Podcast #435 - Qualcomm aptX, FSP Twin 500w PSU, Micro 5100 Enteprise SSDs, AMD Fiscal Results, ASUS Tinker Board, ZeniMax

Subject: Editorial | February 2, 2017 - 10:34 AM |
Tagged: podcast, zenimax, UHD Blu-Ray, toshiba, tinker board, Reundant PSU, qualcomm, micron, Laser Networking, fsp, enterprise ssd, DirectX, delidding, asus, aptX, amd

PC Perspective Podcast #435 - 02/02/17

Join us this week as we discuss Qualcomm aptX, FSP Reundant PSUs, Micron Enterprise SSDs, 5G LTE, AMD Fiscal Year, ZeniMax lawsuit, 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!

Hosts: Allyn Malventano, Ken Addison, Josh Walrath, Jermey Hellstrom, Sebastian Peak

Program length: 1:46:22

Podcast topics of discussion:
  1. Week in Review:
  2. News items of interest:
  3. Hardware/Software Picks of the Week
  4. Closing/outro


DirectX Intermediate Language Announced... via GitHub

Subject: Graphics Cards | January 27, 2017 - 09:19 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, DirectX, llvm, dxil, spir-v, vulkan

Over the holidays, Microsoft has published the DirectX Shader Compiler onto GitHub. The interesting part about this is that it outputs HLSL into DirectX Intermediate Language (DXIL) bytecode, which can be ingested by GPU drivers and executed on graphics devices. The reason why this is interesting is that DXIL is based on LLVM, which might start to sound familiar if you have been following along with The Khronos Group and their announcements regarding Vulkan, OpenCL, and SPIR-V.

As it turns out, they were on to something, and Microsoft is working on a DirectX analogue of it.


The main advantage of LLVM-based bytecode is that you can eventually support multiple languages (and the libraries of code developed in them). When SPIR-V was announced with Vulkan, the first thing that came to my mind was compiling to it from HLSL, which would be useful for existing engines, as they are typically written in HLSL and transpiled to the target platform when used outside of DirectX (like GLSL for OpenGL). So, in Microsoft’s case, it would make sense that they start there (since they own the thing) but I doubt that is the end goal. The most seductive outcome for game engine developers would be single-source C++, but there is a lot of steps between there and here.

Another advantage, albeit to a lesser extent, is that you might be able to benefit from performance optimizations, both on the LLVM / language side as well as on the driver’s side.

According to their readme, the minimum support will be HLSL Shader Model 6. This is the most recent shading model, and it introduces some interesting instructions, typically for GPGPU applications, that allow multiple GPU threads to interact, like balloting. Ironically, while DirectCompute and C++AMP don’t seem to be too popular, this would nudge DirectX 12 into a somewhat competent GPU compute API.

DXIL support is limited to Windows 10 Build 15007 and later, so you will need to either switch one (or more) workstation(s) to Insider, or wait until it launches with the Creators Update (unless something surprising holds it back).

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Why Two 4GB GPUs Isn't Necessarily 8GB

We're trying something new here at PC Perspective. Some topics are fairly difficult to explain cleanly without accompanying images. We also like to go fairly deep into specific topics, so we're hoping that we can provide educational cartoons that explain these issues.

This pilot episode is about load-balancing and memory management in multi-GPU configurations. There seems to be a lot of confusion around what was (and was not) possible with DirectX 11 and OpenGL, and even more confusion about what DirectX 12, Mantle, and Vulkan allow developers to do. It highlights three different load-balancing algorithms, and even briefly mentions what LucidLogix was attempting to accomplish almost ten years ago.


If you like it, and want to see more, please share and support us on Patreon. We're putting this out not knowing if it's popular enough to be sustainable. The best way to see more of this is to share!

Open the expanded article to see the transcript, below.

