Subject: Graphics Cards | May 3, 2018 - 08:41 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, graphics drivers
The previous set of drivers, version 397.31 that was released last week, had a few bugs in them… so NVIDIA has released a hotfix (397.55) to address the issues (without waiting for the next “Game Ready” date). Of course, these drivers also went through a reduced QA process, so they should be avoided unless one of the problems affect you.
And the fixed bugs are:
- Device Manager may report Code 43 on certain GTX 1060 models
- Netflix playback may occasionally stutter
- Added support for Microsoft Surface Book notebooks
- Driver may get removed after PC has been idle for extended periods of time
The last issue manifests in a couple of different forms. The forum page specifically mentions Windows 10, although users with Windows 7 and Windows 8 could also be affected by the bug, just with different symptoms. I experienced it, and for me (on Windows 10) it was just a matter of force-quitting all processes prefixed with “nv” in task manager. My symptoms were that GeForce Experience would attempt to re-download the drivers and StarCraft II would fail to launch. If you’re experiencing similar issues, then you’ll probably want to give this driver a shot.
You can download it from their CustHelp page.
Subject: Graphics Cards | April 25, 2018 - 08:27 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, graphics drivers, rtx, Volta
It’s quite the jump in version number from 391.35 to 397.31, but NVIDIA has just released a new graphics driver. Interestingly, it is “Game Ready” tied to the Battletech, which I have been looking forward to, but I was always under the impression that no-one else was. Apparently not.
As for its new features? The highlight is a developer preview of NVIDIA RTX Technology. This requires a Volta GPU, which currently means Titan V unless your team was seeded something that doesn’t necessarily exist, as well as 396.xx+ drivers, the new Windows 10 update, and Microsoft DXR developer package. Speaking of which, I’m wondering how much of the version number bump could be attributed to RTX being on the 396.xx branch. Even then, it still feels like a branch or two never left NVIDIA’s dev team. Hmm.
Moving on, the driver also conforms with the Vulkan 1.1 test suite (version 126.96.36.199). If you remember back from early March, the Khronos Group released the new standard, which integrated a bunch of features into core, and brought Subgroup Operations into the mix. This could allow future shaders to perform quicker by being compiled with new intrinsic functions.
Also – the standalone installer will apparently clean up after itself better than it used to. Often I can find a few gigabytes of old NVIDIA folders when I’m looking for space to save, so it’s good for NVIDIA to finally address at least some of that.
Pick up the new drivers on NVIDIA’s website or through GeForce Experience.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors | April 9, 2018 - 04:25 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: Vega, Polaris, kaby lake-g, Intel, amd
Over the weekend, some interesting information has surfaced surrounding the new Kaby Lake-G hardware from Intel. A product that is officially called the “8th Generation Intel Core Processors with Radeon RX Vega M Graphics” is now looking like it might be more of a Polaris-based GPU than a Vega-based one. This creates an interesting marketing and technology capability discussion for the community, and both Intel and AMD, that is worth diving into.
PCWorld first posted the question this weekend, using some interesting data points as backup that Kaby Lake-G may in fact be based on Polaris. In Gordon’s story he notes that in AIDA64 the GPU is identified as “Polaris 22” while the Raven Ridge-based APUs from AMD show up as “Raven Ridge.” Obviously the device identification of a third party piece of software is a suspect credential in any situation, but the second point provided is more salient: based on the DXDiag information, the GPU on the Hades Canyon NUC powered by Kaby Lake-G does not support DirectX 12.1.
Image source: PCWorld
AMD clearly stated in its launch of the Vega architecture last year that the new GPUs supported DX 12.1, among other features. The fact that the KBL-G part does NOT include support for it is compelling evidence that the GPU might be more similar to Polaris than Vega.
Tom’s Hardware did some more digging that was posted this morning, using a SiSoft Sandra test that can measure performance of FP16 math and FP32. For both the Radeon RX Vega 64 and 56 discrete graphics cards, running the test with FP16 math results in a score that is 65% faster than the FP32 results. With a Polaris-based graphics card, an RX 470, the scores between FP32 and FP16 were identical as the architecture can support FP16 math functions but doesn’t accelerate it with AMD’s “rapid packed math” feature (that was a part of the Vega launch).
