DigitalFoundry Dissects Quantum Break (and I rant)

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 14, 2016 - 06:17 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, uwp, DirectX 12, dx12

At the PC Gaming Conference from last year's E3 Expo, Microsoft announced that they were looking to bring more first-party titles to Windows. They used to be one of the better PC gaming publishers, back in the Mechwarrior 4 and earlier Flight Simulator days, but they got distracted as Xbox 360 rose and Windows Vista fell.

microsoft-2016-quantumbreak-logo.jpg

Again, part of that is because they attempted to push users to Windows Vista and Games for Windows Live, holding back troubled titles like Halo 2: Vista and technologies like DirectX 10 from Windows XP, which drove users to Valve's then-small Steam platform. Epic Games was also a canary in the coalmine at that time, warning users that Microsoft was considering certification for Games for Windows Live, which threatened mod support “because Microsoft's afraid of what you might put into it”.

It's sometimes easy to conform history to fit a specific viewpoint, but it does sound... familiar.

Anyway, we're glad that Microsoft is bringing first-party content to the PC, and they are perfectly within their rights to structure it however they please. We are also within our rights to point out its flaws and ask for them to be corrected. Turns out that Quantum Break, like Gears of War before it, has some severe performance issues. Let's be clear, these will likely be fixed, and I'm glad that Microsoft didn't artificially delay the PC version to give the console an exclusive window. Also, had they delayed the PC version until it was fixed, we wouldn't have known whether it needed the time.

Still, the game apparently has issues with a 50 FPS top-end cap, on top of pacing-based stutters. One concern that I have is, because DigitalFoundry is a European publication, perhaps the 50Hz issue might be caused by their port being based on a PAL version of the game??? Despite suggesting it, I would be shocked if that were the case, but I'm just trying to figure out why anyone would create a ceiling at that specific interval. They are also seeing NVIDIA's graphics drivers frequently crash, which probably means that some areas of their DirectX 12 support are not quite what the game expects. Again, that is solvable by drivers.

It's been a shaky start for both DirectX 12 and the Windows 10 UWP platform. We'll need to keep waiting and see what happens going forward. I hope this doesn't discourage Microsoft too much, but also that they robustly fix the problems we're discussing.

This ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Ti took the red pill

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 12, 2016 - 01:34 PM |
Tagged: asus, 980 Ti, GTX 980 Ti MATRIX Platinum, DirectCU II

The ASUS GTX 980 Ti MATRIX Platinum comes with a mix of features including a memory defroster, as this card is designed with LN2 cooling in mind so we may see it appear in some of this years overclocking contests.  It uses the older dual-fan DirectCU II, not the newer CU III version but the cards still remained around 60C under full load when [H]ard|OCP tested them.  The one-press VBIOS reload is perfect if you run into issues overclocking, and this card will overclock as [H] hit 1266MHz Base/1367MHz Boost/1503MHz In-Game with VRAM at 8.2GHz.  That overclocking potential as well as an asking price currently under MSRP helped this card win the Gold, see it surpass the MSI Lightning in the full review.

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"Today we review the ASUS GTX 980 Ti MATRIX Platinum, a gaming enthusiast centered video card which boasts enthusiast air cooling and an enthusiast overclock on air cooling. This high-end video card features DirectCU II cooling, making it the perfect comparison to the MSI GTX 980 TI LIGHTNING in class, price, performance and cooling."

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

Graphics Cards

 

Source: [H]ard|OCP

AMD Radeon Crimson Edition drivers continue quality improvement

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 11, 2016 - 11:23 AM |
Tagged: rtg, radeon technologies group, radeon, driver, crimson, amd

For longer than AMD would like to admit, Radeon drivers and software were often criticized for plaguing issues on performance, stability and features. As the graphics card market evolved and software became a critical part of the equation, that deficit affected AMD substantially. 

In fact, despite the advantages that modern AMD Radeon parts typically have over GeForce options in terms of pure frame rate for your dollar, I recommended an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, 980 and 980 Ti for our three different VR Build Guides last month ($900, $1500, $2500) in large part due to confidence in NVIDIA’s driver team to continue delivering updated drivers to provide excellent experiences for gamers.

But back in September of 2015 we started to see changes inside AMD. There was drastic reorganization of the company and those people in charge. AMD setup the Radeon Technologies Group, a new entity inside the organization that would have complete control over the graphics hardware and software directions. And it put one of the most respected people in the industry at its helm: Raja Koduri. On November 24th AMD launched Radeon Software Crimson, a totally new branding, style and implementation to control your Radeon GPU. I talked about it at the time, but the upgrade was noticeable; everything was faster, easier to find and…pretty.

Since then, AMD has rolled out several new drivers with key feature additions, improvements and of course, game performance increases. Thus far in 2016 the Radeon Technologies Group has released 7 new drivers, three of which have been WHQL certified. That is 100% more than they had during this same time last year when AMD released zero WHQL drivers and a big increase over the 1 TOTAL driver AMD released in Q1 of 2015.

crimson-3.jpg

Maybe most important of all, the team at Radeon Technologies Group claims to be putting a new emphasis on “day one” support for major PC titles. If implemented correctly, this gives enthusiasts and PC gamers that want to stay on the cutting edge of releases the ability to play optimized titles on the day of release. Getting updated drivers that fix bugs and improve performance weeks or months after release is great, but for gamers that may already be done with that game, the updates are worthless. AMD was guilty of this practice for years, having driver updates that would fix performance issues on Radeon hardware for reviewer testing but that missed the majority of the play time of early adopting consumers.

q1driver-2.jpg

Thus far, AMD has only just started down this path. Newer games like Far Cry Primal, The Division, Hitman and Ashes of the Singularity all had drivers from AMD on or before release with performance improvements, CrossFire profiles or both. A few others were CLOSE to day one ready including Rise of the Tomb Raider, Plants vs Zombies 2 and Gears of War Ultimate Edition.