Manufacturer: Microsoft

DirectX 12 Has No More Secrets

The DirectX 12 API is finalized and the last of its features are known. Before the BUILD conference, the list consisted of Conservative Rasterization, Rasterizer Ordered Viewed, Typed UAV Load, Volume Tiled Resources, and a new Tiled Resources revision for non-volumetric content. When the GeForce GTX 980 launched, NVIDIA claimed it would be compatible with DirectX 12 features. Enthusiasts were skeptical, because Microsoft did not officially finalize the spec at the time.

Last week, Microsoft announced the last feature of the graphics API: Multiadapter.

We already knew that Multiadapter existed, at least to some extent. It is the part of the specification that allows developers to address multiple graphics adapters to split tasks between them. In DirectX 11 and earlier, secondary GPUs would remain idle unless the graphics driver sprinkled some magic fair dust on it with SLI, CrossFire, or Hybrid CrossFire. The only other way to access this dormant hardware was by spinning up an OpenCL (or similar compute API) context on the side.

Read on to see what DirectX 12 does differently...

DirectX 12 Preview in New Windows 10 Build. No Drivers Yet.

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | January 23, 2015 - 07:11 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, microsoft, dx12, DirectX 12, DirectX

Microsoft has added DirectX 12 with the latest Windows 10 Technical Preview that was released today. Until today, DXDIAG reported DirectX 11 in the Windows 10 Technical Preview. At the moment, there has not been any drivers or software released for it, and the SDK is also no-where to be found. Really, all this means is that one barrier has been lifted, leaving the burden on hardware and software partners (except to release the SDK, that's still Microsoft's responsibility).


No-one needs to know how old my motherboard is...

Note: I have already experienced some issues with Build 9926. Within a half hour of using it, I suffered an instant power-down. There was not even enough time for a bluescreen. When it came back, my Intel GPU (which worked for a few minutes after the update) refused to be activated, along with the monitor it is attached to. My point? Not for production machines.

Update: Looks like a stick of RAM (or some other hardware) blew, coincidentally, about 30 minutes after the update finished, while the computer was running, which also confused my UEFI settings. I haven't got around to troubleshooting much, but it seems like a weirdly-timed, abrupt hardware failure (BIOS is only reporting half of the RAM installed, iGPU is "enabled" but without RAM associated to it, etc.).

The interesting part, to me, is how Microsoft pushed DX12 into this release without, you know, telling anyone. It is not on any changelog that I can see, and it was not mentioned anywhere in the briefing as potentially being in an upcoming preview build. Before the keynote, I had a theory that it would be included but, after the announcement, figured that it might be pushed until GDC or BUILD (but I kept an open mind). The only evidence that it might come this month was an editorial on Forbes that referenced a conversation with Futuremark, who allegedly wanted to release an update to 3DMark (they hoped) when Microsoft released the new build. I could not find anything else, so I didn't report on it -- you would think that there would be a second source for that somewhere. It turns out that he might be right.

The new Windows 10 Technical Preview, containing DirectX 12, is available now from the preview build panel. It looks like Futuremark (and maybe others) will soon release software for it, but no hardware vendor has released a driver... yet.

Manufacturer: Microsoft

Introducing Windows 10 (Again)

I did not exactly make too many unsafe predictions, but let's recap the Windows 10 Consumer announcement anyway. The briefing was a bit on the slow side, at least if you are used to E3 keynotes, but it contained a fair amount of useful information. Some of the things discussed are future-oriented, but some will arrive soon. So let's get right into it.

Price and Upgrade Options

Microsoft has not announced an official price for Windows 10, if the intent is to install it on a new PC. If you are attempting to upgrade a machine that currently runs Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, then that will be a free upgrade if done within the first year. Windows Phone 8.1 users are also eligible for a no-cost upgrade to Windows 10 if done in the first year.


Quote Terry Myerson of Microsoft, “Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device.” This is not elaborated on, but it seems like a weird statement given what we have traditionally expected from Windows. One possible explanation is that Microsoft intends for Windows to be a subscription service going forward, which would be the most obvious extension of “Windows as a Service”. On the other hand, they could be going for the per-device revenue option with Bing, Windows Store, and other initiatives being long tail. If so, I am a bit confused about what constitutes a new device for systems that are regularly upgraded, like what our readers are typically interested in. All of that will eventually be made clear, but not yet.

