Manufacturer: PC Perspective

To the Max?

Much of the PC enthusiast internet, including our comments section, has been abuzz with “Asynchronous Shader” discussion. Normally, I would explain what it is and then outline the issues that surround it, but I would like to swap that order this time. Basically, the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark utilizes Asynchronous Shaders in DirectX 12, but they disable it (by Vendor ID) for NVIDIA hardware. They say that this is because, while the driver reports compatibility, “attempting to use it was an unmitigated disaster in terms of performance and conformance”.

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AMD's Robert Hallock claims that NVIDIA GPUs, including Maxwell, cannot support the feature in hardware at all, while all AMD GCN graphics cards do. NVIDIA has yet to respond to our requests for an official statement, although we haven't poked every one of our contacts yet. We will certainly update and/or follow up if we hear from them. For now though, we have no idea whether this is a hardware or software issue. Either way, it seems more than just politics.

So what is it?

Simply put, Asynchronous Shaders allows a graphics driver to cram workloads in portions of the GPU that are idle, but not otherwise available. For instance, if a graphics task is hammering the ROPs, the driver would be able to toss an independent physics or post-processing task into the shader units alongside it. Kollock from Oxide Games used the analogy of HyperThreading, which allows two CPU threads to be executed on the same core at the same time, as long as it has the capacity for it.

Kollock also notes that compute is becoming more important in the graphics pipeline, and it is possible to completely bypass graphics altogether. The fixed-function bits may never go away, but it's possible that at least some engines will completely bypass it -- maybe even their engine, several years down the road.

I wonder who would pursue something so silly, whether for a product or even just research.

But, like always, you will not get an infinite amount of performance by reducing your waste. You are always bound by the theoretical limits of your components, and you cannot optimize past that (except for obviously changing the workload itself). The interesting part is: you can measure that. You can absolutely observe how long a GPU is idle, and represent it as a percentage of a time-span (typically a frame).

And, of course, game developers profile GPUs from time to time...

According to Kollock, he has heard of some console developers getting up to 30% increases in performance using Asynchronous Shaders. Again, this is on console hardware and so this amount may increase or decrease on the PC. In an informal chat with a developer at Epic Games, so massive grain of salt is required, his late night ballpark “totally speculative” guesstimate is that, on the Xbox One, the GPU could theoretically accept a maximum ~10-25% more work in Unreal Engine 4, depending on the scene. He also said that memory bandwidth gets in the way, which Asynchronous Shaders would be fighting against. It is something that they are interested in and investigating, though.

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This is where I speculate on drivers. When Mantle was announced, I looked at its features and said “wow, this is everything that a high-end game developer wants, and a graphics developer absolutely does not”. From the OpenCL-like multiple GPU model taking much of the QA out of SLI and CrossFire, to the memory and resource binding management, this should make graphics drivers so much easier.

It might not be free, though. Graphics drivers might still have a bunch of games to play to make sure that work is stuffed through the GPU as tightly packed as possible. We might continue to see “Game Ready” drivers in the coming years, even though much of that burden has been shifted to the game developers. On the other hand, maybe these APIs will level the whole playing field and let all players focus on chip design and efficient injestion of shader code. As always, painfully always, time will tell.

Introducing the Intel Box Master System with Color-enabled Gaming!

Subject: Editorial | August 21, 2015 - 02:28 PM |
Tagged: video, Skylake, master system, Intel, 6700k

Sometimes you get weird boxes in the mail and you just know they are going to be up to no good. This time, Intel just launched the Intel Box Master System gaming system...with COLOR!

Seriously.

You really need to watch the video, but if you MUST sneak a peek at what we're talking about, check out the images below!

Visit Intel at http://inte.ly/unbox

Source: Intel
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

It's Basically a Function Call for GPUs

Mantle, Vulkan, and DirectX 12 all claim to reduce overhead and provide a staggering increase in “draw calls”. As mentioned in the previous editorial, loading graphics card with tasks will take a drastic change in these new APIs. With DirectX 10 and earlier, applications would assign attributes to (what it is told is) the global state of the graphics card. After everything is configured and bound, one of a few “draw” functions is called, which queues the task in the graphics driver as a “draw call”.

While this suggests that just a single graphics device is to be defined, which we also mentioned in the previous article, it also implies that one thread needs to be the authority. This limitation was known about for a while, and it contributed to the meme that consoles can squeeze all the performance they have, but PCs are “too high level” for that. Microsoft tried to combat this with “Deferred Contexts” in DirectX 11. This feature allows virtual, shadow states to be loaded from secondary threads, which can be appended to the global state, whole. It was a compromise between each thread being able to create its own commands, and the legacy decision to have a single, global state for the GPU.