Image source: Tom's Hardware
And you guessed it, the Kaby Lake-G part only runs essentially even in the FP16 mode. (Also note that AMD’s Raven Ridge APU that integrated Vega graphics does get accelerated by 61% using FP16.)
What Kaby Lake-G does have that leans toward Vega is support for HBM2 memory (which none of the Polaris cards have) and “high bandwidth memory cache controller and enhanced compute units with additional ROPs” according to the statement from Intel given to Tom’s Hardware.
It should be noted that just because the benchmarks and games that can support rapid packed math don’t take advantage of that capability today, does not mean they won’t have the capability to do so after a driver or firmware update. That being said, if that’s the plan, and even if it’s not, Intel should come out and tell the consumers and media.
The debate and accusations of conspiracy are running rampant again today with this news. Is Intel trying to pull one over on us by telling the community that this is a Vega-based product when it is in fact based on Polaris? Why would AMD allow and promote the Vega branding with a part that it knows didn’t meet the standards it created to be called a Vega architecture solution?
Another interesting thought comes when analyzing this debate with the Ryzen 7 2400G and Ryzen 5 2200G products, both of which claim to use Vega GPUs as a portion of the APU. However, without support for HBM2 or the high-bandwidth cache controller, does that somehow shortchange the branding for it? Or are the memory features of the GPU considered secondary to its design?
This is the very reason why companies hate labels, hate specifications, and hate having all of this tracked by a competent and technical media. Basically every company in the tech industry is guilty of this practice: Intel has 2-3 architectures running as “8th Generation” in the market, AMD is selling RX 500 cards that were once RX 400 cards, and NVIDIA has changed performance capabilities of the MX 150 at least once or twice.
The nature of semi-custom chips designs is that they are custom. Are the GPUs used in the PS4 and Xbox One or Xbox One X called Polaris, Vega, or something else? It would be safer for AMD and its partners to give each new product its own name, its own brand—but then the enthusiasts would want to know what it was most like, and how did it compare to Polaris, or Vega, etc.? It’s also possible that AMD was only willing to sell this product to Intel if it included some of these feature restrictions. In complicated negotiations like this one surely was, anything is feasible.
These are tough choices for companies to make. AMD loves having the Vega branding in more products as it gives weight to the development cost and time it spent on the design. Having Vega associated with more high-end consumer products, including those sold by Intel, give them leverage for other products down the road. From Intel’s vantage point using the Vega brand makes it looks like it has the very latest technology in its new processor and it can benefit from any cross-promotion that occurs around the Vega brand from AMD or its partners.
Unfortunately, it means that the devil is in the details, and the details are something that no one appears to be willing to share. Does it change the performance we saw in our recent Hades Canyon NUC review or our perspective on it as a product? It does not. But as features like Rapid Packed Math or the new geometry shader accelerate in adoption, the capability for Kaby Lake-G to utilize them is going to be scrutinized more heavily.
Subject: Graphics Cards | April 2, 2018 - 02:36 PM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: cryptocurrency, graphics cards
It has been a while since the Hardware Leaderboard has been updated as it is incredibly depressing to try to price out a new GPU, for obvious reasons. TechSpot have taken an interesting approach to dealing with the crypto-blues, they have just benchmarked 44 older GPUs on current games to see how well they fare. The cards range from the GTX 560 and HD7770 through to current model cards which are available to purchase used from sites such as eBay. Buying a used card brings the price down to somewhat reasonable levels, though you do run the risk of getting a dead or dying card. With interesting metrics such as price per frame, this is a great resource if you find yourself in desperate need of a GPU in the current market. Check it out here.
"Along with our recent editorials on why it's a bad time to build a gaming PC, we've been revisiting some older GPUs to see how they hold up in today's games. But how do you know how much you should be paying for a secondhand graphics card?"
Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:
- NVIDIA TITAN V @ [H]ard|OCP
- NVIDIA VOLTA's TITAN V DX12 Performance Efficiency @ [H]ard|OCP
- ZOTAC MEK1 Gaming PC (GTX 1070 Ti) @ TechPowerUp
- Revisiting the GeForce GTX 680: Nvidia's 2012 Flagship Graphics Card @ TechSpot
- Windows 10 vs. Ubuntu Linux With Radeon / GeForce GPUs On The Latest 2018 Drivers @ Phoronix
- Sapphire NITRO+ Radeon RX Vega 64 Limited Edition @ Modders-Inc
- Revisiting the Radeon R9 280X / HD 7970 @ TechSpot
Subject: Graphics Cards | March 29, 2018 - 09:52 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, GTC, gp102, quadro p6000
At GTC 2018, Walt Disney Imagineering unveiled a work-in-progress clip of their upcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction, which is expected to launch next year at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort. The cool part about this ride is that it will be using Unreal Engine 4 with eight, GP102-based Quadro P6000 graphics cards. NVIDIA also reports that Disney has donated the code back to Epic Games to help them with their multi-GPU scaling in general – a win for us consumers… in a more limited fashion.
See? SLI doesn’t need to be limited to two cards if you have a market cap of $100 billion USD.
Another interesting angle to this story is how typical PC components are contributing to these large experiences. Sure, Quadro hardware isn’t exactly cheap, but it can be purchased through typical retail channels and it allows the company to focus their engineering time elsewhere.
Ironically, this also comes about two decades after location-based entertainment started to decline… but, you know, it’s Disneyland and Disney World. They’re fine.
Subject: Graphics Cards | March 29, 2018 - 05:45 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: RX 580, RX 570, RX 560, RX 550, Polaris, mining, asrock, amd
ASRock, a company known mostly for its motherboards that was formerly an Asus sub-brand but is now an independent company owned by Pegatron since 2010 is now getting into the graphics card market with a new Phantom Gaming series. At launch, the Phantom Gaming series is comprised of four AMD Polaris-based graphics cards including the Phantom Gaming RX 550 2G and RX 560 2G on the low end and the Phantom Gaming X RX 570 8G OC and RX 580 8G OC on the mid/high end range.
ASRock is using black shrouds with white accents and silver and red logos. The lower end Phantom Gaming cards utilize a single dual ball bearing fan while the Phantom Gaming X cards use a dual fan configuration. ASRock is using copper baseplates paired with aluminum heatsinks and composite heatpipes. The Phantom Gaming RX 550 and RX 560 cards use only PCI-E slot power while the Phantom Gaming X RX 570 and RX 580 cards get power from both the slot and a single 8-pin PCI-E power connector.
Video outputs include one HDMI 2.0, one DisplayPort 1.4, and one DL-DVI-D on the Phantom Gaming parts and one HDMI 2.0, three DisplayPort 1.4, and one DL-DVI-D on the higher-end Phantom Gaming X graphics cards. All of the graphics card models feature both silent and overclocked modes in addition to their out-of-the-box default clocks depending on whether you value performance or noise. Users can select which mode they want or perform a custom overclock or fan curve using ASRock's Phantom Gaming Tweak utility.
On the performance front, out of the box ASRock is slightly overclocking the Phantom Gaming X OC cards (the RX 570 and RX 580 based ones) and slightly underclocking the lower end Phantom Gaming cards (including the memory which is downclocked to 6 GHz) compared to their AMD reference specifications.
|ASRock RX 580 OC||RX 580||ASRock RX 570 OC||RX 570||ASRock RX 560||RX 560||ASRock RX 550||RX 550|
|GPU Clock (MHz)||1380||1340||1280||1244||1149||1275||1100||1183|
|GPU Clock OC Mode (MHz)||1435||-||1331||-||1194||-||1144||-|
|Memory Clock (GHz)||8GHz||8GHz||7GHz||7GHz||6GHz||7GHz||6GHz||7GHz|
|Memory Clock OC Mode (MHz)||8320||-||7280||-||6240||-||6240||-|
The table above shows the comparisons between the ASRock graphics cards and their AMD reference card counterparts. Note that the Phantom Gaming RX 560 2G is based on the cut-down 14 CU (compute unit) model rather than the launch 16 CU GPU. Also, even in OC Mode, ASRock does not bring the memory up to the 7 GT/s reference spec. On the positive side, turning on OC mode does give a decent factory overclock of the GPU over reference. Also nice to see is that on the higher end "OC Certified" Phantom Gaming X cards, ASRock overclocks both the GPU and memory speeds which is often not the case with factory overclocks.
