Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

BF4 Integrates FCAT Overlay Support

Back in September AMD publicly announced Mantle, a new lower level API meant to offer more performance for gamers and more control for developers fed up with the restrictions of DirectX. Without diving too much into the politics of the release, the fact that Battlefield 4 developer DICE was integrating Mantle into the Frostbite engine for Battlefield was a huge proof point for the technology. Even though the release was a bit later than AMD had promised us, coming at the end of January 2014, one of the biggest PC games on the market today had integrated a proprietary AMD API.

When I did my first performance preview of BF4 with Mantle on February 1st, the results were mixed but we had other issues to deal with. First and foremost, our primary graphics testing methodology, called Frame Rating, wasn't able to be integrated due to the change of API. Instead we were forced to use an in-game frame rate counter built by DICE which worked fine, but didn't give us the fine grain data we really wanted to put the platform to the test. It worked, but we wanted more. Today we are happy to announce we have full support for our Frame Rating and FCAT testing with BF4 running under Mantle.

A History of Frame Rating

In late 2012 and throughout 2013, testing graphics cards became a much more complicated beast. Terms like frame pacing, stutter, jitter and runts were not in the vocabulary of most enthusiasts but became an important part of the story just about one year ago. Though complicated to fully explain, the basics are pretty simple.

Rather than using software on the machine being tested to measure performance, our Frame Rating system uses a combination of local software and external capture hardware. On the local system with the hardware being evaluated we run a small piece of software called an overlay that draws small colored bars on the left hand side of the game screen that change successively with each frame rendered by the game. Using a secondary system, we capture the output from the graphics card directly, intercepting it from the display output, in real-time in an uncompressed form. With that video file captured, we then analyze it frame by frame, measuring the length of each of those colored bars, how long they are on the screen, how consistently they are displayed. This allows us to find the average frame rate but also to find how smoothly the frames are presented, if there are dropped frames and if there are jitter or stutter issues. 

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Continue reading our first look at Frame Rating / FCAT Testing with Mantle in Battlefield 4!!

Podcast #286 - AMD Mantle, Battlefield 4 Performance, Chromeboxes and more!

Subject: General Tech | February 6, 2014 - 03:14 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, amd, Mantle, r9 290, 290x, battlefield 4, Chromebox, Chromebook, t440s, nvidia, Intel

PC Perspective Podcast #286 - 02/06/2014

Join us this week as we discuss the release of AMD Mantle, Battlefield 4 Performance, Chromeboxes 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 and Allyn Malventano

 
Program length: 1:03:08
  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
  3. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
    1. Jeremy: The Cyberith Virtualizer would be nice to go with that Oculus Rift you should buy me
  4. Closing/outro

Be sure to subscribe to the PC Perspective YouTube channel!!

 

Focus on Mantle

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | February 5, 2014 - 02:43 PM |
Tagged: gaming, Mantle, amd, battlefield 4

Now that the new Mantle enabled driver has been released several sites have had a chance to try out the new API to see what effect it has on Battlefield 4.  [H]ard|OCP took a stock XFX R9 290X paired with an i7-3770K and tested both single and multiplayer BF4 performance and the pattern they saw lead them to believe Mantle is more effective at relieving CPU bottlenecks than ones caused by the GPU.  The performance increases they saw were greater at lower resolutions than at high resolutions.  At The Tech Report another XFX R9 290X was paired with an A10-7850K and an i7-4770K and compared the systems performance in D3D as well as Mantle.  To make the tests even more interesting they also tested D3D with a 780Ti, which you should fully examine before deciding which performs the best.  Their findings were in line with [H]ard|OCP's and they made the observation that Mantle is going to offer the greatest benefits to lower powered systems, with not a lot to be gained by high end systems with the current version of Mantle.  Legit Reviews performed similar tests but also brought the Star Swarm demo into the mix, using an R7 260X for their GPU.  You can catch all of our coverage by clicking on the Mantle tag.

bf4-framegraph.jpg

"Does AMD's Mantle graphics API deliver on its promise of smoother gaming with lower-spec CPUs? We take an early look at its performance in Battlefield 4."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Gaming

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

A quick look at performance results

Late last week, EA and Dice released the long awaited patch for Battlefield 4 that enables support for the Mantle renderer.  This new API technology was introduced by AMD back in September. Unfortunately, AMD wasn't quite ready for its release with their Catalyst 14.1 beta driver.  I wrote a short article that previewed the new driver's features, its expected performance with the Mantle version of BF4, and commentary about the current state of Mantle.  You should definite read that as a primer before continuing if you haven't yet.  