Some developers experienced gains, while others lost a bit. It didn't live up to expectations.

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The paradigm used to load graphics cards is the problem. It doesn't make sense anymore. A developer might not want to draw a primitive with every poke of the GPU. At times, they might want to shove a workload of simple linear algebra through it, while other requests could simply be pushing memory around to set up a later task (or to read the result of a previous one). More importantly, any thread could want to do this to any graphics device.

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The new graphics APIs allow developers to submit their tasks quicker and smarter, and it allows the drivers to schedule compatible tasks better, even simultaneously. In fact, the driver's job has been massively simplified altogether. When we tested 3DMark back in March, two interesting things were revealed:

  • Both AMD and NVIDIA are only a two-digit percentage of draw call performance apart
  • Both AMD and NVIDIA saw an order of magnitude increase in draw calls

Read on to see what this means for games and game development.

Windows 10 One-Minute Ad Launches

Subject: Editorial | July 20, 2015 - 08:28 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows, windows 10

As we've been saying for several months now, Windows 10 is coming in a handful of days. Naturally, Microsoft is trickling out information and marketing material leading up to it. Some of the interesting ones we can talk about. I'd normally consider a one-minute TV spot as “not very interesting”, and it probably isn't for our audience, but there was one thing that I wanted to say about it.

The ad looks through an international cast of children, and of course an adorable puppy, describing how their technology life will evolve with Windows 10. The premise is that the OS will empower everything that they do, and grow with them because of automatic updates. Of course, young children and a puppy does a lot to sell a consumer product in itself. The video currently has over 200,000 views on YouTube with an almost 20:1 like-to-dislike ratio.

But the part that interested me was the quote “for them, every screen is meant to be touched”.

In a direct way, yes. Once you provide someone with a touch screen, especially a young child, they instantly want to touch every screen in their life. This has actually led to schools refusing to install touch-based all-in-one PCs because they were worried about kids ruining the non-touch monitors.

It is odd that Microsoft would focus on “touch” in the ad, though. This leads me to the point that I want to bring up. Nowhere in the ad is “familiar” or similar verbiage used. Each example is touch, stylus, or voice. You would think that Microsoft wants to draw in the audience who avoided Windows 8.x, and yet the tone sounds identical to what they've been saying for years.

It's just a TV spot, but it sounds a bit out of tune with the last year.

Tick Tock Tick Tock Tick Tock Tock

A few websites have been re-reporting on a leak from BenchLife.info about Kaby Lake, which is supposedly a second 14nm redesign (“Tock”) to be injected between Skylake and Cannonlake.

UPDATE (July 2nd, 3:20pm ET): It has been pointed out that many hoaxes have come out of the same source, and that I should be more clear in my disclaimer. This is an unconfirmed, relatively easy to fake leak that does not have a second, independent source. I reported on it because (apart from being interesting enough) some details were listed on the images, but not highlighted in the leak, such as "GT0" and a lack of Iris Pro on -K. That suggests that the leaker got the images from somewhere, but didn't notice those details, which implies that the original source was hoaxed by an anonymous source, who only seeded the hoax to a single media outlet, or that it was an actual leak.

Either way, enjoy my analysis but realize that this is a single, unconfirmed source who allegedly published hoaxes in the past.

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Image Credit: BenchLife.info

If true, this would be a major shift in both Intel's current roadmap as well as how they justify their research strategies. It also includes a rough stack of product categories, from 4.5W up to 91W TDPs, including their planned integrated graphics configurations. This leads to a pair of interesting stories:

How Kaby Lake could affect Intel's processors going forward. Since 2006, Intel has only budgeted a single CPU architecture redesign for any given fabrication process node. Taking two attempts on the 14nm process buys time for 10nm to become viable, but it could also give them more time to build up a better library of circuit elements, allowing them to assemble better processors in the future.

What type of user will be given Iris Pro? Also, will graphics-free options be available in the sub-Enthusiast class? When buying a processor from Intel, the high-end mainstream processors tend to have GT2-class graphics, such as the Intel HD 4600. Enthusiast architectures, such as Haswell-E, cannot be used without discrete graphics -- the extra space is used for more cores, I/O lanes, or other features. As we will discuss later, Broadwell took a step into changing the availability of Iris Pro in the high-end mainstream, but it doesn't seem like Kaby Lake will make any more progress. Also, if I am interpreting the table correctly, Kaby Lake might bring iGPU-less CPUs to LGA 1151.