ASRock did not detail pricing with any of the launch announcement cards, but they should be coming soon with 4GB models of the RX 560 an RX 550 to follow later this year.
It is always nice to have more competition in this space and hopefully a new AIB partner for AMD helps alleviate shortages and demand for gaming cards if only by a bit. I am curious how well the cards will perform as while they look good on paper the company is new to graphics cards and the build quality really needs to be there. I am just hoping that the Phantom Gaming moniker is not an allusion to how hard these cards are going to be to find for gaming! (heh) If the rumored Ethereum ASICs do not kill the demand for AMD GPUs I do expect that ASRock will also be releasing mining specific cards as well at some point.
What are your thoughts on the news of ASRock moving into graphics cards?
Announced at Intel's Developer Forum in 2012, and launched later that year, the Next Unit of Computing (NUC) project was initially a bit confusing to the enthusiast PC press. In a market that appeared to be discarding traditional desktops in favor of notebooks, it seemed a bit odd to launch a product that still depended on a monitor, mouse, and keyboard, yet didn't provide any more computing power.
Despite this criticism, the NUC lineup has rapidly expanded over the years, seeing success in areas such as digital signage and enterprise environments. However, the enthusiast PC market has mostly eluded the lure of the NUC.
Intel's Skylake-based Skull Canyon NUC was the company's first attempt to cater to the enthusiast market, with a slight stray from the traditional 4-in x 4-in form factor and the adoption of their best-ever integrated graphics solution in the Iris Pro. Additionally, the ability to connect external GPUs via Thunderbolt 3 meant Skull Canyon offered more of a focus on high-end PC graphics.
However, Skull Canyon mostly fell on deaf ears among hardcore PC users, and it seemed that Intel lacked the proper solution to make a "gaming-focused" NUC device—until now.
Announced at CES 2018, the lengthily named 8th Gen Intel® Core™ processors With Radeon™ RX Vega M Graphics (henceforth referred to as the code name, Kaby Lake-G) marks a new direction for Intel. By partnering with one of the leaders in high-end PC graphics, AMD, Intel can now pair their processors with graphics capable of playing modern games at high resolutions and frame rates.
The first product to launch using the new Kaby Lake-G family of processors is Intel's own NUC, the NUC8i7HVK (Hades Canyon). Will the marriage of Intel and AMD finally provide a NUC capable of at least moderate gaming? Let's dig a bit deeper and find out.
Subject: Graphics Cards | March 21, 2018 - 09:37 PM | Ken Addison
Tagged: GDC, GDC 2018, nvidia, geforce experience, ansel, nvidia highlights, call of duty wwii, fortnite, pubg, tekken 7
Building upon the momentum of being included in the two most popular PC games in the world, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite, NVIDIA Highlights (previously known as ShadowPlay Highlights) is expanding to even more titles. Support for Call of Duty: WWII and Tekken 7 are available now, with Dying Light: Bad Blood and Escape from Tarkov coming soon.
For those unfamiliar with NVIDIA Highlights, it’s a feature that when integrated into a game, allows for the triggering of automatic screen recording when specific events happen. For example, think of the kill cam in Call of Duty. When enabled, Highlights will save a recording whenever the kill cam is triggered, allowing you to share exciting gameplay moments without having to think about it.
Animated GIF support has also been added to NVIDIA Highlights, allowing users to share shorter clips to platforms including Facebook, Google Photos, or Weibo.
In addition to supporting more games and formats, NVIDIA has also released the NVIDIA Highlights SDK, as well as plugins for Unreal Engine and Unity platforms. Previously, NVIDIA was working with developers to integrate Highlights into their games, but now developers will have the ability to add the support themselves.