Today, after really just a few short hours with a useable driver, I have only limited results.  Still, I know that you, our readers, clamor for ANY information on the topic.  I thought I would share what we have thus far.

Initial Considerations

As I mentioned in the previous story, the Mantle version of Battlefield 4 has the biggest potential to show advantages in times where the game is more CPU limited.  AMD calls this the "low hanging fruit" for this early release of Mantle and claim that further optimizations will come, especially for GPU-bound scenarios.  Because of that dependency on CPU limitations, that puts some non-standard requirements on our ability to showcase Mantle's performance capabilities.

bf42.jpg

For example, the level of the game and even the section of that level, in the BF4 single player campaign, can show drastic swings in Mantle's capabilities.  Multiplayer matches will also show more consistent CPU utilization (and thus could be improved by Mantle) though testing those levels in a repeatable, semi-scientific method is much more difficult.  And, as you'll see in our early results, I even found a couple instances in which the Mantle API version of BF4 ran a smidge slower than the DX11 instance.  

For our testing, we compiled two systems that differed in CPU performance in order to simulate the range of processors installed within consumers' PCs.  Our standard GPU test bed includes a Core i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E processor specifically to remove the CPU as a bottleneck and that has been included here today.  We added in a system based on the AMD A10-7850K Kaveri APU which presents a more processor-limited (especially per-thread) system, overall, and should help showcase Mantle benefits more easily.

Continue reading our early look at the performance advantages of AMD Mantle on Battlefield 4!!

Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

A troubled launch to be sure

AMD has released some important new drivers with drastic feature additions over the past year.  Remember back in August of 2013 when Frame Pacing was first revealed?  Today’s Catalyst 14.1 beta release will actually complete the goals that AMD set forth upon itself in early 2013 in regards to introducing (nearly) complete Frame Pacing technology integration for non-XDMA GPUs while also adding support for Mantle and HSA capability.

Frame Pacing Phase 2 and HSA Support

When AMD released the first frame pacing capable beta driver in August of 2013, it added support to existing GCN designs (HD 7000-series and a few older generations) at resolutions of 2560x1600 and below.  While that definitely addressed a lot of the market, the fact was that CrossFire users were also amongst the most likely to have Eyefinity (3+ monitors spanned for gaming) or even 4K displays (quickly dropping in price).  Neither of those advanced display options were supported with any Catalyst frame pacing technology.

That changes today as Phase 2 of the AMD Frame Pacing feature has finally been implemented for products that do not feature the XDMA technology (found in Hawaii GPUs for example).  That includes HD 7000-series GPUs, the R9 280X and 270X cards, as well as older generation products and Dual Graphics hardware combinations such as the new Kaveri APU and R7 250.  I have already tested Kaveri and the R7 250 in fact, and you can read about its scaling and experience improvements right here.  That means that users of the HD 7970, R9 280X, etc., as well as those of you with HD 7990 dual-GPU cards, will finally be able to utilize the power of both GPUs in your system with 4K displays and Eyefinity configurations!

BF3_5760x1080_PLOT.png

This is finally fixed!!

As of this writing I haven’t had time to do more testing (other than the Dual Graphics article linked above) to demonstrate the potential benefits of this Phase 2 update, but we’ll be targeting it later in the week.  For now, it appears that you’ll be able to get essentially the same performance and pacing capabilities on the Tahiti-based GPUs as you can with Hawaii (R9 290X and R9 290). 