 

Game Release Date First Driver Mention Driver Date Feature / Support
Rise of the Tomb Raider 01-28-2016 16.1.1 02-05-2016 Performance and CrossFire Profile
Plants vs Zombies 2 02-23-2016 16.2.1 03-01-2016 Performance
Gears Ultimate Edition 03-01-2016 16.3 03-10-2016 Performance
Far Cry Primal 03-01-2016 16.2.1 03-01-2016 CrossFire Profile
The Division 03-08-2016 16.1 02-25-2016 CrossFire Profile
Hitman 03-11-2016 16.3 03-10-2016 Performance, CrossFire Profile
Need for Speed 03-15-2016 16.3.1 03-18-2016 Performance, CrossFire Profile
Ashes of the Singularity 03-31-2016 16.2 02-25-2016 Performance

 

AMD claims that the push for this “day one” experience will continue going forward, pointing at a 35% boost in performance in Quantum Break between Radeon Crimson 16.3.2 and 16.4.1. There will be plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks and months to test AMD (and NVIDIA) on this “day one” focus with PC titles that will have support for DX12, UWP and VR.

The software team at RTG has also added quite a few interesting features since the release of the first Radeon Crimson driver. Support for the Vulkan API and a DX12 capability called Quick Response Queue, along with new additions to the Radeon settings (Per-game display scaling, CrossFire status indicator, power efficiency toggle, etc.) are just a few.

q1driver-4.jpg

Critical for consumers that were buying into VR, the Radeon Crimson drivers launched with support alongside the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Both of these new virtual reality systems are putting significant strain on the GPU of modern PCs and properly implementing support for techniques like timewarp is crucial to enabling a good user experience. Though Oculus and HTC / Valve were using NVIDIA based systems more or less exclusively during our time at the Game Developers Summit last month, AMD still has approved platforms and software from both vendors. In fact, in a recent change to the HTC Vive minimum specifications, Valve retroactively added the Radeon R9 280 to the list, giving a slight edge in component pricing to AMD.

AMD was also the first to enable full support for external graphics solutions like the Razer Core external enclosure in its drivers with XConnect. We wrote about that release in early March, and I’m eager to get my hands on a product combo to give it a shot. As of this writing and after talking with Razer, NVIDIA had still not fully implemented external GPU functionality for hot/live device removal.

When looking for some acceptance metric, AMD did point us to a survey they ran to measure the approval and satisfaction of Crimson. After 1700+ submission, the score customers gave them was a 4.4 out of 5.0 - pretty significant praise even coming from AMD customers. We don't exactly how the poll was run or in what location it was posted, but the Crimson driver release has definitely improved the perception that Radeon drivers have with many enthusiasts.

I’m not going to sit here and try to impart on everyone that AMD is absolved of past sins and we should immediately be converted into believers. What I can say is that the Radeon Technologies Group is moving in the right direction, down a path that shows a change in leadership and a change in mindset. I talked in September about the respect I had for Raja Koduri and interviewed him after AMD’s Capsaicin event at GDC; you can already start to see the changes he is making inside this division. He has put a priority on software, not just on making it look pretty, but promising to make good on proper multi-GPU support, improved timeliness of releases and innovative features. AMD and RTG still have a ways to go before they can unwind years of negativity, but the ground work is there.

The company and every team member has a sizeable task ahead of them as we approach the summer. The Radeon Technologies Group will depend on the Polaris architecture and its products to swing back the pendulum against NVIDIA, gaining market share, mind share and respect. From what we have seen, Polaris looks impressive and differentiates from Hawaii and Fiji fairly dramatically. But this product was already well baked before Raja got total control and we might have to see another generation pass before the portfolio of GPUs can change around the institution. NVIDIA isn’t sitting idle and the Pascal architecture also promises improved performance, while leaning on the work and investment in software and drivers that have gotten them to the dominant market leader position they are in today.

I’m looking forward to working with AMD throughout 2016 on what promises to be an exciting and market-shifting time period.

NVIDIA Releases 364.91 Beta Drivers for Developers

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 10, 2016 - 09:04 PM |
Tagged: nvidia, vulkan, graphics drivers

This is not a main-line, WHQL driver. This is not even a mainstream beta driver. The beta GeForce 364.91 drivers (364.16 on Linux) are only available on the NVIDIA developer website, which, yes, is publicly accessible, but should probably not be installed unless you are intending to write software and every day counts. Also, some who have installed it claim that certain Vulkan demos stop working. I'm not sure whether that means the demo is out-of-date due to a rare conformance ambiguity, the driver has bugs, or the reports themselves are simply unreliable.

khronos-2016-vulkanlogo2.png

That said, if you are a software developer, and you don't mind rolling back if things go awry, you can check out the new version at NVIDIA's website. It updates Vulkan to 1.0.8, which is just documentation bugs and conformance tweaks. These things happen over time. In fact, the initial Vulkan release was actually Vulkan 1.0.3, if I remember correctly.

The driver also addresses issues with Vulkan and NVIDIA Optimus technologies, which is interesting. Optimus controls which GPU acts as primary in a laptop, switching between the discrete NVIDIA one and the Intel integrated one, depending on load and power. Vulkan and DirectX 12, however, expose all GPUs to the system. I'm curious how NVIDIA knows whether to sleep one or the other, and what that would look like to software that enumerates all compatible devices. Would it omit listing one of the GPUs? Or would it allow the software to wake the system out of Optimus should it want more performance?

