Subject: Graphics Cards | February 26, 2014 - 06:17 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: opengl, nvidia, Mantle, gdc 14, GDC, DirectX 12, DirectX, amd
UPDATE (2/27/14): AMD sent over a statement today after seeing our story.
AMD would like you to know that it supports and celebrates a direction for game development that is aligned with AMD’s vision of lower-level, ‘closer to the metal’ graphics APIs for PC gaming. While industry experts expect this to take some time, developers can immediately leverage efficient API design using Mantle, and AMD is very excited to share the future of our own API with developers at this year’s Game Developers Conference.
Credit over to Scott and his reader at The Tech Report for spotting this interesting news today!!
It appears that DirectX and OpenGL are going to be announcing some changes at next month's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. According to some information found in the session details, both APIs are trying to steal some of the thunder from AMD's Mantle, recently released with the Battlefield 4 patch. Mantle is na API was built by AMD to enable more direct access (lower level) to its GCN graphics hardware allowing developers to code games that are more efficient, providing better performance for the PC gamer.
From the session titled DirectX: Evolving Microsoft's Graphics Platform we find this description (emphasis mine):
For nearly 20 years, DirectX has been the platform used by game developers to create the fastest, most visually impressive games on the planet.
However, you asked us to do more. You asked us to bring you even closer to the metal and to do so on an unparalleled assortment of hardware. You also asked us for better tools so that you can squeeze every last drop of performance out of your PC, tablet, phone and console.
Come learn our plans to deliver.
Another DirectX session hosted by Microsoft is titled DirectX: Direct3D Futures (emphasis mine):
Come learn how future changes to Direct3D will enable next generation games to run faster than ever before!
In this session we will discuss future improvements in Direct3D that will allow developers an unprecedented level of hardware control and reduced CPU rendering overhead across a broad ecosystem of hardware.
If you use cutting-edge 3D graphics in your games, middleware, or engines and want to efficiently build rich and immersive visuals, you don't want to miss this talk.
Now look at a line from our initial article on AMD Mantle when announced at its Hawaii tech day event:
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 is all sounding very familiar. It would appear that Microsoft has finally been listening to the development community and is working on the performance aspects of DirectX. Likely due in no small part to the push of AMD and Mantle's development, an updated DirectX 12 that includes a similar feature set and similar performance changes would shift the market in a few key ways.
Is it time again for innovation with DirectX?
First and foremost, what does this do for AMD's Mantle in the near or distant future? For now, BF4 will still include Mantle support as will games like Thief (update pending) but going forward, if these DX12 changes are as specific as I am being led to believe, then it would be hard to see anyone really sticking with the AMD-only route. Of course, if DX12 doesn't really address the performance and overhead issues in the same way that Mantle does then all bets are off and we are back to square one.
Interestingly, OpenGL might also be getting into the ring with the session Approaching Zero Driver Overhead in OpenGL:
Driver overhead has been a frustrating reality for game developers for the entire life of the PC game industry. On desktop systems, driver overhead can decrease frame rate, while on mobile devices driver overhead is more insidious--robbing both battery life and frame rate. In this unprecedented sponsored session, Graham Sellers (AMD), Tim Foley (Intel), Cass Everitt (NVIDIA) and John McDonald (NVIDIA) will present high-level concepts available in today's OpenGL implementations that radically reduce driver overhead--by up to 10x or more. The techniques presented will apply to all major vendors and are suitable for use across multiple platforms. Additionally, they will demonstrate practical demos of the techniques in action in an extensible, open source comparison framework.
This description seems to indicate more about new or lesser known programming methods that can be used with OpenGL to lower overhead without the need for custom APIs or even DX12. This could be new modules from vendors or possibly a new revision to OpenGL - we'll find out next month.
All of this leaves us with a lot of questions that will hopefully be answered when we get to GDC in mid-March. Will this new version of DirectX be enough to reduce API overhead to appease even the stingiest of game developers? How will AMD react to this new competitor to Mantle (or was Mantle really only created to push this process along)? What time frame does Microsoft have on DX12? Does this save NVIDIA from any more pressure to build its own custom API?
Gaming continues to be the driving factor of excitement and innovation for the PC! Stay tuned for an exciting spring!
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | February 25, 2014 - 02:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: amd, Mantle, TrueAudio, Thief 4, thief
AMD released their Catalyst 14.2 Beta V1.3 graphics drivers today, coinciding with the launch of Thief. The game, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix, is another entry in "Gaming Evolved" and their "Never Settle" promotion. Soon, it will also support Mantle and TrueAudio.