Catalyst 14.1 beta is also the first public driver to add support for HSA technology, allowing owners of the new Kaveri APU to take advantage of the appropriately enabled applications like LibreOffice and the handful of Adobe apps.  AMD has since let us know that this feature DID NOT make it into the public release of Catalyst 14.1.

The First Mantle Ready Driver (sort of) 

A technology that has been in development for more than two years according to AMD, the newly released Catalyst 14.1 beta driver is the first to enable support for the revolutionary new Mantle API for PC gaming.  Essentially, Mantle is AMD’s attempt at creating a custom API that will replace DirectX and OpenGL in order to more directly target the GPU hardware in your PC, specifically the AMD-based designs of GCN (Graphics Core Next). 

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Mantle runs at a lower level than DX or OGL does, able to more directly access the hardware resources of the graphics chips, and with that ability is able to better utilize the hardware in your system, both CPU and GPU.  In fact, the primary benefit of Mantle is going to be seen in the form of less API overhead and bottlenecks such as real-time shader compiling and code translation. 

If you are interested in the meat of what makes Mantle tick and why it was so interesting to us when it was first announced in September of 2013, you should check out our first deep-dive article written by Josh.  In it you’ll get our opinion on why Mantle matters and why it has the potential for drastically changing the way the PC is thought of in the gaming ecosystem.

Continue reading our coverage of the launch of AMD's Catalyst 14.1 driver and Battlefield 4 Mantle patch!!

AMD Mantle for Battlefield 4 Delayed into the New Year

Subject: Graphics Cards | December 30, 2013 - 02:32 PM |
Tagged: amd, Mantle, hawaii, BF4, battlefield 4

If you have been following the mess than has been Battlefield 4 since its release, what with the crashing on both PCs and consoles, you know that EA and DICE have decided that fixing the broken game is the number 1 priority.  Gee, thanks.  

bf4splash.jpg

While they work on that though, there is another casualty of development other than the pending DLC packs: AMD's Mantle version of the game.  If you remember way back in September of 2013, along with the announcement of AMD's Hawaii GPUs, AMD and DICE promised a version of the BF4 game running on Mantle as a free update in December.  If you are counting, that is just 1 more day away from being late.

Today we got this official statement from AMD:

After much consideration, the decision was made to delay the Mantle patch for Battlefield 4. AMD continues to support DICE on the public introduction of Mantle, and we are tremendously excited about the coming release for Battlefield 4! We are now targeting a January release and will have more information to share in the New Year.

Well, it's not a surprise but it sure is a bummer.  One of the killer new features for AMD's GPUs was supposed to be the ability to use this new low-level API to enhance performance for PC games.  As Josh stated in our initial article on the subject, "It bypasses DirectX (and possibly the hardware abstraction layer) and developers can program very close to the metal with very little overhead from software.  This lowers memory and CPU usage, it decreases latency, and because there are fewer “moving parts” AMD claims that they can do 9x the draw calls with Mantle as compared to DirectX.  This is a significant boost in overall efficiency."

mantle_diag_03.jpg

It seems that buyers of the AMD R9 series of graphics need to wait at least another month to really see what the promise of Mantle is really all about. Will the wait be worth it?

Source: AMD

BF4 and the 3GB VRAM myth

Subject: General Tech | November 18, 2013 - 02:20 PM |
Tagged: battlefield 4, win 8.1

One of the more interesting results from [H]ard|OCP's testing with Battlefield 4 was the RAM usage they observed, cards with 3GB or more of VRAM used 2.25GB of RAM at most points, cards with less topped out at 1.75GB of usage.  This proved that some of the performance anomalies they saw from NVIDIA cards was not necessarily a VRAM issue.  The R9 290X took top spot but even the 270X and GTX760 could manage Ultra settings at 1080p so almost anyone with a modern card should be able to enjoy all of the eye candy in BF4.  Check out the exact results in their full review.

hbf4.jpg

"Battlefield 4 is this holiday season's blockbuster from the Battlefield series. It features the brand new Frostbite 3 game engine which provides a higher level of realism in the game. We strap 8 video cards to the test bench to see what kind of gameplay experience is delivered under Windows 8.1."