A New Build for Windows 10

Late in the keynote, Microsoft announced the availability of new preview builds for Windows 10. This time, users of Windows Phone 8.1 will also be able to see the work in progress. PC “Insiders” will get access to their build “in the next week” and phones will get access “in Feburary”. Ars Technica seems to believe that this is scheduled for Sunday, February 1st, which is a really weird time to release a build but their source might be right.


We don't know exactly what will be in it, though. In my predictions, I guessed that a DirectX 12 SDK might be available (or at least some demos) in the next build. That has not been mentioned, which probably would have been if it were true. I expect the next possibility (if we're not surprised in the next one-to-ten days when the build drops) is Game Developers Conference (GDC 2015), which starts on March 2nd.

The New Web Browser: Project Spartan

My guess was that Spartan would be based on DirectX 12. Joe Belfiore said that it is using a new, standards-compliant rendering engine and basically nothing more. The event focused on specific features. The first is note taking, which basically turns the web browser into a telestrator that can also accept keyboard comment blocks. The second is a reading mode that alters content into a Microsoft Word-like column. The third is “reading lists”, which is basically a “read it later” feature that does offline caching. The fourth is Adobe PDF support, which works with the other features of Spartan such as note taking and reading lists.

Which Transitions Into Cortana

The fifth feature of Spartan is Cortana integration, which will provide auto-suggestions based on the information that the assistant software has. The example they provided was auto-suggesting the website for his wife's flight. Surprisingly, when you attempt to control a Spartan, Cortana does not say “There's two of us in here now, remember?” You know, in an attempt to let you know she's service that's integrated into the browser.


Otherwise, it's an interesting demo. I might even end up using it when it comes out, but these sorts of things do not really interest me too much. We have been at the point where, for my usage, the operating system is really not in the way anymore. It feels like there is very little friction between me and getting what I want done, done. Of course, people felt that way about rotary phones until touch-tone came out, and I keep an open mind to better methods. It's just hard to get me excited about voice-activated digital assistants.

Gaming Features

As I stated before, DirectX 12 was mentioned but a release date was not confirmed. What they did mention was a bit of relative performance. DirectX 12 supposedly uses about half of the power consumption of DirectX 11, which is particularly great for mobile applications. It can also handle scenes with many more objects. A FutureMark demo was displayed, with the DirectX 11 version alongside a DirectX 12 version. The models seem fairly simple, but the DirectX 12 version appears to running at over 100 FPS when the DirectX 11 version outright fails.


Other gaming features were mentioned. First, Windows 10 will allow shadow recording the last 30 seconds of footage from any game. You might think that NVIDIA would be upset about that, and they might be, but that is significantly less time than ShadowPlay or other recording methods. Second, Xbox One will be able to stream gameplay to any PC in your house. I expect this is the opposite direction than what people hope for, rather wishing for high-quality PC footage to be easily streamed to TVs with a simple interface. It will probably serve a purpose for some use case, though.

In Summary

Well that was a pretty long event, clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours. The end had a surprise announcement of an augmented reality (not virtual reality) headset, called the “HoloLens”, which is developed by the Kinect team. I am deliberately not elaborating on it because I was not at the event and I have not tried it. I will say that the most interesting part about it, for me, is the Skype integration, because that probably hints at Microsoft's intentions with the product.


For the rest of us, it touched on a number of interesting features but, like the Enterprise event, did not really dive in. It would have been nice to get some technical details about DirectX 12, but that obviously does not cater to the intended audience. Unless an upcoming build soft-launches a DirectX 12 preview (or Spartan) so that we can do our own discovery, we will probably need to wait until GDC and/or BUILD to find out more.

Until then, you could watch the on-demand version at Microsoft's website.