Being Theif's launch driver, it provides optimizations for both single-GPU and Crossfire customers in that title. It also provides fixes for other titles, especially Battlefield 4 which can now run Mantle with up-to four GPUs. Battlefield 3 and 4 also supports Frame Pacing on very high (greater than 2560x1600) resolution monitors in dual-card Crossfire. It also fixes a couple of bugs in using Crossfire with DirectX 9 games, missing textures Minecraft, and corruption in X-Plane.
Catalyst 14.2 Beta V1.3 driver is available now at AMD's website.
Subject: Graphics Cards | February 13, 2014 - 02:31 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: radeon, r7 265, pitcairn, Mantle, gpu, amd
Some time in late February or March you will be able to purchase the R7 265 for around $150, a decent price for an entry level GPU that will benefit those who are currently dependent on the GPU portion of an APU. This leads to the question of its performance and if this Pitcairn refresh will really benefit a gamer on a tight budget. Hardware Canucks tested it against the two NVIDIA cards closest in price, the GTX 650 Ti Boost which is almost impossible to find and the GTX 660 2GB which is $40 more than the MSRP of the R7 265. The GTX 660 is faster overall but when you look at the price to performance ratio the R7 265 is a more attractive offering. Of course with NVIDIA's Maxwell release just around the corner this could change drastically.
If you already caught Ryan's review, you might have missed the short video he just added on the last page.
"AMD's R7 265 is meant to reside in the space between the R7 260X and R9 270, though performance is closer to its R9 sibling. Could this make it a perfect budget friendly graphics card?"
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- AMD updates Radeon R7 series with R7 265 GPU, promising 25 percent more power @ The Inquirer
- Sapphire Radeon R7 265 2 GB @ techPowerUp
- Sapphire R7 265 Dual X @ Kitguru
- Gigabyte Windforce Radeon R9 280X OC Video Card Review @HiTech Legion
- XFX Radeon R9 290 Double Dissipation @ Benchmark Reviews
- Sapphire R7 260X 2GB OC 2x DVI Video Card Review @ Legit Reviews
- Sapphire R9-290X Tri-X “Sapphire Takes a Shot at Cooling the Monster” Review! @ Bjorn3D
- Asus R9 290 Direct CU II OC @ Kitguru
- Sapphire R9 290X Tri-X OC 4 GB @ techPowerUp
- GIGABYTE R9 290X WindForce OC Review @ Hardware Canucks
- AMD Mantle BF4 and StarSwarm Testing Part 2 @ Legit Reviews
- Gigabyte GTX 780 Ti GHz Edition 3GB @ eTeknix
- MSI GeForce GTX 780 Ti GAMING 3G @ [H]ard|OCP
Straddling the R7 and R9 designation
It is often said that the sub-$200 graphics card market is crowded. It will get even more so over the next 7 days. Today AMD is announcing a new entry into this field, the Radeon R7 265, which seems to straddle the line between their R7 and R9 brands. The product is much closer in its specifications to the R9 270 than it is the R7 260X. As you'll see below, it is built on a very familiar GPU architecture.
AMD claims that the new R7 265 brings a 25% increase in performance to the R7 line of graphics cards. In my testing, this does turn out to be true and also puts it dangerously close to the R9 270 card released late last year. Much like we saw with the R9 290 compared to the R9 290X, the less expensive but similarly performing card might make the higher end model a less attractive option.
Let's take a quick look at the specifications of the new R7 265.
Based on the Pitcairn GPU, a part that made its debut with the Radeon HD 7870 and HD 7850 in early 2012, this card has 1024 stream processors running at 925 MHz equating to 1.89 TFLOPS of total peak compute power. Unlike the other R7 cards, the R7 265 has a 256-bit memory bus and will come with 2GB of GDDR5 memory running at 5.6 GHz. The card requires a single 6-pin power connection but has a peak TDP of 150 watts - pretty much the maximum of the PCI Express bus and one power connector. And yes, the R7 265 supports DX 11.2, OpenGL 4.3, and Mantle, just like the rest of the AMD R7/R9 lineup. It does NOT support TrueAudio and the new CrossFire DMA units.