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

Source: [H]ard|OCP

AMD's Holiday Game + GPU Bundles

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 14, 2013 - 07:54 PM |
Tagged: never settle forever, never settle, battlefield 4, amd

UPDATE (11/14/2013): After many complaints from the community about the lack of availability of graphics cards that actually HAD the Battlefield 4 bundle included with them, AMD is attempting to clarify the situation.  In a statement sent through email, AMD says that the previous information sent to press "was not clear and has led to some confusion" which is definitely the case.  While it was implied that all customers that bought R9 series graphics cards would get a free copy of BF4, when purchased on or after November 13th, the truth is that "add-in-board partners ultimately decide which select AMD Radeon R9 SKUs will include a copy of BF4."

So, how are you to know what SKUs and cards are actually going to include BF4?  AMD is trying hard to setup a landing page at http://amd.com/battlefield4 that will give gamers clear, and absolute, listings of which R9 series cards include the free copy of the game.  When I pushed AMD for a timeline on exactly when these would be posted, the best I could get was "in the next day or two." 

As for users that bought an R9 280X, R9 270X, R9 270, R9 290X or R9 290 after the announcement of the bundle program changes but DID NOT get a copy of BF4, AMD is going to try and help them out by offering up 1,000 Battlefield 4 keys over AMD's social channels.  The cynic in me thinks this is another ploy to get more Facebook likes and Twitter followers, but in truth the logistics of verifying purchases at this point would be a nightmare for AMD.  Though I don't have details on HOW they are going to distribute these keys, I certainly hope they are going to find a way to target those users that were screwed over in this mess.   Follow www.facebook.com/amdgaming or www.twitter.com/amdradeon for more information on this upcoming promotion.

AMD did send over a couple of links to cards that are currently selling with Battlefield 4 included, as an example of what to look for:

As far as I know, the board partners will also decide which online outlets to offer the bundle through, so even if you see the same SKU on Amazon.com, it may not come with Battlefield 4 as well.  It appears in this case, and going forward, extreme caution is in order when looking for the right card for you.

END UPDATE (11/14/2013)

AMD announced the first Never Settle on October 22nd, 2012 with Sleeping Dogs, Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution, and 20% off of Medal of Honor: Warfighter. The deal was valued at around $170. It has exploded since then to become a choose-your-own-bundle across a variety of tiers.

This bundle is mostly different.

AMD-holiday-bundle.png

Basically, apart from the R7 260X (I will get to that later), all applicable cards will receive Battlefield 4. This is a one-game promotion unlike Never Settle. Still, it is one very good game that will soon be accelerated with Mantle in an upcoming patch. It should be a good example of games based on Frostbite 3 for at least the next few years.

The qualifying cards are: R9 270, R9 270X, R9 280, R9 280X, R9 290, and R9 290X. They must be purchased from a participating retailer beginning November 13th.

The R7 260X is slightly different because it is more familiar to Never Settle. It will not have access to a free copy of Battlefield 4. Instead, the R7 260X will have access to two of six Never Settle Forever Silver Tier games: Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs, Sniper Elite (V2), Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, DiRT 3, and (for the first time) THIEF. It is possible that other silver-tier Never Settle Forever owners, who have yet to redeem their voucher, might qualify as well. I am not sure about that. Regardless, THIEF was chosen because the developer worked closely with AMD to support both Mantle as well as TrueAudio.

Since this deal half-updates Never Settle and half-doesn't... I am unsure what this means for the future of the bundle. They seem to be simultaneously supporting and disavowing it. My personal expectation is that AMD wants to continue with Never Settle but they just cut their margins too thin with this launch. This will be a good question to revisit later in the GPU lifecycle when margins become more comfortable.

What do you think? Does AMD's hyper-aggressive hardware pricing warrant a temporary suspension of Never Settle? I mean, until today, they were being purchased without any bundle what-so-ever.

Qualifying R9-Series Cards (purchased after Nov 13 from participating retailers) can check out AMD's Battlefield 4 portal.