Anywho, the driver is available now, but you probably should wait for official releases. The interesting thing is this seems to mean that NVIDIA will continue to release non-public Vulkan drivers. Hmm.

Source: NVIDIA

EVGA Releases NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950 Low Power Cards

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 5, 2016 - 11:57 AM |
Tagged: PCIe power, nvidia, low-power, GTX950, GTX 950 Low Power, graphics card, gpu, GeForce GTX 950, evga

EVGA has announced new low-power versions of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950, some of which do not require any PCIe power connection to work.

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"The EVGA GeForce GTX 950 is now available in special low power models, but still retains all the performance intact. In fact, several of these models do not even have a 6-Pin power connector!"

With or without power, all of these cards are full-on GTX 950's, with 768 CUDA cores and 2GB of GDDR5 memory. The primary difference will be with clock speeds, and EVGA provides a chart to illustrate which models still require PCIe power, as well as how they compare in performance.

evga_chart.png

It looks like the links to the 75W (no PCIe power required) models aren't working just yet on EVGA's site. Doubtless we will soon have active listings for pricing and availability info.

Source: EVGA

AMD Brings Dual Fiji and HBM Memory To Server Room With FirePro S9300 x2

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 5, 2016 - 02:13 AM |
Tagged: HPC, hbm, gpgpu, firepro s9300x2, firepro, dual fiji, deep learning, big data, amd

Earlier this month AMD launched a dual Fiji powerhouse for VR gamers it is calling the Radeon Pro Duo. Now, AMD is bringing its latest GCN architecture and HBM memory to servers with the dual GPU FirePro S9300 x2.

AMD Firepro S9300x2 Server HPC Card.jpg

The new server-bound professional graphics card packs an impressive amount of computing hardware into a dual-slot card with passive cooling. The FirePro S9300 x2 combines two full Fiji GPUs clocked at 850 MHz for a total of 8,192 cores, 512 TUs, and 128 ROPs. Each GPU is paired with 4GB of non-ECC HBM memory on package with 512GB/s of memory bandwidth which AMD combines to advertise this as the first professional graphics card with 1TB/s of memory bandwidth.

Due to lower clockspeeds the S9300 x2 has less peak single precision compute performance versus the consumer Radeon Pro Duo at 13.9 TFLOPS versus 16 TFLOPs on the desktop card. Businesses will be able to cram more cards into their rack mounted servers though since they do not need to worry about mounting locations for the sealed loop water cooling of the Radeon card.

  FirePro S9300 x2 Radeon Pro Duo R9 Fury X FirePro S9170
GPU Dual Fiji Dual Fiji Fiji Hawaii
GPU Cores 8192 (2 x 4096) 8192 (2 x 4096) 4096 2816
Rated Clock 850 MHz 1050 MHz 1050 MHz 930 MHz
Texture Units 2 x 256 2 x 256 256 176
ROP Units 2 x 64 2 x 64 64 64
Memory 8GB (2 x 4GB) 8GB (2 x 4GB) 4GB 32GB ECC
Memory Clock 500 MHz 500 MHz 500 MHz 5000 MHz
Memory Interface 4096-bit (HBM) per GPU 4096-bit (HBM) per GPU 4096-bit (HBM) 512-bit
Memory Bandwidth 1TB/s (2 x 512GB/s) 1TB/s (2 x 512GB/s) 512 GB/s 320 GB/s
TDP 300 watts ? 275 watts 275 watts
Peak Compute 13.9 TFLOPS 16 TFLOPS 8.60 TFLOPS 5.24 TFLOPS
Transistor Count 17.8B 17.8B 8.9B 8.0B
Process Tech 28nm 28nm 28nm 28nm
Cooling Passive Liquid Liquid Passive
MSRP $6000 $1499 $649 $4000

AMD is aiming this card at datacenter and HPC users working on "big data" tasks that do not require the accuracy of double precision floating point calculations. Deep learning tasks, seismic processing, and data analytics are all examples AMD says the dual GPU card will excel at. These are all tasks that can be greatly accelerated by the massive parallel nature of a GPU but do not need to be as precise as stricter mathematics, modeling, and simulation work that depend on FP64 performance. In that respect, the FirePro S9300 x2 has only 870 GLFOPS of double precision compute performance.

Further, this card supports a GPGPU optimized Linux driver stack called GPUOpen and developers can program for it using either OpenCL (it supports OpenCL 1.2) or C++. AMD PowerTune, and the return of FP16 support are also features. AMD claims that its new dual GPU card is twice as fast as the NVIDIA Tesla M40 (1.6x the K80) and 12 times as fast as the latest Intel Xeon E5 in peak single precision floating point performance. 

The double slot card is powered by two PCI-E power connectors and is rated at 300 watts. This is a bit more palatable than the triple 8-pin needed for the Radeon Pro Duo!

The FirePro S9300 x2 comes with a 3 year warranty and will be available in the second half of this year for $6000 USD. You are definitely paying a premium for the professional certifications and support. Here's hoping developers come up with some cool uses for the dual 8.9 Billion transistor GPUs and their included HBM memory!

Source: AMD

NVIDIA's New Quadro VR Ready Program Targets Enterprise

Subject: Graphics Cards | April 4, 2016 - 09:00 AM |
Tagged: workstation, VR, virtual reality, quadro, NVIDIA Quadro M5500, nvidia, msi, mobile workstation, enterprise

NVIDIA's VR Ready program, which is designed to inform users which GeForce GTX GPUs “deliver an optimal VR experience”, has moved to enterprise with a new program aimed at NVIDIA Quadro GPUs and related systems.