Keeping Your Core Regular

To the first point, Intel has been on a steady tick-tock cycle since the Pentium 4 architecture reached the 65nm process node, which was a “tick”. The “tock” came from the Conroe/Merom architecture that was branded “Core 2”. This new architecture was a severe departure from the high clock, relatively low IPC design that Netburst was built around, which instantaneously changed the processor landscape from a dominant AMD to an Intel runaway lead.

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After 65nm and Core 2 started the cycle, every new architecture alternated between shrinking the existing architecture to smaller transistors (tick) and creating a new design on the same fabrication process (tock). Even though Intel has been steadily increasing their R&D budget over time, which is now in the range of $10 to $12 billion USD each year, creating smaller, more intricate designs with new process nodes has been getting harder. For comparison, AMD's total revenue (not just profits) for 2014 was $5.51 billion USD.

Read on to see more about what Kaby Lake could mean for Intel and us.

Author:
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: Codemasters

Digging in a Little Deeper into the DiRT

Over the past few weeks I have had the chance to play the early access "DiRT Rally" title from Codemasters.  This is a much more simulation based title that is currently PC only, which is a big switch for Codemasters and how they usually release their premier racing offerings.  I was able to get a hold of Paul Coleman from Codemasters and set up a written interview with him.  Paul's answers will be in italics.

Who are you, what do you do at Codemasters, and what do you do in your spare time away from the virtual wheel?

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Hi my name is Paul Coleman and I am the Chief Games Designer on DiRT Rally. I’m responsible for making sure that the game is the most authentic representation of the sport it can be, I’m essentially representing the player in the studio. In my spare time I enjoy going on road trips with my family in our 1M Coupe. I’ve been co-driving in real world rally events for the last three years and I’ve used that experience to write and voice the co-driver calls in game.

If there is one area that DiRT has really excelled at is keeping frame rate consistent throughout multiple environments.  Many games, especially those using cutting edge rendering techniques, often have dramatic frame rate drops at times.  How do you get around this while still creating a very impressive looking game?

The engine that DiRT Rally has been built on has been constantly iterated on over the years and we have always been looking at ways of improving the look of the game while maintaining decent performance. That together with the fact that we work closely with GPU manufacturers on each project ensures that we stay current. We also have very strict performance monitoring systems that have come from optimising games for console. These systems have proved very useful when building DiRT Rally even though the game is exclusively on PC.

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How do you balance out different controller use cases?  While many hard core racers use a wheel, I have seen very competitive racing from people using handheld controllers as well as keyboards.  Do you handicap/help those particular implementations so as not to make it overly frustrating to those users?  I ask due to the difference in degrees of precision that a gamepad has vs. a wheel that can rotate 900 degrees.

Again this comes back to the fact that we have traditionally developed for console where the primary input device is a handheld controller. This is an area that other sims don’t usually have to worry about but for us it was second nature. There are systems that we have that add a layer between the handheld controller or keyboard and the game which help those guys but the wheel is without a doubt the best way to experience DiRT Rally as it is a direct input.

Continue reading the entire DiRT Rally Interview here!

Contest: Win a 400GB Intel 750 Series SSD from Intel and PC Perspective!

Subject: Editorial | May 29, 2015 - 12:37 PM |
Tagged: SSD 750, PCI Express, NVMe, Intel, giveaway, contest, 750 series

PC Perspective and Intel are partnering together to offer up a giveaway with some pretty impressive swag. Surely by now you have read all about the new Intel SSD 750 Series of products, a new class of solid state drive that combines four lanes of PCI Express 3.0 and a new protocol called NVM Express (NVMe) for impressive bandwidth throughput. In Allyn's review of the SSD in April he called it "the obvious choice for consumers who demand the most from their storage" and gave it a PC Perspective Editor's Choice Award!

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Thanks to our friends at Intel we are going to be handing out a pair of the 400GB add-in card models to loyal PC Perspective readers and viewers. How can you enter? The rules are dead simple:

  1. Fill out the contest entry form below to find multiple entry methods including reading our review, answering a question about Intel SSD 750 Series specs or following us on Twitter. You can fill out one or all of the methods - the more you do the better your chances!
     
  2. Leave a comment on the news post below thanking Intel for sponsoring PC Perspective and for supplying this hardware for us to give to you!
     
  3. This is a global contest - so feel free to enter from anywhere in the world!
     
  4. Contest will close on June 2nd, 2015.

Win an Intel SSD 750 Series From PC Perspective and Intel!

Our most sincere thanks to Intel for bringing this contest to PC Perspective's readers and fans. Good luck to everyone (except Josh)!

