AMD Planning Open Source GameWorks Competitor, Mantle for Linux

Subject: Graphics Cards | June 19, 2014 - 07:35 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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June 19, 2014 | 07:49 AM - Posted by LtMatt

Wonderful interview Ryan. Thought you were fair and asked good questions and i thought Richard answered them wonderfully and painted a strong and compelling case for AMD. I hope to see more AMD guys on pcper being interviewed as there is a lot to gain from it happening as has been shown here. Now, lets all hope that Nvidia alter GameWorks so that the game dev has the option of working with AMD to optimise the source code because that will definitely benefit gamers rather than hurt them like it does currently.

June 19, 2014 | 07:56 AM - Posted by A Gsync user (not verified)

All show and no go as usual AMD.

I'll believe your comments when we actually see it happen.

As for "freesync" lol not so free is it.

June 19, 2014 | 09:46 AM - Posted by Not a Gsync user (not verified)

Oh, I'm pretty sure this applies to Nvidia, as well.
And that's the best you can do, wait and see...
And how do you know how much it costs to implement Freesync? I thought that we'll wait and see?

June 19, 2014 | 11:25 AM - Posted by arbiter

ATM, freesync is only works on hand full of AMD cards, not ones that were refresh aka 280(x). On top of 99.999% you need a new monitor cause doubt any of them will support freesync that are out now. So either way will cost you money. Even with 100$ prem on g-sync side still could be cheaper if you least for a 600 series card. so

June 19, 2014 | 11:47 AM - Posted by Not a Gsync user (not verified)

Well, G-sync module is $200, not to mention it's not available in EU, where it will probably be 200 euro, which...is quite expensive and you still need ASUS VG248QE (only one upgradable as of now) and voids warranty if installed by you.
To sum it up, you need 6 series and above, you need ASUS monitor with $200 premium ($150 if you manage to find one preassembled).
As I said, this we know for Gsync. For AMD, we are still to see.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing Nvidia nor AMD. And thats what I hate most....empty words. I will speak when I have more info...

June 19, 2014 | 12:02 PM - Posted by H1tman_Actua1

580 series and up Gsync works on.

AMD requires their latest cards to work. AND still ZERO confirmation from a single monitor manufacturer stating they're supporting "freesync"

June 19, 2014 | 01:09 PM - Posted by Not a Gsync user (not verified)

First,
official Nvidia compatible cards
http://www.geforce.com/hardware/technology/g-sync/supported-gpus

second, announced A-sync monitors
http://www.computerbase.de/2014-05/adaptive-sync-auch-fuer-asus-und-iiya...

There are a lot of sources for the A-sync announced monitors and as I said, I hate empty words...

June 19, 2014 | 05:45 PM - Posted by H1tman_Actua1

your links pointed to zero statements from a Monitor company stating their intentions to make a VR/freesync monitor?

June 19, 2014 | 11:59 AM - Posted by H1tman_Actua1

Monitor manufacturers will need to implement VR capable logic cards and DP. Do you really think there will not be a premium fee for a monitor capable of this feature. your sorely mistaken. Nothing is free.

June 19, 2014 | 08:07 AM - Posted by Ashphalt (not verified)

There are two sides to every story and we got one side!
Amd is a desperate company right now, and will say and do anything to get you on the side of red.
I think Ryan should get an Nvidia interview and see what they have to say. Not that it would solve anything, but people with a brain can decide.

June 19, 2014 | 08:14 AM - Posted by Ashphalt (not verified)

There are two sides to every story and we got one side!
Amd is a desperate company right now, and will say and do anything to get you on the side of red.
I think Ryan should get an Nvidia interview and see what they have to say. Not that it would solve anything, but people with a brain can decide.
Or we can all quit and take up a job gambling. :)

June 19, 2014 | 09:52 AM - Posted by Not a Gsync user (not verified)

I agree but for the true second side of the story it would be best to ask developers...and as you heard they are under NDA.
Asking Nvidia wouldn't give you neutral and honest answer.