NVIDIA_VR.png

“We’re working with top OEMs such as Dell, HP and Lenovo to offer NVIDIA VR Ready professional workstations. That means models like the HP Z Workstation, Dell Precision T5810, T7810, T7910, R7910, and the Lenovo P500, P710, and P910 all come with NVIDIA-recommended configurations that meet the minimum requirements for the highest performing VR experience.

Quadro professional GPUs power NVIDIA professional VR Ready systems. These systems put our VRWorks software development kit at the fingertips of VR headset and application developers. VRWorks offers exclusive tools and technologies — including Context Priority, Multi-res Shading, Warp & Blend, Synchronization, GPU Affinity and GPU Direct — so pro developers can create great VR experiences.”

Partners include Dell, HP, and Lenovo, with new workstations featuring NVIDIA professional VR Ready certification. 

Pro VR Ready Deck.png

Desktop isn't the only space for workstations, and in this morning's announcement NVIDIA and MSI are introducing the WT72 mobile workstation; the “the first NVIDIA VR Ready professional laptop”:

"The MSI WT72 VR Ready laptop is the first to use our new Maxwell architecture-based Quadro M5500 GPU. With 2,048 CUDA cores, the Quadro M5500 is the world’s fastest mobile GPU. It’s also our first mobile GPU for NVIDIA VR Ready professional mobile workstations, optimized for VR performance with ultra-low latency."

Here are the specs for the WT72 6QN:

  • GPU: NVIDIA Quadro M5500 3D (8GB GDDR5)
  • CPU Options:
    • Xeon E3-1505M v5
    • Core i7-6920HQ
    • Core i7-6700HQ
  • Chipset: CM236
  • Memory:
    • 64GB ECC DDR4 2133 MHz (Xeon)
    • 32GB DDR4 2133 MHz (Core i7)
  • Storage: Super RAID 4, 256GB SSD + 1TB SATA 7200 rpm
  • Display:
    • 17.3” UHD 4K (Xeon, i7-6920HQ)
    • 17.3” FHD Anti-Glare IPS (i7-6700HQ)
  • LAN: Killer Gaming Network E2400
  • Optical Drive: BD Burner
  • I/O: Thunderbolt, USB 3.0 x6, SDXC card reader
  • Webcam: FHD type (1080p/30)
  • Speakers: Dynaudio Tech Speakers 3Wx2 + Subwoofer
  • Battery: 9 cell
  • Dimensions: 16.85” x 11.57” x 1.89”
  • Weight: 8.4 lbs
  • Warranty: 3-year limited
  • Pricing:  
    • Xeon E3-1505M v5 model: $6899
    • Core i7-6920HQ model: $6299
    • Core i7-6700HQ model: $5499

MSI_NB_WT72_Skylake_Photo18.jpg

No doubt we will see details of other Quadro VR Ready workstations as GTC unfolds this week.

Source: NVIDIA

Asus Echelon GTX 950 Limited Edition In Arctic Camouflage Available Soon

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 30, 2016 - 02:58 AM |
Tagged: maxwell, gtx 950, GM206, asus

Asus is launching a new midrange gaming graphics card clad in arctic camouflage. The Echelon GTX 950 Limited Edition is a Maxwell-based card that will come factory overclocked and paired with Asus features normally reserved for their higher end cards.

This dual slot, dual fan graphics card features “auto-extreme technology” which is Asus marketing speak for high end capacitors, chokes, and other components. Further, the card uses a DirectCU II cooler that Asus claims offers 20% better cooling performance while being 3-times quieter than the NVIDIA reference cooler. Asus tweaked the shroud on this card to resemble a white and gray arctic camouflage design. There is also a reinforced backplate that continues the stealthy camo theme.

Asus Echelon GTX 950 Limited Edition.png

I/O on the Echelon GTX 950 Limited Edition includes:

  • 1 x DVI-D
  • 1 x DVI-I
  • 1 x HDMI 2.0
  • 1 x DisplayPort

The card supports NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology and the inclusion of an HDMI 2.0 port allows it to be used in a HTPC/gaming PC build for the living room though case selection would be limited since it’s a larger dual slot card.

Beneath the stealthy exterior, Asus conceals a GM206-derived GTX 950 GPU with 768 CUDA cores, 48 Texture Units, and 32 ROPs as well as 2GB of GDDR5 memory. Out of the box, users have two factory overclocks to choose from that Asus calls Gaming and Overclock modes. In gaming mode, the Echelon GTX 950 GPU is clocked at 1,140 MHz base and 1,329 MHz boost. Turing the card to OC Mode, clockspeeds are further increased to 1,165 MHz base and 1,355 MHz boost.

For reference, the, well, reference GTX 950 clockspeeds are 1,024 MHz base and 1,186 MHz boost.

Asus Echelon GTX 950 Limited Edition Artic Camo Backplate.png

Asus also ever-so-slightly overclocked the GDDR5 memory to 6,610 MHz which is unfortunately a mere 10MHz over reference. The memory sits on a 128-bit bus and while a factory overclock is nice to see, transfer speeds increases will be minimal at best.

In our review of the GTX 950 which focused on the Asus Strix variant, Ryan found it be a good option for 1080p gamers wanting a bit more graphical prowess than the 750Ti for their games.

