Vega meets Radeon Pro
Professional graphics cards are a segment of the industry that can look strange to gamers and PC enthusiasts. From the outside, it appears that businesses are paying more for almost identical hardware when compared to their gaming counterparts from both NVIDIA and AMD.
However, a lot goes into a professional-level graphics card that makes all the difference to the consumers they are targeting. From the addition of ECC memory to protect against data corruption, all the way to a completely different driver stack with specific optimizations for professional applications, there's a lot of work put into these particular products.
The professional graphics market has gotten particularly interesting in the last few years with the rise of the NVIDIA TITAN-level GPUs and "Frontier Edition" graphics cards from AMD. While lacking ECC memory, these new GPUs have brought over some of the application level optimizations, while providing a lower price for more hobbyist level consumers.
However, if you're a professional that depends on a graphics card for mission-critical work, these options are no replacement for the real thing.
Today we're looking at one of AMD's latest Pro graphics offerings, the AMD Radeon Pro WX 8200.
Subject: General Tech | August 10, 2018 - 11:17 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Blender, benchmark
The Blender Foundation is wrapping up development on Blender 2.8, “The Workflow Update”. We have been following it for a while, but today’s announcement caught me by surprise: a benchmark database. It seems simple, right? Blender wants its users to know what hardware is best to use, especially when rendering images in Cycles (which can be damn slow).
A bit lopsided...
The solution is to make a version of Blender that creates and validates benchmarks, then compiles the data on their website. It’s still early days for this, with just 2052 entries (at the time of writing) and the majority of those were from Linux boxes. Also, they only break it down into a handful of categories: Fastest CPU, Fastest Compute Device, Submissions Per OS, then a few charts that compare the individual benchmark scenes against one another in a hardware-agnostic fashion. They pledge to add a lot of more metrics in the future.
Personally, I’m curious to see a performance vs OS metric. Some benchmarks back from 2016 (Blender 2.77 on an EVGA GTX 980 Ti) show Linux out-performing Windows 10 by over 2x, with Windows 7 landing in between (closer to Linux than Windows 10). At the time, it was attributed to NVIDIA’s CUDA driver being horribly optimized for the newer OS, which seems to be validated by the close showing of the GTX 1080 on Windows 10 and Linux, but I would like to see a compiled list of up-to-date results. I could soon be able to.
Subject: General Tech | July 2, 2018 - 04:59 PM | Scott Michaud
The next dot-version of Blender, 2.8, is the most exciting update (in my opinion) since BMesh (n-gons) was added in 2.63. It is focused on workflow patterns and interface changes, but this involves several secondary changes. First, the minimum OpenGL version of the viewport renderer has been bumped to 3.3, which targets DirectX 10 hardware. (Previously, Blender required OpenGL 2.1.) The method for storing objects in the scene will also change. In short, it’s a huge update, both visibly and behind-the-scenes.
Here's Blender Today doing a live stream about Blender 2.8 Alpha
And now the Blender Foundation has published its expected release schedule.
First up is the alpha release – Today!
Blender 2.8’s alpha is still not useful for production content, and it’s even too early for add-on developers to update (because the Python API will change). After playing around with it for a few minutes, I’m admittedly confused with some parts. For instance, is OpenGL Render Image / Animation going to stick around? If so, what does it mean compared to clicking Render Image when Eevee is selected. For the moment, Blender’s bug tracker is only interested in crash bugs. You cannot report anything other than crashes.
After the alpha will be the beta – around August 12th.
Blender 2.8’s beta will still not be ready for add-on developers to update their plug-ins. Instead, this will align with merging the 2.8 branch into master, updating the release notes, and opening up the bug tracker to non-crash-related reports. All features are expected to be finished by then, and development will work on fixing bugs.
After the beta will be a Python API finalized – around September 19th (give or take).
When this date occurs, Blender will communicate to add-on developers that it is safe to update their plug-ins to Blender 2.8. It looks like this is to give them a little time to focus on API-breaking bugs that appear in the beta phase, fixing them first so add-on developers can get to work while the Blender Foundation focuses on bugs that do not affect the API. They will give add-on developers at least a month before RC is called.
Which brings us to release candidate – around October 20th.
The Blender Conference 2018 event will take place from the 25th, 26th, and 27th of October, so I’m guessing that they want to get the release candidate out in time for then. This should hopefully mean that the whole update arrives before the end of 2018.
As always, Blender completely free, even for commercial use, as licensed under the GPL.
Subject: General Tech | March 4, 2018 - 04:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Blender, Volta, nvidia
Normally the “a” patch of Blender arrives much closer to the number release – about a month or so.
Five months after 2.79, however, the Blender Foundation has released 2.79a. It seemed likely that it would happen at some point, because it looks like they are aiming for 2.80 to be the next full release, and that will take some time. I haven’t had a chance to use 2.79a yet, but the release notes are mostly bug fixes and performance improvements.
Glancing through the release notes, one noteworthy edition is that Blender 2.79a now includes the CUDA 9 SDK in its build process, and it includes work-arounds for “performance loss” with those devices. While I haven’t heard any complaints from Titan V owners, the lack of CUDA 8 SDK was a big problem for early owners of GeForce GTX 10X0 cards, so Volta users might have been suffering in silence until now. If you were having issues with the Titan V, then you should try 2.79a.
If you’re interested, be sure to check out the latest release. As always, it’s free.
Subject: General Tech | November 5, 2017 - 05:01 PM | Scott Michaud
About a week ago, the Blender Foundation held their annual Blender Conference. The event was sponsored by AMD, same as last year, who is putting quite a bit of time and money in the free, open-source 3D suite. They are especially focused on OpenCL and Cycles development, which benefits their Radeon GPUs and high-end, workstation CPUs.
