DirectX 12 and a new OpenGL to challenge AMD Mantle coming at GDC?

Subject: Graphics Cards | February 26, 2014 - 06:17 PM |
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.

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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.

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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!

Source: Tech Report
February 26, 2014 | 06:22 PM - Posted by MarkT (not verified)

AMD prod'd innovation

February 26, 2014 | 07:06 PM - Posted by pdjblum

I think they just tried to trick people into thinking they were moving things forward. I recall reading that their drivers do not take advantage of efficiencies available in direct X. Instead they create their own api, yet another one for devs to code for and budget for, to get around the inefficiencies in their own drivers and make it seem as if they are doing something amazing. I am probably reading all this wrong, so please explain why I am.

February 26, 2014 | 07:08 PM - Posted by jackalopeater (not verified)

Bingo. They even said that they were okay with something like this happening. As long as the consumer wins in the end.

Somebody had to take the first step.

February 26, 2014 | 07:24 PM - Posted by arbiter

Does the consumer really win? Only 1 game that supports it and its very short list of games that even gonna support it. This adds a whole new box of bugs that would have to be debug and fixed in the game dev process which could make it take longer to make the game. Mantle sounded good in theory but without Nvidia on-board (never gonna happen), its kinda dead in the water less AMD throws good % of their profits to game devs to add the support for it and even then when you look at that only 10% in most cases for decent mid range rig. To me its not really something that would make me buy AMD gpu over nvidia. With whole coin mining markups of amd gpu's still leaves massive hole for Nvidia to take more market.

February 27, 2014 | 11:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"Does the consumer really win?" Of course the consumer wins. This isn't only about a few games that do and will support mantle, think outside the "anti-AMD" box you are in. This is about driving technology forward and giving consumers more for their money.

February 28, 2014 | 08:11 AM - Posted by callmemister (not verified)

arbiter...There are over 20 games being developed for mantle currently.
The performance increase over direct x is astounding on my 290's, which btw cost me over 200 euros LESS than a single Titan and kick the poop out of one. I see my framerates bouncing off the 200fps limit on BF4 on ultra settings, even when my cpu (2600k) is rolled back to its stock 3.4ghz from its usual 4.7ghz. When the framerates do take a dip, it is a very small one and not the stupid half the frames as with DX. Honestly i cannot blame you for thinking as you do as i would have probably been the same if i hadn't experienced it for myself. These cards and mantle are amazing imo.
They are my 1st non nvidia gpu's in over 10 years and to say i am happy with them would be a huge understatement. I'm a fan of bang per buck, not brands!

February 26, 2014 | 07:13 PM - Posted by arbiter

Still debatable if AMD prod'd this could been MS working on it for a while. Just don't know that. If they code this in a way that DX11 cards can make full use of it, it would kill mantle on almost day 1.

February 26, 2014 | 07:14 PM - Posted by LezChuck (not verified)

I'm a bit confused. What does it mean to "overhead" something, specifically software/driver overhead. Synonymous with optimizing? Thanks.

February 26, 2014 | 07:19 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Overhead in this case refers to lost performance due to the requirements of the software middleware like DirectX.  

February 26, 2014 | 07:34 PM - Posted by dlpatague (not verified)

I don't think the problem was ever creating a low-level DirectX API. I believe Microsoft intended to create DirectX as a high-level API to make it easier to develop on and easier to make compatible across a wide range of hardware.

Since Mantle is AMD only it is easy for them to come in with their own low-level API as it only works on AMD video cards. It would be more challenging for Microsoft to make DirectX low-level because they need to think about the wide array of hardware. It looks like though they may take this challenge on. Same with OpenGL.

As far as my opinion on Mantle itself, I am left a little unimpressed for the moment. Perhaps I was expecting more or I am a little unhappy with the way it has been rolled out and delayed and such. Either way they have brought low-level access to the minds of developers and it seems as though it is very much welcomed. So if Microsoft and OpenGL can make this happen then it will be good for us all.