Maximum PC reports that camo-clad Echelon GTX 950 will be available at the end of the month. Pricing has not been released by Asus, but I would expect this card to come with an MSRP of around $180 USD.

Check out our review of the NVIDIA GTX 950: Maxwell for MOBAs

 

Source: Asus

Video Perspective: Retail Oculus Rift Day One - Setup, Early Testing

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | March 28, 2016 - 11:24 PM |
Tagged: pcper, hardware, technology, review, Oculus, rift, Kickstarter, nvidia, geforce, GTX 980 Ti

It's Oculus Rift launch day and the team and I spent the afternoon setting up the Rift, running through a set of game play environments and getting some good first impressions on performance, experience and more. Oh, and we entered a green screen into the mix today as well.

AMD and NVIDIA release drivers for Oculus Rift launch day!

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 28, 2016 - 10:20 AM |
Tagged: vive, valve, steamvr, rift, Oculus, nvidia, htc, amd

As the first Oculus Rift retail units begin hitting hands in the US and abroad, both AMD and NVIDIA have released new drivers to help gamers ease into the world of VR gaming. 

Up first is AMD, with Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.3.2. It adds support for Oculus SDK v1.3 and the Radeon Pro Duo...for all none of you that have that product in your hands. AMD claims that this driver will offer "the most stable and compatible driver for developing VR experiences on the Rift to-date." AMD tells us that the latest implementation of LiquidVR features in the software help the SDKs and VR games at release take better advantage of AMD Radeon GPUs. This includes capabilities like asynchronous shaders (which AMD thinks should be capitalized for some reason??) and Quick Response Queue (which I think refers to the ability to process without context change penalties) to help Oculus implement Asynchronous Timewarp.

ocululs.jpg

NVIDIA's release is a bit more substantial, with GeForce Game Ready 364.72 WHQL drivers adding support for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and improvements for Dark Souls III, Killer Instinct, Paragon early access and even Quantum Break.

For the optimum experience when using the Oculus Rift, and when playing the thirty games launching alongside the headset, upgrade to today's VR-optimized Game Ready driver. Whether you're playing Chronos, Elite Dangerous, EVE: Valkyrie, or any of the other VR titles, you'll want our latest driver to minimize latency, improve performance, and add support for our newest VRWorks features that further enhance your experience.

Today's Game Ready driver also supports the HTC Vive Virtual Reality headset, which launches next week. As with the Oculus Rift, our new driver optimizes and improves the experience, and adds support for the latest Virtual Reality-enhancing technology.

Good to see both GPU vendors giving us new drivers for the release of the Oculus Rift...let's hope it pans out well and the response from the first buyers is positive!

Video Perspective: HTC Vive Pre First Impressions

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | March 26, 2016 - 12:11 AM |
Tagged: VR, vive pre, vive, virtual reality, video, pre, htc

On Friday I was able to get a pre-release HTC Vive Pre in the office and spend some time with it. Not only was I interested in getting more hands-on time with the hardware without a time limit but we were also experimenting with how to stream and record VR demos and environments. 

Enjoy and mock!

Red matter and green blood; Vulkan runs on Linux

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 24, 2016 - 02:04 PM |
Tagged: Ubuntu 16.04, linux, vulkan, amd, nvidia

Last week AMD released a new GPU-PRO Beta driver stack and this Monday, NVIDIA released the 364.12 beta driver, both of which support Vulkan and meant that Phoronix had a lot of work to do.  Up for testing were the GTX 950, 960, 970, 980, and 980 Ti as well as the R9 Fury, 290 and 285.  Logically, they used the Talos Principal test, their results compare not only the cards but also the performance delta between OpenGL and Vulkan and finished up with several OpenGL benchmarks to see if there were any performance improvements from the new drivers.  The results look good for Vulkan as it beats OpenGL across the board as you can see in the review.

image.php_.jpg

"Thanks to AMD having released their new GPU-PRO "hybrid" Linux driver a few days ago, there is now Vulkan API support for Radeon GPU owners on Linux. This new AMD Linux driver holds much potential and the closed-source bits are now limited to user-space, among other benefits covered in dozens of Phoronix articles over recent months. With having this new driver in hand plus NVIDIA promoting their Vulkan support to the 364 Linux driver series, it's a great time for some benchmarking. Here are OpenGL and Vulkan atop Ubuntu 16.04 Linux for both AMD Radeon and NVIDIA GeForce graphics cards."

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

Graphics Cards

Source: Phoronix

Valve targeting lower price systems and GPUs for VR

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 19, 2016 - 03:02 PM |
Tagged: VR, vive, valve, htc, gdc 2016, GDC

A story posted over at UploadVR has some interesting information that came out of the final days of GDC last week. We know that Valve, HTC and Oculus have recommended users have a Radeon R9 290 or GTX 970 GPU or higher to run virtual reality content on both the Vive and the Rift, and that comes with a high cost for users that weren't already invested in PC gaming. Valve’s Alex Vlachos has other plans that might enable graphics cards from as far back as 2012 to work in Valve's VR ecosystem.

badresult2.jpg

Valve wants to lower the requirements for VR

Obviously there are some trade offs to consider. The reason GPUs have such high requirements for the Rift and Vive is their need to run at 90 FPS / 90 Hz without dropping frames to create a smooth and effective immersion. Deviance from that means the potential for motion sickness and poor VR experiences in general. 

From UploadVR's story:

“As long as the GPU can hit 45 HZ we want for people to be able to run VR,” Vlachos told UploadVR after the talk. “We’ve said the recommended spec is a 970, same as Oculus, but we do want lesser GPUs to work. We’re trying to reduce the cost [of VR].”