June 19, 2014 | 04:26 PM - Posted by simieon (not verified)

i agree that we need to hear nvidia's side too before we make any calls.
but amd isnt desperate right now, in fact things are looking brighter and brighter for amd after a slump.
and this accusation of sabotage isnt coming from anyone, the last time amd said "the competition is sabotaging us", intel had to pay up a lot of cash for actually sabotaging amd performance. (i think there might actually been 2 cases of this, but i cant remember the second one well enough to make a certain statement.)
and nvidia isnt shy about shady business practices, if you look around, you might be able to find some issues about nvidia actively sabotaging an independent review site they didnt like, and refusing to send out review samples of a card marketed as "the ultimate gaming experience", because "its not made for gaming, so it would be unfair to stack it up against a gaming card".

im not saying here that amd are always good guys, or that they dont use shady tactics to get ahead, i dont know if they do, im just saying that we know for sure that nvidia does, so the amd accusations arent unrealistic, even if they are without proof.

June 19, 2014 | 08:16 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

That is the goal!

June 19, 2014 | 08:19 AM - Posted by Ashphalt (not verified)

You should of got both at the same time ryan, that would of been a show!

June 19, 2014 | 09:27 AM - Posted by A Gsync user (not verified)

totally concur.

June 19, 2014 | 08:24 AM - Posted by Ashphalt (not verified)

Ryan Shrout "The NEW Jerry Springer Show" Starring josh as the bald bouncer?

June 19, 2014 | 08:53 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I see a spin off starting...

June 19, 2014 | 09:43 AM - Posted by H1tman_Actua1

You guys must sit down AMD and Nvidia at the same time and interview them.

THE PC WORLD would love to see this.

I agree. AMD is all show and no go.

I'd really like to believe everything I hear but as usual they have not lived up to their hype. Not since the Athlon processors. Sadly.

June 19, 2014 | 09:54 AM - Posted by Not a Gsync user (not verified)

Unfortunately, and I think you understand....is that if those guys get together, you'll receive something closer to a political debate.
Everybody talking at the same time and no questions answered at the end.

June 21, 2014 | 01:26 PM - Posted by StewartGraham (not verified)

That's sounding suspiciously like a "fanboyism." I'm not sure why people get so religious about something as inane as a topic in which they lack any expertise, unless of course your an authority on the subject AMD's contributions to the Graphics and Gaming Industries. The claim you've made of "all show and no go" isn't very objective and lacks any degree of substance. They're just hollow words of an opinion that fails to constructively contribute to the discussion. Constructive criticism always makes for better content.

As far as hype is concerned, I could say the same thing about Nvidia, Intel, Microsoft, actually, wait a minute... I could say "they haven't lived up to the hype..." regarding ANY company! Why? Because every company is bound primarily by market forces such as long term strategy and finances before they adhere to core philosophies and credos, it's just business 101. I could slam Nvidia for their TERRIBLE roll-out of G-Sync and obscene expense, but that's their prerogative, I don't work for Nvidia so I can't truly, with any degree of certainty, claim that they haven't exploited this technology as quickly and as affordably as possible now can I?

June 19, 2014 | 08:28 AM - Posted by elajt_1 (not verified)

Excellent interview Ryan! It was both interesting and informative, keep up the good work!

June 19, 2014 | 08:33 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

great interview Ryan,great questions,very informative i enjoyed watching.

June 19, 2014 | 09:06 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's good that they are using the name OpenWorks, because there is already some open source graphics software called OpenFX, so that name is already used. What needs to happen is a third player entering the discrete GPU market, funded my OEMs and others interested in truly open hardware, and software APIs, drivers, middleware. At least in the mobile gaming market there are more players than just AMD and Nvidia, and some mobile GPU could probably be scaled up to medium range discrete GPU performance for the steam Box market. The gaming companies need to be limited in their Middleware exclusivity with individual discrete GPU makers, through FTC or Justice department legal enforcement, if necessary. APIs that exist to keep out or reduce competition unfairly, need to be banned. The discrete GPU marketplace is in an unfair state, as it currently exists, and only appears to be moving further in the wrong direction. 2 players the discrete GPU market is not enough for healthy competition.