Windows 10 Consumer Briefing Predictions

Subject: General Tech | January 20, 2015 - 09:45 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, spartan, microsoft, dx12, DirectX 12, DirectX, cortana

Microsoft will hold a briefing tomorrow (Wednesday, January 21st at 12pm EST/5pm UTC) about “The Next Chapter” of Windows 10. This has been described as the Consumer keynote, mirroring the original one that was supposedly intended for the enterprise. Otherwise, there are few official comments regarding the event, but there are also things that we can speculate on.


Here is what I expect to see:

A New Build for Windows 10

Maybe it will not be released on the same day as the speech, but it cannot really be too far behind. We are about two-thirds through January and December was skipped, so it must be happening soon. When 9879 was released, Microsoft said that it would be the last build of 2014 and that “We'll have something new to share with you early in 2015”. Whatever that is (or those things are) will probably be discussed at the event, which means that the build is probably not too far behind it.

DirectX 12

When the graphics API was announced, they specifically said the following (see our recap for the second slide that was posted at 10:48am PST):

  • Targeting Holiday 2015 games
  • Preview release coming later this year
  • Don't want to wait that long? Early access!


The preview release later in 2014 did not happen, but the early access did. As such, I am guessing that the date slipped to either the next Windows 10 build, or maybe a build or two after. Whenever it happens specifically, I am guessing that it will be mentioned at this event and available for developers soon (and not just a hand-picked group of Early Access members). Sure, it could wait until Build 2015 in April, but the original slide sounds like they were targeting the end of 2014.

Also, the DirectX 12 Twitter Account just retweeted the live stream and Phil Spencer will be there.

'Spartan' Browser (Maybe with DirectX 12 Support?)

Speaking of DirectX 12, its goal is to utilize GPU shader cores as efficiently as possible, reducing the time it holds up the CPU and balancing its load across multiple cores. This leads to power efficiency and the ability to load many more tasks on the GPU.


Image Credit: cnBeta.com via TheVerge

These are all things that a web browser vendor would love! Web standards are inherently difficult to multi-thread, because they are designed as sets of stages which build upon other stages. DirectX 12 could probably help immensely, at least with the drawing stage. Web content tends to be fairly simple, but there can be a lot of it, especially for complex Canvas animations (and especially for mobile devices).

It was also recently rumored that Trident, the rendering engine behind Internet Explorer and the not-quite-confirmed Spartan browser, was forked into two maintained versions. The expectation is that this was for compatibility reasons, where the new version can be developed to W3C (and other) standards without worrying about legacy, Internet Explorer-based compatibility cruft. If porting a DirectX 11 applications to DirectX 12 will be annoying, I can see why Microsoft chose to draw the compatibility line just behind that initiative. And honestly, how many people care about rendering, power, and multi-core performance increases for IE8-designed, and therefore desktop-based, web applications?

Continuum, Cortana, and Other Changes


Again, this is what Microsoft considers a Consumer event. As such, it would make sense for them to describe an ideal consumer device, which probably includes two-in-ones. Cortana should also be discussed as well, which is intended to bring value to the users and probably lead them to Bing services. Leaks have also suggested that they are preparing a dark theme.

Am I right? We'll see tomorrow.

Source: Microsoft

DirectX 12 Shipping with Windows 10

Subject: Graphics Cards | October 3, 2014 - 03:18 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, DirectX, DirectX 12, windows 10, threshold, windows

A Microsoft blog posting confirms: "The final version of Windows 10 will ship with DirectX 12". To me, this seems like a fairly obvious statement. The loose dates provided for both the OS and the availability of retail games suggest that the two would be launching at roughly the same time. The article also claims that DirectX 12 "Early Access" members will be able to develop with the Windows 10 Technical Preview. Apart from Unreal Engine 4 (for Epic Games subscribers), Intel will also provide source access to their Asteroids demo, shown at Siggraph 2014, to all accepted early access developers.


Our readers might find this information slightly disappointing as it could be interpreted that DirectX 12 would not be coming to Windows 7 (or even 8.x). While it does not look as hopeful as before, they never, at any point, explicitly say that it will not come to older operating systems. It still might.