Hopefully, these changes mean a quicker influx more titles with Highlights support, compared to the 16 currently supported titles.
In addition to enhancements in Highlights, NVIDIA has also launched a new sharing site for screen captures performed with the Ansel in-game photography tool.
The new ShotWithGeforce.com lets users upload and share their captures from any Ansel supported game.
Screenshots uploaded to Shot With GeForce are tagged with the specific game the capture is from, making it easy for users to scroll through all of the uploaded captures from a given title.
O Rayly? Ya Rayly. No Ray!
Microsoft has just announced a raytracing extension to DirectX 12, called DirectX Raytracing (DXR), at the 2018 Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco.
The goal is not to completely replace rasterization… at least not yet. This effect will be mostly implemented for effects that require supplementary datasets, such as reflections, ambient occlusion, and refraction. Rasterization, the typical way that 3D geometry gets drawn on a 2D display, converts triangle coordinates into screen coordinates, and then a point-in-triangle test runs across every sample. This will likely occur once per AA sample (minus pixels that the triangle can’t possibly cover -- such as a pixel outside of the triangle's bounding box -- but that's just optimization).
For rasterization, each triangle is laid on a 2D grid corresponding to the draw surface.
If any sample is in the triangle, the pixel shader is run.
This example shows the rotated grid MSAA case.
A program, called a pixel shader, is then run with some set of data that the GPU could gather on every valid pixel in the triangle. This set of data typically includes things like world coordinate, screen coordinate, texture coordinates, nearby vertices, and so forth. This lacks a lot of information, especially things that are not visible to the camera. The application is free to provide other sources of data for the shader to crawl… but what?
- Cubemaps are useful for reflections, but they don’t necessarily match the scene.
- Voxels are useful for lighting, as seen with NVIDIA’s VXGI and VXAO.
This is where DirectX Raytracing comes in. There’s quite a few components to it, but it’s basically a new pipeline that handles how rays are cast into the environment. After being queued, it starts out with a ray-generation stage, and then, depending on what happens to the ray in the scene, there are close-hit, any-hit, and miss shaders. Ray generation allows the developer to set up how the rays are cast, where they call an HLSL instrinsic instruction, TraceRay (which is a clever way of invoking them, by the way). This function takes an origin and a direction, so you can choose to, for example, cast rays only in the direction of lights if your algorithm was to, for instance, approximate partially occluded soft shadows from a non-point light. (There are better algorithms to do that, but it's just the first example that came off the top of my head.) The close-hit, any-hit, and miss shaders occur at the point where the traced ray ends.
To connect this with current technology, imagine that ray-generation is like a vertex shader in rasterization, where it sets up the triangle to be rasterized, leading to pixel shaders being called.
Even more interesting – the close-hit, any-hit, and miss shaders can call TraceRay themselves, which is used for multi-bounce and other recursive algorithms (see: figure above). The obvious use case might be reflections, which is the headline of the GDC talk, but they want it to be as general as possible, aligning with the evolution of GPUs. Looking at NVIDIA’s VXAO implementation, it also seems like a natural fit for a raytracing algorithm.
Speaking of data structures, Microsoft also detailed what they call the acceleration structure. Each object is composed of two levels. The top level contains per-object metadata, like its transformation and whatever else data that the developer wants to add to it. The bottom level contains the geometry. The briefing states, “essentially vertex and index buffers” so we asked for clarification. DXR requires that triangle geometry be specified as vertex positions in either 32-bit float3 or 16-bit float3 values. There is also a stride property, so developers can tweak data alignment and use their rasterization vertex buffer, as long as it's HLSL float3, either 16-bit or 32-bit.
As for the tools to develop this in…
Microsoft announced PIX back in January 2017. This is a debugging and performance analyzer for 64-bit, DirectX 12 applications. Microsoft will upgrade it to support DXR as soon as the API is released (specifically, “Day 1”). This includes the API calls, the raytracing pipeline resources, the acceleration structure, and so forth. As usual, you can expect Microsoft to support their APIs with quite decent – not perfect, but decent – documentation and tools. They do it well, and they want to make sure it’s available when the API is.