It's interesting that Valve would be talking about a 45 FPS target now, implying there would be some kind of frame doubling or frame interpolation to get back to the 90 FPS mark that the company believes is required for a good VR experience. 

adaptive-quality-valve.jpg

Image source: UploadVR

Vlachos also mentioned some other avenues that Valve could expand on to help improve performance. One of them is "adaptive quality", a feature we first saw discussed with the release of the Valve SteamVR Performance Test. This would allow the game to lower the image quality dynamically (texture detail, draw distance, etc.) based on hardware performance but might also include something called fixed foveated rendering. With FFR only the center of the image is rendered at maximum detail while the surrounding image runs at lower quality; the theory being that you are only focused on the center of the screen anyway and human vision blurs the periphery already. This is similar to NVIDIA's multi-res shading technology that is integrated into UE4 already, so I'm curious to see how this one might shape out.

Another quote from UploadVR:

“I can run Aperture [a graphically rich Valve-built VR experience] on a 680 without dropping frames at a lower quality, and, for me, that’s enough of a proof of concept,” Vlachos said.

I have always said that neither Valve nor Oculus are going to lock out older hardware, but that they wouldn't directly support it. That a Valve developer can run its performance test (with adaptive quality) on a GTX 680 is a good sign.

screen2.jpg

The Valve SteamVR Performance Test

But the point is also made by Vlachos that "most art we’re seeing in VR isn’t as dense" as other PC titles is a bit worrisome. We WANT VR games to improve to the same image quality and realism levels that we see in modern PC titles and not depend solely on artistic angles to get to the necessary performance levels for high quality virtual reality. Yes, the entry price today for PC-based VR is going to be steep, but I think "console-ifying" the platform will do a disservice in the long run.

Source: UploadVR

Going for Gold with MSI's newest GTX 980 Ti

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 18, 2016 - 01:59 PM |
Tagged: msi, GTX 980 Ti, MSI GTX 980 Ti GOLDEN Edition, nvidia, factory overclocked

Apart from the golden fan and HDMI port MSI's 980 Ti GOLDEN Edition also comes with a moderate factory overclock, 1140MHz Base, 1228MHz Boost and 7GHz memory, with an observed frequency of 1329MHz in game.  [H]ard|OCP managed to up those to 1290MHz Base and 1378MHz Boost and 7.8GHz memory with the card hitting 1504MHz in game.  That overclock produced noticeable results in many games and pushed it close to the performance of [H]'s overclocked MSI 980 Ti LIGHTNING.  The LIGHTNING proved to be the better card in terms of performance, both graphically and thermally, however it is also more expensive than the GOLDEN and does not have quite the same aesthetics, if that is important to you.

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"Today we evaluate the MSI GTX 980 Ti GOLDEN Edition video card. This video card features a pure copper heatsink geared towards faster heat dissipation and better temps on air than other air cooled video cards. We will compare it to the MSI GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING, placing the two video cards head to head in an overclocking shootout. "

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

Graphics Cards

 

Source: [H]ard|OCP

Razer Core External GPU Enclosure Pricing and Availability Announced

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 16, 2016 - 09:29 PM |
Tagged:

Razer has announced pricing and availability for their Core external GPU enclosure, which allows GPUs of up to 375W to run over Thunderbolt 3 with compatible devices.

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"The Razer Core is the world’s first true plug and play Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) external graphics enclosure, allowing you to transform your notebook into a desktop gaming experience. Featuring plug and play support with compatible graphics cards, you won’t need to reboot your system every time you connect your Razer Blade Stealth to Razer Core. Connect to the future with the most advanced and versatile external desktop graphics solution available."

The Razer Core will cost $499 alone, or $399 when purchased with a Razer laptop. It will be available in April.

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What's this? The new Core i7 Skull Canyon NUC connected to the Core eGPU??

An interesting addition to this announcement, the Razer Core is certified with the upcoming Core i7 Skull Canyon NUC, which features Thunderbolt 3. I don't know about you, but the idea of portable, external, upgradable graphics is awesome.

So what do you think? $499 as a standalone product for a user-upgradable external GPU solution with power supply? The $399 price is obviously more attractive, but you'd need to be in the market for a new laptop as well (and again, it would need to a Razer laptop to get that $100 discount). In any case, AMD's XConnect technology certainly makes the Core a compelling possibility.

Source: Razer

Video Perspective: Spending the day with an Oculus Rift

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 16, 2016 - 10:00 AM |
Tagged: video, rift, Oculus

As part of our second day at GDC, Ken and I spent 4+ hours with Oculus during their "Game Days 2016" event, an opportunity for us to taste test games in 30 minute blocks, getting more hands on time than we ever have before. The event was perfectly organized and easy to work in, and it helps that the product is amazing as well.

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Of the 40-ish games available to play, 30 of them will be available on the Rift launch day, March 28th. We were able to spend some time with the following:

We aren't game reviewers here, but we obviously have a deep interest in games, and thus, having access to these games is awesome. But more than that, access to the best software that VR will have to offer this spring is invaluable as we continue to evaluate hardware accurately for our readers. 

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Job Simulator

Ken and I sat down after the Oculus event to talk about the games we played, the experiences we had and what input the developers had about the technical issues and concerns surrounding VR development.

AMD's Raja Koduri talks moving past CrossFire, smaller GPU dies, HBM2 and more.

