AMD Planning Open Source GameWorks Competitor, Mantle for Linux

Subject: Graphics Cards | June 19, 2014 - 10:35 AM |
Tagged: video, richard huddy, radeon, openworks, Mantle, freesync, amd

On Tuesday, AMD's newly minted Gaming Scientist, Richard Huddy, stopped by the PC Perspective office to talk about the current state of the company's graphics division. The entire video of the interview is embedded below but several of the points that are made are quite interesting and newsworthy. During the discussion we hear about Mantle on Linux, a timeline for Mantle being opened publicly as well as a surprising new idea for a competitor to NVIDIA's GameWorks program.

Richard is new to the company but not new to the industry, starting with 3DLabs many years ago and taking jobs at NVIDIA, ATI, Intel and now returning to AMD. The role of Gaming Scientist is to directly interface with the software developers for gaming and make sure that the GPU hardware designers are working hand in hand with future, high end graphics technology. In essence, Huddy's job is to make sure AMD continues to innovate on the hardware side to facilitate innovation on the software side.

AMD Planning an "OpenWorks" Program

(33:00) After the volume of discussion surrounding the NVIDIA GameWorks program and its potential to harm the gaming ecosystem by not providing source code in an open manner, Huddy believes that the answer to problem is to simply have NVIDIA release the SDK with source code publicly. Whether or not NVIDIA takes that advice has yet to be seen, but if they don't, it appears that AMD is going down the road of creating its own competing solution that is open and flexible.

The idea of OpenFX or OpenWorks as Huddy refers to it is to create an open source repository for gaming code and effects examples that can be updated, modified and improved upon by anyone in the industry. AMD would be willing to start the initiative by donating its entire SDK to the platform and then invite other software developers, as well as other hardware developers, to add or change to the collection. The idea is to create a competitor to what GameWorks accomplishes but in a license free and open way.

gameworks.jpg

NVIDIA GameWorks has been successful; can AMD OpenWorks derail it?

Essentially the "OpenWorks" repository would work in a similar way to a Linux group where the public has access to the code to submit changes that can be implemented by anyone else. Someone would be able to improve the performance for specific hardware easily but if performance was degraded on any other hardware then it could be easily changed and updated. Huddy believes this is how you move the industry forward and how you ensure that the gamer is getting the best overall experience regardless of the specific platform they are using.

"OpenWorks" is still in the planning stages and AMD is only officially "talking about it" internally. However, bringing Huddy back to AMD wasn't done without some direction already in mind and it would not surprise me at all if this was essentially a done deal. Huddy believes that other hardware companies like Qualcomm and Intel would participate in such an open system but the real question is whether or not NVIDIA, as the discrete GPU market share leader, would be in any way willing to do as well.

Still, this initiative continues to show the differences between the NVIDIA and AMD style of doing things. NVIDIA prefers a more closed system that it has full control over to perfect the experience, to hit aggressive timelines and to improve the ecosystem as they see it. AMD wants to provide an open system that everyone can participate in and benefit from but often is held back by the inconsistent speed of the community and partners. 

Mantle to be Opened by end of 2014, Potentially Coming to Linux

(7:40) The AMD Mantle API has been an industry changing product, I don't think anyone can deny that. Even if you don't own AMD hardware or don't play any of the games currently shipping with Mantle support, the re-focusing on a higher efficiency API has impacted NVIDIA's direction with DX11, Microsoft's plans for DX12 and perhaps even Apple's direction with Metal. But for a company that pushes the idea of open standards so heavily, AMD has yet to offer up Mantle source code in a similar fashion to its standard SDK. As it stands right now, Mantle is only given to a group of software developers in the beta program and is specifically tuned for AMD's GCN graphics hardware.

mantlepic.jpg

Huddy reiterated that AMD has made a commitment to release a public SDK for Mantle by the end of 2014 which would allow any other hardware vendor to create a driver that could run Mantle game titles. If AMD lives up to its word and releases the full source code for it, then in theory, NVIDIA could offer support for Mantle games on GeForce hardware, Intel could offer support those same games on Intel HD graphics. There will be no license fees, no restrictions at all.

The obvious question is whether or not any other IHV would choose to do so. Both because of competitive reasons and with the proximity of DX12's release in late 2015. Huddy agrees with me that the pride of these other hardware vendors may prevent them from considering Mantle adoption though the argument can be made that the work required to implement it properly might not be worth the effort with DX12 (and its very similar feature set) around the corner.

(51:45) When asked about AMD input on SteamOS and its commitment to the gamers that see that as the future, Huddy mentioned that AMD was considering, but not promising, bringing the Mantle API to Linux. If the opportunity exists, says Huddy, to give the gamer a better experience on that platform with the help of Mantle, and developers ask for the support for AMD, then AMD will at the very least "listen to that." It would incredibly interesting to see a competitor API in the landscape of Linux where OpenGL is essentially the only game in town. 