June 19, 2014 | 10:04 AM - Posted by Not a Gsync user (not verified)

I do liked the interview as well but none of my questions made it, unfortunately :)
Like, would Freesync have any effect in VR - mainly help reduce the motion sickness? Or...
Since Mantle is more relevant to the CPU and knowing that Intel Compiler has a negative impact on AMD CPU's, is Mantle actually trying to correct that?
Does AMD think for Mantle on Android, and how close (if any) is Metal to Mantle.
And to end the gossips, How does Huddy feels working with Anderson...that one Ryan will understand...

June 19, 2014 | 12:07 PM - Posted by H1tman_Actua1

John Carmack interview on Gysnc.

You should watch what the main brain of the RIFT has to say about Gsync not to mention 3 other top devs.

June 19, 2014 | 12:47 PM - Posted by Nilbog

Fantastic interview. You asked some ballsy questions Ryan. Thank you. Also thank you to Richard and AMD.

Another thank you for asking my open ended question.
The minor rant about 4K and up was very interesting. He got me really excited for 16K, higher texture detail and resolutions. The future is exciting.

Something i did not find very clear.
Is Adaptive Sync the same technology or protocol as G-Sync?
He really put emphasis on the buffer G-Sync uses. So let's pretend the buffer doesn't exist. The protocol for the GPU to take over refreshing the screen and displaying a frame. Is it still not the same at all?

June 19, 2014 | 10:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

To all those brainlessly parroting that "all show and no go" byte (congrats, BTW, you learned a new phrase):

Every single feature or piece of tech that was talked about in this interview is either shipping in current products (HSA, OpenCL...), has already been released (despite some delays, Mantle is already released) or has been given a clear release window (opening of Mantle by end of this year; Adaptive Sync press samples end of this year, consumer availability early 2015).

June 20, 2014 | 10:14 AM - Posted by Grimmy

AMD and Linux and SteamOS
AMD Steam Machines should make perfect sense.
Why isn't AMD best buddies with Valve and SteamOS?
Why isn't Mantle on Linux one of the highest priorities?

Richard Huddy says that AMD has not decided to take Mantle to Linux and SteamOS. But they internally discussing it.
And AMD is no way impressed or happy about Valve pushing for alternative to Microsofts domination on PC gaming.
He said it was an unusual thing for a Game developer to do this.
But if, and only if, the Gamers want SteamOS and games on Linux then AMD would do something about it. So AMD is not jumping on this as they should be doing.

As AMD has the CPU and GPU in both PS4 and Xbone.
It would make the perfect sense to make the hardware for a Steam Machine.
To make a reference Steam Machine with everything integrated into one, not a common PC on a ITX board that is currently all we've seen so far. Make it a small PC as a PS4/Xbone but with massively better CPU and GPU power.
A single board with a FX CPU and a Radeon R9 maxed out with PSU integrated.

In that they could also help PC to make the unified memory they been talking about.

I'm surprised that AMD havn't done this or not officially pushing for this.
There must be some friction between AMD and Valve.
Hope I'm wrong and AMD is currently working hard on all of this right now.

June 20, 2014 | 11:33 AM - Posted by collie

Great interview, watched live. Mantle on linux talk made me all tingly. Lets face it, the only reason most of us (techies I mean) use windows at all is directX, cuz we loves our gameins. If mantle works on linux then maybe developers would switch to it, and that may just force M$'s hand to FINALLY put directX on linux. The dream of the linux project would finally be realized. And I would like a pony while we are at it

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