Example of DXR via EA's in-development SEED engine.
In short, raytracing is here, but it’s not taking over rasterization. It doesn’t need to. Microsoft is just giving game developers another, standardized mechanism to gather supplementary data for their games. Several game engines have already announced support for this technology, including the usual suspects of anything top-tier game technology:
- Frostbite (EA/DICE)
- SEED (EA)
- 3DMark (Futuremark)
- Unreal Engine 4 (Epic Games)
- Unity Engine (Unity Technologies)
They also said, “and several others we can’t disclose yet”, so this list is not even complete. But, yeah, if you have Frostbite, Unreal Engine, and Unity, then you have a sizeable market as it is. There is always a question about how much each of these engines will support the technology. Currently, raytracing is not portable outside of DirectX 12, because it’s literally being announced today, and each of these engines intend to support more than just Windows 10 and Xbox.
Still, we finally have a standard for raytracing, which should drive vendors to optimize in a specific direction. From there, it's just a matter of someone taking the risk to actually use the technology for a cool work of art.
If you want to read more, check out Ryan's post about the also-announced RTX, NVIDIA's raytracing technology.
It's all fun and games until something something AI.
Microsoft announced the Windows Machine Learning (WinML) API about two weeks ago, but they did so in a sort-of abstract context. This week, alongside the 2018 Game Developers Conference, they are grounding it in a practical application: video games!
Specifically, the API provides the mechanisms for game developers to run inference on the target machine. The training data that it runs against would be in the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX) format from Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon. Like the initial announcement suggests, it can be used for any application, not just games, but… you know. If you want to get a technology off the ground, and it requires a high-end GPU, then video game enthusiasts are good lead users. When run in a DirectX application, WinML kernels are queued on the DirectX 12 compute queue.
We’ve discussed the concept before. When you’re rendering a video game, simulating an accurate scenario isn’t your goal – the goal is to look like you are. The direct way of looking like you’re doing something is to do it. The problem is that some effects are too slow (or, sometimes, too complicated) to correctly simulate. In these cases, it might be viable to make a deep-learning AI hallucinate a convincing result, even though no actual simulation took place.
Fluid dynamics, global illumination, and up-scaling are three examples.
Previously mentioned SIGGRAPH demo of fluid simulation without fluid simulation...
... just a trained AI hallucinating a scene based on input parameters.
Another place where AI could be useful is… well… AI. One way of making AI is to give it some set of data from the game environment, often including information that a player in its position would not be able to know, and having it run against a branching logic tree. Deep learning, on the other hand, can train itself on billions of examples of good and bad play, and make results based on input parameters. While the two methods do not sound that different, the difference between logic being designed (vs logic being assembled from an abstract good/bad dataset) someone abstracts the potential for assumptions and programmer error. Of course, it abstracts that potential for error into the training dataset, but that’s a whole other discussion.
The third area that AI could be useful is when you’re creating the game itself.
There’s a lot of grunt and grind work when developing a video game. Licensing prefab solutions (or commissioning someone to do a one-off asset for you) helps ease this burden, but that gets expensive in terms of both time and money. If some of those assets could be created by giving parameters to a deep-learning AI, then those are assets that you would not need to make, allowing you to focus on other assets and how they all fit together.
These are three of the use cases that Microsoft is aiming WinML at.
Sure, these are smooth curves of large details, but the antialiasing pattern looks almost perfect.
For instance, Microsoft is pointing to an NVIDIA demo where they up-sample a photo of a car, once with bilinear filtering and once with a machine learning algorithm (although not WinML-based). The bilinear algorithm behaves exactly as someone who has used Photoshop would expect. The machine learning algorithm, however, was able to identify the objects that the image intended to represent, and it drew the edges that it thought made sense.
Like their DirectX Raytracing (DXR) announcement, Microsoft plans to have PIX support WinML “on Day 1”. As for partners? They are currently working with Unity Technologies to provide WinML support in Unity’s ML-Agents plug-in. That’s all the game industry partners they have announced at the moment, though. It’ll be interesting to see who jumps in and who doesn’t over the next couple of years.