|Radeon R9 270X||Radeon R9 270||Radeon R7 265||Radeon R7 260X||Radeon R7 260|
|GPU Code name||Pitcairn||Pitcairn||Pitcairn||Bonaire||Bonaire|
|Rated Clock||1050 MHz||925 MHz||925 MHz||1100 MHz||1000 MHz|
|Memory Clock||5600 MHz||5600 MHz||5600 MHz||6500 MHz||6000 MHz|
|Memory Bandwidth||179 GB/s||179 GB/s||179 GB/s||104 GB/s||96 GB/s|
|TDP||180 watts||150 watts||150 watts||115 watts||95 watts|
|Peak Compute||2.69 TFLOPS||2.37 TFLOPS||1.89 TFLOPS||1.97 TFLOPS||1.53 TFLOPS|
The table above compares the current AMD product lineup, ranging from the R9 270X to the R7 260, with the R7 265 directly in the middle. There are some interesting specifications to point out that make the 265 a much closer relation to the R7 270/270X cards than anything below it. Though the R7 265 has four fewer compute units (which is 256 stream processors) than the R9 270. The biggest performance gap here is going to be found with the 256-bit memory bus that persists; the available memory bandwidth of 179 GB/s is 72% higher than the 104 GB/s from the R7 260X! That will definitely improve performance drastically compared to the rest of the R7 products. Pay no mind to that peak performance of the 260X being higher than the R7 265; in real world testing that never happened.
Subject: General Tech | February 6, 2014 - 03:14 PM | Ken Addison
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!
The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!
- iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the 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
Week in Review:
News items of interest:
Hardware/Software Picks of the Week:
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | February 5, 2014 - 02:43 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
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.
"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:
- Humble Sid Meier Bundle announced: So much Civilisation! @ HEXUS
- HARD ONES: Three new PC games that are BLOODY DIFFICULT @ The Register
- Developers Reporting No Payments From Strategy First @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
What Mantle signifies about GPU architectures
Mantle is a very interesting concept. From the various keynote speeches, it sounds like the API is being designed to address the current state (and trajectory) of graphics processors. GPUs are generalized and highly parallel computation devices which are assisted by a little bit of specialized silicon, when appropriate. The vendors have even settled on standards, such as IEEE-754 floating point decimal numbers, which means that the driver has much less reason to shield developers from the underlying architectures.
Still, Mantle is currently a private technology for an unknown number of developers. Without a public SDK, or anything beyond the half-dozen keynotes, we can only speculate on its specific attributes. I, for one, have technical questions and hunches which linger unanswered or unconfirmed, probably until the API is suitable for public development.
Or, until we just... ask AMD.
Our response came from Guennadi Riguer, the chief architect for Mantle. In it, he discusses the API's usage as a computation language, the future of the rendering pipeline, and whether there will be a day where Crossfire-like benefits can occur by leaving an older Mantle-capable GPU in your system when purchasing a new, also Mantle-supporting one.
Q: Mantle's shading language is said to be compatible with HLSL. How will optimizations made for DirectX, such as tweaks during shader compilation, carry over to Mantle? How much tuning will (and will not) be shared between the two APIs?
[Guennadi] The current Mantle solution relies on the same shader generation path games the DirectX uses and includes an open-source component for translating DirectX shaders to Mantle accepted intermediate language (IL). This enables developers to quickly develop Mantle code path without any changes to the shaders. This was one of the strongest requests we got from our ISV partners when we were developing Mantle.
Follow-Up: What does this mean, specifically, in terms of driver optimizations? Would AMD, or anyone else who supports Mantle, be able to re-use the effort they spent on tuning their shader compilers (and so forth) for DirectX?
[Guennadi] With the current shader compilation strategy in Mantle, the developers can directly leverage DirectX shader optimization efforts in Mantle. They would use the same front-end HLSL compiler for DX and Mantle, and inside of the DX and Mantle drivers we share the shader compiler that generates the shader code our hardware understands.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | February 1, 2014 - 11:29 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Mantle, BF4, amd
AMD has released the Catalyst 14.1 Beta driver (even for Linux) but you should, first, read Ryan's review. This is a little less than what he expects in a Beta from AMD. We are talking about crashes to desktop and freezes while loading a map on a single-GPU configuration - and Crossfire is a complete wash in his experience (although AMD acknowledges the latter in their release notes). According to AMD, there is even the possibility that the Mantle version of Battlefield 4 will render with your APU and ignore your dedicated graphics.
If you are determined to try Catalyst 14.1, however, it does make a first step into the promise of Mantle. Some situations show slightly lower performance than DirectX 11, albeit with a higher minimum framerate, while other results impress with double-digit percentage gains.
Multiplayer in BF4, where the CPU is more heavily utilized, seems to benefit the most (thankfully).
If you understand the risk (in terms of annoyance and frustration), and still want to give it a try, pick up the driver from AMD's support website. If not? Give it a little more time for AMD to whack-a-bug. At some point, there should be truly free performance waiting for you.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.