Sponsored by Intel

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Product Specifications

Capacity Seqential 128KB Read (up to MB/s) Sequential 128KB Write (up to MB/s) Random 4KB Read (up to IOPS) Random 4KB Write (up to IOPS) Form Factor Interface
400 GB 2,200 900 430,000 230,000 2.5-inch x 15mm PCI Express Gen3 x4
1.2 TB 2,400 1,200 440,000 290,000 2.5-inch x 15mm PCI Express Gen3 x4
400 GB 2,200 900 430,000 230,000 Half-height half-length (HHHL) Add-in Card PCI Express Gen3 x4
1.2 TB 2,400 1,200 440,000 290,000 Half-heigh half-length (HHHL) Add-in Card PCI Express Gen3 x4

Experience the future of storage performance for desktop client and workstation users with the Intel® SSD 750 Series. The Intel SSD 750 Series delivers uncompromised performance by utilizing NVM Express* over four lanes of PCIe* 3.0.

With both Add-in Card and 2.5-inch form factors, the Intel SSD 750 Series eases migration from SATA to PCIe 3.0 without power or thermal limitations on performance. The SSD can now deliver the ultimate in performance in a variety of system form factors and configurations.

Source: Intel.com

Podcast #351 - More AMD Fiji Leaks, Rumors on GTX 980 Ti and a great $99 portable DAC!

Subject: Editorial | May 28, 2015 - 01:22 PM |
Tagged: X99, video, sapphire, r9 285, podcast, nvidia, GTX 980 Ti, gigabyte, Fiji, DAC, amd

PC Perspective Podcast #351 - 05/28/2015

Join us this week as we discuss AMD Fiji Leaks, rumors on GTX 980 Ti, a great $99 portable DAC, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes Store
  • RSS - Subscribe through your regular RSS reader
  • MP3 - Direct download link to the MP3 file

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

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

Podcast #350 - AMD's plan for HBM, IPS G-SYNC, GameWorks and The Witcher 3, and more!

Subject: Editorial | May 21, 2015 - 03:34 PM |
Tagged: podcast, video, amd, hbm, Fiji, g-sync, ips, XB270HU, corsair, Oculus, supermicro, asus, gladius, jem davies, arm, mali

PC Perspective Podcast #350 - 05/21/2015

Join us this week as we discuss AMD's plan for HBM, IPS G-SYNC, GameWorks and The Witcher 3, and more!

You can subscribe to us through iTunes and you can still access it directly through the RSS page HERE.

The URL for the podcast is: http://pcper.com/podcast - Share with your friends!

  • iTunes - Subscribe to the podcast directly through the iTunes 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

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

Newegg Jumping Gun on New AMD Game Bundles: GTAV and DiRT Rally?

Subject: Editorial | May 13, 2015 - 02:07 PM |
Tagged: R9, newegg, GTAV, DiRT Rally, bundle, amd, 290x, 290, 285

AMD has been pretty quiet on the bundle scene, but I think we may have had their future plans revealed to us a bit early.

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In case the offer gets pulled, here is a screen grab from Newegg on May 13, 2015.

Newegg is offering a number of AMD R9 based cards with one to two free software titles.  The top end R9 290 and 290X products get both Grand Theft Auto V and DiRT Rally.  The value of these two titles are around $95 US.  The lower end cards look to only receive DiRT Rally, which is a $35 US value.

This a pretty nice bundle considering that GTAV is still very new, and DiRT Rally is an early access title that will have a bunch of free content added to it through the next 9 to 10 months.

So far no other retailer that I am aware of is offering this particular bundle.  My assumption here is that Newegg jumped the gun before AMD was able to announce it.

Click here if you want to see these deals on the R9 290X GPUs.

UPDATE: Initial information from AMD is that it "is not an AMD bundle" so we aren't quite sure what to make of this. It could be a Newegg-specific bundle, but I haven't gotten any feedback from the reseller on the issue yet. 

UPDATE 2: Well, we found this certificate for the DiRT Rally portion of the bundle on Newegg.com. Clearly this is an official AMD marketing promotion but we haven't yet found anything official on the Grand Theft Auto V side of things.

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UPDATE 3: And now we have this Tweet from Newegg:

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UPDATE 4: After another conversation with AMD, the company is reiterating its point that it is not directly involved in the GTAV bundles we are seeing today with AMD Radeon graphics cards on Newegg. According to AMD, the bundle was solely built by Newegg and the OEMs, which explains why we don't see similar offers on identical cards on Amazon. It's likely then that Newegg interfaced with Take-Two/Rockstar to get approval for the Grand Theft Auto 5 inclusion while the DiRT Rally portion was just a happy coincidence. (Also, apparently a week ago AMD launched the DiRT Rally bundle...who knew?!?)

Source: Newegg