In fact, AMD, along with Tangent Animation, Nimble Collective, and Aleph Objects, have paid for engineers to work on the project.
A lot of the talk was about Blender 2.8, as it is both upcoming and a significant change. Ton Roosendaal talked a lot about the new scene graph, how objects can be groups as collections, and how an infinite number of layers are possible. It’s a significant, back-end change that’s been discussed in the past.
There’s still no firm release schedule for Blender 2.8, but it’s coming along. You can download one of the pre-release builds on their website, but don’t expect it to be stable. I found my first crash bug in about 5 minutes.
Subject: General Tech | September 13, 2017 - 07:03 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Blender, amd
The latest version of Blender, 2.79, makes a few significant changes, especially for users with AMD GPUs. Their main rendering engine, Cycles, has now reached feature-parity on OpenCL and CUDA. While those with NVIDIA GPUs will keep using the latter compute API, users of recent AMD GPUs can now (on Windows and Linux -- macOS requires a driver update) harness their graphics cards for higher performance.
10 samples is actually very low. I'm usually in the 100-1000 range.
For the rest of us, there are four improvements that I would consider major. First, Cycles now has a denoise filter, which reduces speckles and thus should let you get away with fewer samples. Second, Filmic Color Management is now included by default, which can represent a much wider dynamic range. This was available as a user mod for a while, but you needed to manually install it. Third is a shadow catcher object for Cycles, which lets you render off translucent shadows onto dummy objects and composite them later (in Photoshop, After Effects, or Blender’s video editor).
Fourth, and most interesting to me, is their new PBR shader. I’ve done PBR materials in Cycles before, and it’s a bit of a pain to set up. If I don’t copy/paste from an existing material, it takes about 15-20 minutes of my time to wire together diffuse nodes, glossy nodes, Fresnel nodes, and so forth such that I can attach metal, bump, and so forth to it. Now? Just drag in one node and hook up the correct textures and colors, like the ones that are generated in Substance or Quixxel.
As always, Blender is free, so have fun.
Subject: General Tech | July 10, 2017 - 08:06 AM | Scott Michaud
Blender 2.8x is being dubbed “Workflow” by the Blender Foundation, and 2D animators are included in that. The 3D suite has included a tool, called “Grease Pencil”, for quite some time now, and its purpose was mostly to write notes. Since then, people have been using it for modeling (especially curves) and even 2D animation, which led the Blender Foundation to build it up in that direction.
This could potentially bring Blender more competitive with existing 2D animation software, like Animate CC (the Adobe re-brand of Flash Professional) and other tools. Being a 3D-centric application, it has a lot of interesting features to add to the mix, especially in terms of camera movement. (Animate CC just received a virtual camera in the most recent major version.) It will be interesting to see how comfortable they can make it for novices, because this is one of those areas that there’s not a lot of good free software for learners. (Digital Video and Studio Ghibli released OpenToonz, but it seems... more than a little difficult for newcomers from what I’ve seen.)
Blender 2.8 is supposedly aiming for a SIGGRAPH preview, which starts on July 30th.
Subject: General Tech | July 10, 2017 - 07:24 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Khronos, gltf, Blender
As we reported about a month ago, The Khronos Group has finalized glTF 2.0, which is a 3D format designed for whole scenes. Since then, Khronos have published an exporter for Blender that implements what appears to be all core features, as well as specular-gloss PBR (Extension), lights (Experimental), “materials common” (Experimental), and “materials displace” (Experimental). It is implemented as a whole bunch of Python scripts.
Apparently they provide their own PBR shader nodes for Cycles, rather than using the new Disney-based one in Blender 2.79. I’m not sure whether this was to make the export easier, or if development schedules just couldn’t align. Either way, both metallic/roughness and specular/gloss workflows have been provided, so that should make exporting either workflow relatively straight-forward.
Subject: General Tech | June 28, 2017 - 06:24 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: solidworks, ray tracing, radeon, prorender, nvidia, mental ray, Blender, amd
AMD has released a free ray-tracing engine for Blender, as well as Maya, 3D Studio Max, and SolidWorks, called Radeon ProRender. It uses a physically-based workflow, which allows multiple materials to be expressed in a single, lighting-independent shader, making it easy to color objects and have them usable in any sensible environment.
Image Credit: Mike Pan (via Twitter)
I haven’t used it yet, and I definitely haven’t tested how it stacks up against Cycles, but we’re beginning to see some test renders from Blender folks. It looks pretty good, as you can see with the water-filled Cornell box (above). Moreover, it’s rendered on an NVIDIA GPU, which I’m guessing they had because of Cycles, but that also shows that AMD is being inclusive with their software.
Radeon ProRender puts more than a little pressure on Mental Ray, which is owned by NVIDIA and licensed on annual subscriptions. We’ll need to see how quality evolves, but, as you see in the test render above, it looks pretty good so far... and the price can’t be beat.
Subject: General Tech | May 4, 2017 - 09:20 PM | Scott Michaud
The Blender Foundation is currently working on two different branches of their popular 3D suite, Blender 2.79 and Blender 2.8. We have discussed the former quite a bit, which is expected to code freeze within the next month or so, but the latter has been making noteworthy progress all along, too. It is focused on workflow changes, which includes updating the viewport renderer, both for preview as well as fast rendering of scenes that don’t require full ray-traced quality.
In this case, Blender Developers has released a video showing off how Cycles and Viewport can be combined. While you can preview what Cycles will output in the viewport already, enabling that rendered shading mode disables UI elements, like the movement widget. They are now being combined, and the Blender Foundation is aiming to make it fast enough for practical use.
Preview builds of Blender 2.8 are available now, and the Blender Foundation wants users to play around with them. Be careful using it for critical projects, though, because save files might not be 100% compatible, forward or backward, above and beyond the obvious stability concerns.