February 26, 2014 | 08:41 PM - Posted by arbiter

AMD did promise a lot with mantle and it hasn't least so far lived up to everything they said. When you think about it AMD tends to make promises and end falling a bit short so didn't really surprise me. Givin how it was delayed almost 2 months think would been a tad more polished then it is, though does wonder what we would got if it was out on time.

February 26, 2014 | 11:35 PM - Posted by DerekR (not verified)

XNA is Microsoft's best high-level game SDK so far. With the advent of the Windwos 8 SDK Microsoft has killed the old DirectX SDK and bundled an updated version with the Win8 SDK. The new DX API has a lot of XNA classes added to it.

As a DirectX developer, I've had to port my engine from desktop using the pre-Win8 SDK to the Win8 SDK for desktop and Metro. It wasn't the worst nightmare because my engine was simple, but my lack of prior experience with XNA made converting things a bit of a pain. Other wise there is still a lot of low-level APIs still lurking around.

I think for the most part making DX12 more low level is going to be no problem on the software side for developers. I imagine it will be a simple addition of a setting when creating the D3D11_Device and after that invisible for the most part to those who don't use it. For those who do want to get their hands dirty, the APIs will be available.

February 26, 2014 | 11:40 PM - Posted by DerekR (not verified)

I'd like to add that on the hardware side the transition to DX12 should be easy. All that needs to be done is for AMD or nVidia to build a card to comply with any DX12 standards Microsoft issues to be DX12 certified.

The hard part would be making existing DX11 cards able to take advantage of DX12 APIs. I can see there being an interim step between the two, perhaps a DX11.5.

February 28, 2014 | 04:42 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's the late 90s all over again, where each vendor is going to have their own API. Back in the days where 3DFX ruled the game industry, because all the games were written in Glide.

February 26, 2014 | 08:31 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

AMD: "There will be no DirectX 12 or any future DirectX versions." - 4/12/2013

http://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/04/12/1847250/amd-says-there-will-be-n...

AMD Announces Mantle - 11/4/2013

http://www.amd.com/us/press-releases/Pages/amds-revolutionary-mantle-201...

Now it all makes sense. icwutudidthar AMD. It was all apart of the plan of bringing about real change in DirectX12. Mind. Blown.

February 26, 2014 | 08:43 PM - Posted by arbiter

I stopped believing a lot of AMD says cause they tend to make promises they don't keep. MS could been working on it, we won't ever know.

February 27, 2014 | 05:49 AM - Posted by ET3D (not verified)

What he said was "To our knowledge there are no plans for DirectX 12 If someone wants to correct me - wonderful." Presumably AMD decided to create Mantle based on that knowledge. That doesn't mean that Microsoft didn't already have a plan for low level features in Direct3D.

In any case, we still don't know if there will be DirectX 12. It could be DirectX 11.3.

February 26, 2014 | 10:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

NVidia fanboys, please do not trash pcper.com.

Your blah, blah and more blah have already made anandtech.com and techreport.com waste of time.

February 27, 2014 | 12:13 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No hating, just an interesting observation you have to admit the timing between AMD's statement and then the release of Mantle being amusing.

February 27, 2014 | 10:51 AM - Posted by MarkT (not verified)

Whos this n00b mentioning Nivida fanboys, ban that dude for making things up.

February 27, 2014 | 11:31 AM - Posted by onion uk (not verified)

i bet if directx 12 is worth getting at the time they will make up some storey about how it only works on windows 8.1...
always happens.

February 27, 2014 | 12:04 PM - Posted by Pholostan

Sounds kinda familiar, haven't similar things been promised before? And never delivered? I'm not holding my breath.

March 1, 2014 | 07:13 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

AMD is no Microsoft...MSFT will blow them out of the water.
So Mantle sort of works...on ONE game ?
DX is everywhere !

March 13, 2014 | 11:35 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

lol m8

March 13, 2014 | 11:37 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm on 14 and i can desgin better shizzel then Mircroshaft. Look up MGraphicz, i made that and it's makin me loads of moeny. MircroSony get you shit together man!

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