AMD FreeSync / Adaptive Sync Benefits

(59:15) Huddy discussed the differences, as he sees it, between NVIDIA's G-Sync technology and the AMD option called FreeSync but now officially called Adaptive Sync as part of the DisplayPort 1.2a standard. Beside the obvious difference of added hardware and licensing costs, Adaptive Sync is apparently going to be easier to implement as the maximum and minimum frequencies are actually negotiated by the display and the graphics card when the monitor is plugged in. G-Sync requires a white list in the NVIDIA driver to work today and as long as NVIDIA keeps that list updated, the impact on gamers buying panels should be minimal. But with DP 1.2a and properly implemented Adaptive Sync monitors, once a driver supports the negotiation it doesn't require knowledge about the specific model beforehand.

freesync1.jpg

AMD demos FreeSync at Computex 2014

According to Huddy, the new Adaptive Sync specification will go up to as high as 240 Hz and as low as 9 Hz; these are specifics that before today weren't known. Of course, not every panel (and maybe no panel) will support that extreme of a range for variable frame rate technology, but this leaves a lot of potential for improved panel development in the years to come. More likely you'll see Adaptive Sync ready display listing a range closer to 30-60 Hz or 30-80 Hz initially. 

Prototypes of FreeSync monitors will be going out to some media in the September or October time frame, while public availability will likely occur in the January or February window. 

How does AMD pick game titles for the Never Settle program?

(1:14:00) Huddy describes the fashion in which games are vetted for inclusion in the AMD Never Settle program. The company looks for games that have a good history of course, but also ones that exemplify the use of AMD hardware. Games that benchmark well and have reproducible results that can be reported by AMD and the media are also preferred. Inclusion of an integrated benchmark mode in the game is also a plus as it more likely gets review media interested in including that game in their test suite and also allows the public to run their own tests to compare results. 

Another interesting note was the games that are included in bundles often are picked based on restrictions in certain countries. Germany, for example, has very strict guidelines for violence in games and thus add-in card partners would much prefer a well known racing game than an ultra-bloody first person shooter. 

Closing Thoughts

First and foremost, a huge thanks to Richard Huddy for making time to stop by the offices and talk with us. And especially for allowing us to live stream it to our fans and readers. I have had the privilege to have access to some of the most interesting minds in the industry, but they are very rarely open to having our talks broadcast to the world without editing and without a precompiled list of questions. For allowing it, both AMD and Mr. Huddy have gained some respect! 

There is plenty more discussed in the interview including AMD's push to a non-PC based revenue split, whether DX12 will undermine the use of the Mantle API, and how code like TressFX compares to NVIDIA GameWorks. If you haven't watched it yet I think you'll find the full 90 minutes to be quite informative and worth your time.

UPDATE: I know that some of our readers, and some contacts and NVIDIA, took note of Huddy's comments about TressFX from our interview. Essentially, NVIDIA denied that TressFX was actually made available before the release of Tomb Raider. When I asked AMD for clarification, Richard Huddy provided me with the following statement.

I would like to take the opportunity to correct a false impression that I inadvertently created during the interview.

Contrary to what I said, it turns out that TressFX was first published in AMD's SDK _after_ the release of Tomb Raider.

Nonetheless the full source code to TressFX was available to the developer throughout, and we also know that the game was available to NVIDIA several weeks ahead of the actual release for NVIDIA to address the bugs in their driver and to optimize for TressFX.

Again, I apologize for the mistake.

That definitely paints a little bit of a different picture on around the release of TressFX with the rebooted Tomb Raider title. NVIDIA's complaint that "AMD was doing the same thing" holds a bit more weight. Since Richard Huddy was not with AMD at the time of this arrangement I can see how he would mix up the specifics, even after getting briefed by other staff members.

END UPDATE

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Podcast #303 - News from Computex 2014, Crucial MX100 SSD, Intel SSD DC P3700, and much more!

Subject: General Tech | June 5, 2014 - 02:39 PM |
Tagged: video, podcast, p3700, mx100, intel ssd, gsync, fx-7600p, freesync, corsair, computex 2014, computex, asus, adaptive sync, acer, 4k

PC Perspective Podcast #303 - 06/05/2014

Special guest Austin Evans joins us this week to discuss news from Computex 2014, Crucial MX100 SSD, Intel SSD DC P3700, and much 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!