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 15, 2016 - 02:02 AM |
Tagged: vulkan, raja koduri, Polaris, HBM2, hbm, dx12, crossfire, amd

After hosting the AMD Capsaicin event at GDC tonight, the SVP and Chief Architect of the Radeon Technologies Group Raja Koduri sat down with me to talk about the event and offered up some additional details on the Radeon Pro Duo, upcoming Polaris GPUs and more. The video below has the full interview but there are several highlights that stand out as noteworthy.

  • Raja claimed that one of the reasons to launch the dual-Fiji card as the Radeon Pro Duo for developers rather than pure Radeon, aimed at gamers, was to “get past CrossFire.” He believes we are at an inflection point with APIs. Where previously you would abstract two GPUs to appear as a single to the game engine, with DX12 and Vulkan the problem is more complex than that as we have seen in testing with early titles like Ashes of the Singularity.

    But with the dual-Fiji product mostly developed and prepared, AMD was able to find a market between the enthusiast and the creator to target, and thus the Radeon Pro branding was born.

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    Raja further expands on it, telling me that in order to make multi-GPU useful and productive for the next generation of APIs, getting multi-GPU hardware solutions in the hands of developers is crucial. He admitted that CrossFire in the past has had performance scaling concerns and compatibility issues, and that getting multi-GPU correct from the ground floor here is crucial.
     

  • With changes in Moore’s Law and the realities of process technology and processor construction, multi-GPU is going to be more important for the entire product stack, not just the extreme enthusiast crowd. Why? Because realities are dictating that GPU vendors build smaller, more power efficient GPUs, and to scale performance overall, multi-GPU solutions need to be efficient and plentiful. The “economics of the smaller die” are much better for AMD (and we assume NVIDIA) and by 2017-2019, this is the reality and will be how graphics performance will scale.

    Getting the software ecosystem going now is going to be crucial to ease into that standard.
     

  • The naming scheme of Polaris (10, 11…) has no equation, it’s just “a sequence of numbers” and we should only expect it to increase going forward. The next Polaris chip will be bigger than 11, that’s the secret he gave us.

    There have been concerns that AMD was only going to go for the mainstream gaming market with Polaris but Raja promised me and our readers that we “would be really really pleased.” We expect to see Polaris-based GPUs across the entire performance stack.
     

  • AMD’s primary goal here is to get many millions of gamers VR-ready, though getting the enthusiasts “that last millisecond” is still a goal and it will happen from Radeon.
     
  • No solid date on Polaris parts at all – I tried! (Other than the launches start in June.) Though Raja did promise that after tonight, he will only have his next alcoholic beverage until the launch of Polaris. Serious commitment!
     
  • Curious about the HBM2 inclusion in Vega on the roadmap and what that means for Polaris? Though he didn’t say it outright, it appears that Polaris will be using HBM1, leaving me to wonder about the memory capacity limitations inherent in that. Has AMD found a way to get past the 4GB barrier? We are trying to figure that out for sure.

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    Why is Polaris going to use HBM1? Raja pointed towards the extreme cost and expense of building the HBM ecosystem prepping the pipeline for the new memory technology as the culprit and AMD obviously wants to recoup some of that cost with another generation of GPU usage.

Speaking with Raja is always interesting and the confidence and knowledge he showcases is still what gives me assurance that the Radeon Technologies Group is headed in the correct direction. This is going to be a very interesting year for graphics, PC gaming and for GPU technologies, as showcased throughout the Capsaicin event, and I think everyone should be looking forward do it.

AMD launches dual-Fiji card as Radeon Pro Duo, targeting VR developers, for $1500

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 14, 2016 - 07:00 PM |
Tagged: VR, radeon pro duo, radeon, Fiji, dual fiji, capsaicin, amd

It’s finally here, and AMD is ready to ship it, the much discussed and often debated dual-Fiji graphics card that the company first showed with the launch of the Fury series of Radeon cards way back in June of last year. It was unnamed then, and I started calling it the AMD Fury X2, but it seems that AMD has other plans for this massive compute powerhouse, now with a price tag of $1,499.

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As part of the company’s Capsaicin event at GDC tonight, AMD showed the AMD Radeon Pro Duo, calling it the “most powerful platform for VR” among other things. The card itself is a dual-slot configuration with what appears to be a (very thick) 120mm self-contained liquid cooler, similar to the Fury X design. You’ll need three 8-pin power connectors for the Radeon Pro Duo as well, but assuming you are investing in this kind of hardware that should be no issue.

Even with the integration of HBM to help minimize the footprint of the GPU and memory system, the Radeon Pro Duo is a bit taller than the standard bracket and is more analogous the length of a standard graphics card.

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AMD isn’t telling us much about performance in the early data provided, only mentioning again that the card provides 16 teraflops of compute performance. This is just about double that of the Fury X, single GPU variant released last year; clearly the benefit of water cooling the Pro Duo is that it can run at maximum clock speeds.

Probably the biggest change from what we learned about the dual-GPU card in June to today is its target market. AMD claims that the Radeon Pro Duo is “aimed at all aspects of the VR developer lifestyle: developing content more rapidly for tomorrow’s killer VR experiences while at work, and playing the latest DirectX® 12 experiences at maximum fidelity while off work.” Of course you can use this card for gaming – it will show up in your system just as any dual-GPU configuration would and can be taken advantage of at the same level owning two Fury X cards would.

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The Radeon Pro Duo is cooled by a rear-mounted liquid cooler in this photo

That being said, with a price tag of $1,499, it makes very little sense for gamers to invest in this product for gaming alone. Just as we have said about the NVIDIA TITAN line of products, they are the best of the best but are priced to attract developers rather than gamers. In the past AMD had ridiculed NVIDIA for this kind of move but it seems that the math just works here – the dual-Fiji card is likely a high cost, low yield, low production part. Add to that the fact that it was originally promised in Q3 2015, and that AMD has publicly stated that its Polaris-based GPUs would be ready starting in June, and the window for a consumer variant of the Radeon Pro Duo is likely closed.

