatibility, AMD would like to assure that all VR headsets are treated equally and all provide the best experience. Oculus, HTC and others should operate in a simple, plug-and-play style. Finally, the content story is easy to grasp with a focus on solid games and software to utilize VR but AMD also wants to ensure that the rendering is scalable across different hardware and multiple GPUs.

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To address these tenets AMD has built four technologies into LiquidVR: late data latching, asynchronous shaders, affinity multi-GPU, and direct-to-display.

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The idea behind late data latching is to get the absolute most recent raw data from the VR engine to the users eyes. This means that rather than asking for the head position of a gamer at the beginning of a render job, LiquidVR will allow the game to ask for it at the end of the rendering pipeline, which might seem counter-intuitive. Late latch means the users head movement is tracked until the end of the frame render rather until just the beginning, saving potentially 5-10ms of delay.

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Continue reading our first impressions of the new AMD LiquidVR SDK for virtual reality!!

GDC 15: Khronos Acknowledges Mantle's Start of Vulkan

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | March 3, 2015 - 03:37 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, Mantle, Khronos, glnext, gdc 15, GDC, amd

khronos-group-logo.png

Neil Trevett, the current president of Khronos Group and a vice president at NVIDIA, made an on-the-record statement to acknowledge the start of the Vulkan API. The quote came to me via Ryan, but I think it is a copy-paste of an email, so it should be verbatim.

Many companies have made great contributions to Vulkan, including AMD who contributed Mantle. Being able to start with the Mantle design definitely helped us get rolling quickly – but there has been a lot of design iteration, not the least making sure that Vulkan can run across many different GPU architectures. Vulkan is definitely a working group design now.

So in short, the Vulkan API was definitely started with Mantle and grew from there as more stakeholders added their opinion. Vulkan is obviously different than Mantle in significant ways now, such as its use of SPIR-V for its shading language (rather than HLSL). To see a bit more information, check out our article on the announcement.

Update: AMD has released a statement independently, but related to Mantle's role in Vulkan