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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, Allyn Maleventano, and Austin Evans

Program length: 1:29:12
  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
    1. 0:46:00 Monitors
    2. Corsair
    3. ASUS
  3. Closing/outro

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

 

AMD Demonstrates Prototype FreeSync Monitor with DisplayPort Adaptive Sync Feature

Subject: Graphics Cards, Displays | June 4, 2014 - 12:40 AM |
Tagged: gsync, g-sync, freesync, DisplayPort, computex 2014, computex, adaptive sync

AMD FreeSync is likely a technology or brand or term that is going to be used a lot between now and the end of 2014. When NVIDIA introduced variable refresh rate monitor technology to the world in October of last year, one of the immediate topics of conversation was the response that AMD was going to have. NVIDIA's G-Sync technology is limited to NVIDIA graphics cards and only a few (actually just one still as I write this) monitors actually have the specialized hardware to support it. In practice though, variable refresh rate monitors fundamentally change the gaming experience for the better

freesync1.jpg

At CES, AMD went on the offensive and started showing press a hacked up demo of what they called "FreeSync", a similar version of the variable refresh technology working on a laptop. At the time, the notebook was a requirement of the demo because of the way AMD's implementation worked. Mobile displays have previously included variable refresh technologies in order to save power and battery life. AMD found that it could repurpose that technology to emulate the effects that NVIDIA G-Sync creates - a significantly smoother gaming experience without the side effects of Vsync.

Our video preview of NVIDIA G-Sync Technology

Since that January preview, things have progressed for the "FreeSync" technology. Taking the idea to the VESA board responsible for the DisplayPort standard, in April we found out that VESA had adopted the technology and officially and called it Adaptive Sync

So now what? AMD is at Computex and of course is taking the opportunity to demonstrate a "FreeSync" monitor with the DisplayPort 1.2a Adaptive Sync feature at work. Though they aren't talking about what monitor it is or who the manufacturer is, the demo is up and running and functions with frame rates wavering between 40 FPS and 60 FPS - the most crucial range of frame rates that can adversely affect gaming experiences. AMD has a windmill demo running on the system, perfectly suited to showing Vsync enabled (stuttering) and Vsync disabled (tearing) issues with a constantly rotating object. It is very similar to the NVIDIA clock demo used to show off G-Sync.

freesync2.jpg

The demo system is powered by an AMD FX-8350 processor and Radeon R9 290X graphics card. The monitor is running at 2560x1440 and is the very first working prototype of the new standard. Even more interesting, this is a pre-existing display that has had its firmware updated to support Adaptive Sync. That's potentially exciting news! Monitors COULD BE UPGRADED to support this feature, but AMD warns us: "...this does not guarantee that firmware alone can enable the feature, it does reveal that some scalar/LCD combinations are already sufficiently advanced that they can support some degree of DRR (dynamic refresh rate) and the full DPAS (DisplayPort Adaptive Sync) specification through software changes."

freesync3.jpg

The time frame for retail available monitors using DP 1.2a is up in the air but AMD has told us that the end of 2014 is entirely reasonable. Based on the painfully slow release of G-Sync monitors into the market, AMD has less of a time hole to dig out of than we originally thought, which is good. What is not good news though is that this feature isn't going to be supported on the full range of AMD Radeon graphics cards. Only the Radeon R9 290/290X and R7 260/260X (and the R9 295X2 of course) will actually be able to support the "FreeSync" technology. Compare that to NVIDIA's G-Sync: it is supported by NVIDIA's entire GTX 700 and GTX 600 series of cards.

freesync4.jpg

All that aside, seeing the first official prototype of "FreeSync" is awesome and is getting me pretty damn excited about the variable refresh rate technologies once again! Hopefully we'll get some more hands on time (eyes on, whatever) with a panel in the near future to really see how it compares to the experience that NVIDIA G-Sync provides. There is still the chance that the technologies are not directly comparable and some in-depth testing will be required to validate.

Podcast #300! - Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming Black Edition, $599 Samsung 4K Monitor and much more!

Subject: General Tech | May 15, 2014 - 02:36 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, Intel, z97, gigabyte, Z97X-Gaming G1-WIFI-BK, black edition, Samsung, u28d590d, asus, ROG, g-sync, freesync, titan z, 295x2

PC Perspective Podcast #300!!! - 05/15/2014

Join us this week for our 300th podcast as we discuss the Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming Black Edition, a $599 Samsung 4K Monitor and much 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!