"The Radeon Pro Duo is AMD's evolution of their high-end graphics card strategy with them positioning the Radeon Pro Duo more towards a content creator audience rather than gamers. This helps justify the higher price and lower volumes as well as gives developers the frame of mind to develop for multi-GPU VR from the get go rather than as an afterthought." - Anshel Sag, Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy

For engineers, developers, educational outlets and other professional landscapes though, the pure processing power compressed into a single board will be incredibly by useful. And of course, for those gamers crazy enough out there with the unlimited budget and the need to go against our recommendations.


Update: AMD's Capsaicin livestream included some interesting slides on the new Pro Duo GPU, including some of the capabilities and a look at the cooling system.

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The industrial design has carried over from the Fury X

As we see from this slide, the Pro Duo offers 2x Fiji GPUs with 8GB of HBM, and boasts 16 TFLOPS of compute power (the AMD Nano offers 8.19 TFLOPS, so this is consistent with a dual-Nano setup).

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The cooling system is again a Cooler Master design, with a separate block for each GPU. The hoses have a nice braided cover, and lead to a very thick looking radiator with a pre-attached fan.

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From the look of the fan blades this looks like it's designed to move quite a bit of air, and it will need to considering a single (120 mm?) radiator is handling cooling for a pair of high-end GPUs. Temperatures and noise levels will be something to look for when we have hardware in hand.

AMD claims 83% VR market share, shows VR on Polaris

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 14, 2016 - 07:00 PM |
Tagged: VR, radeon pro duo, radeon, capsaicin, amd

As part of AMD’s Capsaicin event in San Francisco today, the company is making some bold statements around its strategy for VR, including massive market share dominance, new readiness programs and the future of VR with the Polaris architecture due out this year.

The most surprising statement made by AMD at the event was the claim that “AMD is powering the overwhelming majority of home entertainment VR systems around the world, with an estimated 83 percent market share.” This is obviously not based on discrete GPU sales in the PC market alone, but instead includes the sales of the PlayStation 4 game console, for which Sony will launch its own PlayStation VR headset later this year. (Side note, does JPR not include the array of Samsung phones to be “home entertainment VR” systems?)

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There is no denying that Sony's install base with the PS4 has put AMD in the driver seat when it comes to global gaming GPU distribution, but as of today this advantage has not amounted to anything noticeable in the PC space – a stance that AMD was selling hard before the consoles’ launch. I am hesitant to put any weight behind AMD’s PS4 integration for VR moving forward, so the company will have to prove that this is in fact an advantage for the chip maker going into 2016.

AMD is talking up other partnerships as well, including those with HTC and Oculus for their respective headset launches, due in the next 30 days. Beyond that, AMD hardware is being used in the just announced Sulon Q wireless VR headset and has deals in place with various healthcare, media and educational outlets to seed development hardware.

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For system vendors and add-in card builders, AMD is launching a certification program that will create labels of “Radeon™ VR Ready Premium” and “Radeon™ VR Ready Creator”. The former will be assigned to graphics cards at Radeon R9 290 performance and above to indicate they are capable of meeting the specifications required by Oculus and HTC for their VR headsets; the latter is going to be assigned only to the Radeon Pro Duo dual-Fiji graphics card, meant to target developers that need maximum performance.

Finally, AMD is showing that its next generation graphics architecture, Polaris, is capable of VR as well.

AMD today demonstrated for the first time ever the company’s forthcoming Polaris 10 GPU running Valve’s Aperture Science Robot Repair demo powered by the HTC Vive Pre. The sample GPU features the recently announced Polaris GPU architecture designed for 14nm FinFET, optimized for DirectX® 12 and VR, and boasts significant architectural improvements over previous AMD architectures including HDR monitor support, industry-leading performance-per-watt 2, and AMD’s 4th generation Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture.

We are still waiting to see if this is the same silicon that AMD showed at CES, a mainstream part, or if we might be witnessing the first demo of a higher end part, wetting the appetite of the enthusiast community.

AMD Named Exclusive GPU Provider for Crytek VR First

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 14, 2016 - 07:00 PM |
Tagged: crytek, CRYENGINE, amd

AMD will be the sole GPU presence in the labs at universities participating in Crytek’s VR First initiative, which “provides colleges and universities a ready-made VR solution for developers, students and researchers”, according to AMD.

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AMD is leveraging the newly-announced Radeon Pro Duo graphics cards for this partnership, which lends immediate credibility to their positioning of the new GPU for VR development.

“The new labs will be equipped with AMD Radeon™ Pro Duo graphics cards with LiquidVR™ SDK, the world’s fastest VR content creator platform bridging content creation and consumption and offering an astonishing 16 teraflops of compute power. Designed to be compatible with multiple head mounted displays, including the Oculus Rift™ and HTC Vive™, AMD Radeon™ Pro Duo cards will encourage grassroots VR development around the world. The initial VR First Lab at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul is already up and running in January of this year.”

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Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli explains VR First:

“VR First labs will become key incubators for nurturing new talent in VR development and creating a global community well-prepared to innovate in this exciting and emerging field. VR experiences, harnessing the power of the CRYENGINE and developed using world-class Radeon™ hardware and software, will have the potential to fundamentally transform how we interact with technology.”

This certainly appears to be an early win for AMD in VR development, at least in the higher education sector.

Source: AMD