Qualifying R7 260X owners, on the other hand, can check out the Never Settle Forever portal.

Source: AMD

Battling Frostbite on the PC

Subject: General Tech | November 6, 2013 - 05:08 PM |
Tagged: gaming, battlefield 4

EA may have released the minimum and recommended specs but until properly tweaked and benchmarked it is never clear how much power BF4 wants.  Thankfully TechSpot has gone through all of that work for you, testing over 2 dozen video cards and their performance in BF4 at three different resolutions.  They didn't parse the performance by every single graphics option switching between enabled and disabled but the benchmarks are informative enough to give you an idea where to start.

TS_battlefield-4-benchmarks.jpg

"With roots that stretch back more than a decade and enough fans to justify new content every year, Battlefield is among the handful of franchises that needs no introduction around here. Even if you hate EA's approach modern military madness, you can typically expect Battlefield's graphics to raise the bar."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Gaming

Source: Techspot

Three For Three: Battlefield 4 Fail Launch. DRM'd!

Subject: General Tech | October 29, 2013 - 06:48 PM |
Tagged: ea, DRM, battlefield 4

((Update: October 30 @ 7:04pm: The issue was not resolved by EA before the EU release date. However, as expected, the game unlocked at 7:01pm. While I wish I could have reported that the issue was resolved ahead of time, it wasn't, and now (since EA did not demonstrate any concrete effort in resolving the issue) I cannot tell whether we will experience the same issue next time. It is possible this issue could plague several releases to come. Keep this in mind.))

I just do not have any luck with pre-ordering titles on Origin. Battlefield 3 had a rough launch, especially on my computer, with it being almost a year until they sorted through the mouse lag hiccups (seemingly related to having Google Chrome running) and random crashes. My second title was SimCity, which requires no further explanation, and my latest is Battlefield 4. Now, it seems as though the actual game launched decently for the majority of customers. They try really hard; they really, really do.

The problem? Origin will not unlock it until October 30th at 7PM EDT for myself and many others.

ea-origin-bf4-lock.png

Supposedly this also affected the Beta and other Origin titles.

Unfortunately, I was at Mozilla Summit. I cannot comment on that. No experience.

Somewhere in Origin there is a mistake with region-locking and certain ISPs. My primary ISP (Teksavvy cCable... not a typo) does not qualify, for some reason, as a North American release region. October 30th at 7PM EDT corresponds to October 31st at midnight CET so the game likely believes my connection belongs to the European Union. AT&T U-Verse and Vidéotron were also reported as having this problem.

I used my (in repair) Bell Canada DSL connection and was able to access the Battlefield 4 campaign (the connection is too unstable for multiplayer until it gets fixed). I, then, tried to access it again with Teksavvy? Nope. Relocked.

I contacted EA Support (I never identified myself as a journalist) who were honest and blunt about the issue. I respect that! Congratulations, EA, for having technical support open at 2 AM and treated me with respect. The company also started a thread in EA Answers asking for more information about affected customers. Still, currently, the issue has not been resolved.

But even that is irrelevant to the actual point because this is obviously an honest mistake. Still:

The DRM is making me not want to pre-order (or purchase at all) another title on Origin!

And... the kick while down... it has not helped anyone!

Region-locking does not make sense, especially not anymore, within a worldwide digital distribution network. I can connect by a VPN to anywhere in the world to pretend that I belong there. I legally purchased the title. There is no financial reason to make me wait to access it; in fact, especially with their recent refund policy, it might encourage me to cancel my order or outright ignore the product's existence in the first place.

EA has been expending tonnes of time and resources making Origin more desirable where it counts. They seem to actually care about their distribution platform's success. The have seemingly around-the-clock live tech support and a great refund policty. Yet, time and time again, these little mistakes where it doesn't even count add up to the terrible user experience. Yes, I could refund my title; I do not get the game I want and EA loses a sale. Great job, DRM!

EA, what has this accomplished except support costs, bad press, and anger legitimate customers?