Source: Microsoft

Developer's View on DirectX 12 Alongside Maxwell Launch

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | September 20, 2014 - 12:06 PM |
Tagged: unreal engine 4, nvidia, microsoft, maxwell, DirectX 12, DirectX

Microsoft and NVIDIA has decided to release some information about DirectX 12 (and DirectX 11.3) alongside the launch of the Maxwell-based GeForce GTX 980 and GeForce GTX 970 graphics cards. Mostly, they announced that Microsoft teamed up with Epic Games to bring DirectX 12 to Unreal Engine 4. They currently have two demos, Elemental and Infiltrator, that are up and running with DirectX 12.


Moreover, they have provided a form for developers who are interested in "early access" to apply for it. They continually discuss it in terms of Unreal Engine 4, but they do not explicitly say that other developers cannot apply. UE4 subscribers will get access to the Elemental demo in DX12, but it does not look like Infiltrator will be available.

DirectX 12 is expected to target games for Holiday 2015.

Source: Microsoft

Intel and Microsoft Show DirectX 12 Demo and Benchmark

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | August 13, 2014 - 09:55 PM |
Tagged: siggraph 2014, Siggraph, microsoft, Intel, DirectX 12, directx 11, DirectX

Along with GDC Europe and Gamescom, Siggraph 2014 is going on in Vancouver, BC. At it, Intel had a DirectX 12 demo at their booth. This scene, containing 50,000 asteroids, each in its own draw call, was developed on both Direct3D 11 and Direct3D 12 code paths and could apparently be switched while the demo is running. Intel claims to have measured both power as well as frame rate.


Variable power to hit a desired frame rate, DX11 and DX12.

The test system is a Surface Pro 3 with an Intel HD 4400 GPU. Doing a bit of digging, this would make it the i5-based Surface Pro 3. Removing another shovel-load of mystery, this would be the Intel Core i5-4300U with two cores, four threads, 1.9 GHz base clock, up-to 2.9 GHz turbo clock, 3MB of cache, and (of course) based on the Haswell architecture.

While not top-of-the-line, it is also not bottom-of-the-barrel. It is a respectable CPU.

Intel's demo on this processor shows a significant power reduction in the CPU, and even a slight decrease in GPU power, for the same target frame rate. If power was not throttled, Intel's demo goes from 19 FPS all the way up to a playable 33 FPS.

Intel will discuss more during a video interview, tomorrow (Thursday) at 5pm EDT.


Maximum power in DirectX 11 mode.

For my contribution to the story, I would like to address the first comment on the MSDN article. It claims that this is just an "ideal scenario" of a scene that is bottlenecked by draw calls. The thing is: that is the point. Sure, a game developer could optimize the scene to (maybe) instance objects together, and so forth, but that is unnecessary work. Why should programmers, or worse, artists, need to spend so much of their time developing art so that it could be batch together into fewer, bigger commands? Would it not be much easier, and all-around better, if the content could be developed as it most naturally comes together?

That, of course, depends on how much performance improvement we will see from DirectX 12, compared to theoretical max efficiency. If pushing two workloads through a DX12 GPU takes about the same time as pushing one, double-sized workload, then it allows developers to, literally, perform whatever solution is most direct.


Maximum power when switching to DirectX 12 mode.

If, on the other hand, pushing two workloads is 1000x slower than pushing a single, double-sized one, but DirectX 11 was 10,000x slower, then it could be less relevant because developers will still need to do their tricks in those situations. The closer it gets, the fewer occasions that strict optimization is necessary.

If there are any DirectX 11 game developers, artists, and producers out there, we would like to hear from you. How much would a (let's say) 90% reduction in draw call latency (which is around what Mantle claims) give you, in terms of fewer required optimizations? Can you afford to solve problems "the naive way" now? Some of the time? Most of the time? Would it still be worth it to do things like object instancing and fewer, larger materials and shaders? How often?