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Hosts: Ryan Shrout, Josh Walrath, Jeremy Hellstrom, and Morry Tietelman

Program length: 1:25:47
  1. What happened 100 Episodes ago…
  2. Week in Review:
  3. News items of interest:
  4. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
  5. Closing/outro

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

 

Move over G-Sync! FreeSync arrives on DisplayPort 1.2a

Subject: General Tech, Displays | May 12, 2014 - 03:29 PM |
Tagged: g-sync, freesync, displayport 1.2a, adaptive sync

AMD might have originally thought that dynamic refresh rates were not worth adding to their machines but they did develop FreeSync quite a while ago and now that G-Sync is available they've changed their minds.  Even better for the consumer is the way that they went about releasing it; not as proprietary hardware which is only compatible with certain monitors but as an update to the DisplayPort standard which does not require any extra hardware.  We do still have a while to wait before these monitors hit the shelves, the display scaler and control chips manufactures will have to incorporate the new standard into their designs but once they do they should be functional on both NVIDIA and AMD as long as you are connecting with DisplayPort.  Read more about the process on The Tech Report.

Also, you can read the official VESA press release.

a-sync.jpg

"PC gaming animation may soon become more fluid than ever, thanks to a development just announced by the folks at the VESA display standards organization. VESA has officially added a feature called Adaptive Sync to the DisplayPort 1.2a specification, which means that a G-Sync-style adaptive refresh mechanism could be built into nearly every new desktop monitor in the coming months and years."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Rumor: VESA Might Have Accepted AMD's FreeSync

Subject: General Tech, Displays | April 6, 2014 - 02:41 AM |
Tagged: vesa, freesync, DisplayPort, amd

According to French website, hardware.fr, the VESA standards body has accepted AMD's proposal for FreeSync into an extension of the DisplayPort 1.2a standard. FreeSync is the standards-based answer to NVIDIA's G-Sync, a process for allowing the monitor to time itself according to its driving GPU. At CES 2014, AMD claimed that the technology was already in development to be used for mobile devices to save power (less frequent monitor refreshes).

vesa-logoBlack.png

By presenting image to the user only when the work is complete, you can avoid "tearing" and latency. The tearing will be eliminated because the graphics card does not change the image being drawn by the monitor as it is trying to display it. The latency is eliminated because it does not need to wait until the monitor is ready (up to one-over-the maximum refresh rate of the monitor). It should also save power by reducing its refresh rate on slower scenes, such as an idle desktop, but that is less of a concern when you are plugged into a wall.

What does this mean? Nothing yet, really, except that a gigantic standards body seems to approve.

Source: Hardware.fr

Podcast #283 - AMD Kaveri APU Launch, Gigabyte's New Slim Gaming Notebook, and CES 2014 Wrapup!

Subject: General Tech | January 16, 2014 - 12:26 AM |
Tagged: video, R9 290X, podcast, msi, Kaveri, gsync, gigabyte, freesync, benq, amd, a8-7600, 290x

PC Perspective Podcast #283 - 01/16/2014

Join us this week as we discuss the AMD Kaveri APU Launch, Gigabyte's New Slim Gaming Notebook, and CES 2014 Wrapup!

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!

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  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

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

 
Program length: 1:13:50
Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

DisplayPort to Save the Day?

During an impromptu meeting with AMD this week, the company's Corporate Vice President for Visual Computing, Raja Koduri, presented me with an interesting demonstration of a technology that allowed the refresh rate of a display on a Toshiba notebook to perfectly match with the render rate of the game demo being shown.  The result was an image that was smooth and with no tearing effects.  If that sounds familiar, it should.  NVIDIA's G-Sync was announced in November of last year and does just that for desktop systems and PC gamers.

Since that November unveiling, I knew that AMD would need to respond in some way.  The company had basically been silent since learning of NVIDIA's release but that changed for me today and the information discussed is quite extraordinary.  AMD is jokingly calling the technology demonstration "FreeSync".

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Variable refresh rates as discussed by NVIDIA.

During the demonstration AMD's Koduri had two identical systems side by side based on a Kabini APU . Both were running a basic graphics demo of a rotating windmill.  One was a standard software configuration while the other model had a modified driver that communicated with the panel to enable variable refresh rates.  As you likely know from our various discussions about variable refresh rates an G-Sync technology from NVIDIA, this setup results in a much better gaming experience as it produces smoother animation on the screen without the horizontal tearing associated with v-sync disabled.  

Obviously AMD wasn't using the same controller module that NVIDIA is using on its current G-Sync displays, several of which were announced this week at CES.  Instead, the internal connection on the Toshiba notebook was the key factor: Embedded Display Port (eDP) apparently has a feature to support variable refresh rates on LCD panels.  This feature was included for power savings on mobile and integrated devices as refreshing the screen without new content can be a waste of valuable battery resources.  But, for performance and gaming considerations, this feature can be used to initiate a variable refresh rate meant to smooth out game play, as AMD's Koduri said.

Continue reading our thoughts on AMD's initial "FreeSync" variable refresh rate demonstration!!