Subject: Graphics Cards, Processors, Mobile, Shows and Expos | August 10, 2015 - 09:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: vulkan, spir, siggraph 2015, Siggraph, opengl sc, OpenGL ES, opengl, opencl, Khronos
When the Khronos Group announced Vulkan at GDC, they mentioned that the API is coming this year, and that this date is intended to under promise and over deliver. Recently, fans were hoping that it would be published at SIGGRAPH, which officially begun yesterday. Unfortunately, Vulkan has not released. It does hold a significant chunk of the news, however. Also, it's not like DirectX 12 is holding a commanding lead at the moment. The headers were public only for a few months, and the code samples are less than two weeks old.
The organization made announcements for six products today: OpenGL, OpenGL ES, OpenGL SC, OpenCL, SPIR, and, as mentioned, Vulkan. They wanted to make their commitment clear, to all of their standards. Vulkan is urgent, but some developers will still want the framework of OpenGL. Bind what you need to the context, then issue a draw and, if you do it wrong, the driver will often clean up the mess for you anyway. The briefing was structure to be evident that it is still in their mind, which is likely why they made sure three OpenGL logos greeted me in their slide deck as early as possible. They are also taking and closely examining feedback about who wants to use Vulkan or OpenGL, and why.
As for Vulkan, confirmed platforms have been announced. Vendors have committed to drivers on Windows 7, 8, 10, Linux, including Steam OS, and Tizen (OSX and iOS are absent, though). Beyond all of that, Google will accept Vulkan on Android. This is a big deal, as Google, despite its open nature, has been avoiding several Khronos Group standards. For instance, Nexus phones and tablets do not have OpenCL drivers, although Google isn't stopping third parties from rolling it into their devices, like Samsung and NVIDIA. Direct support of Vulkan should help cross-platform development as well as, and more importantly, target the multi-core, relatively slow threaded processors of those devices. This could even be of significant use for web browsers, especially in sites with a lot of simple 2D effects. Google is also contributing support from their drawElements Quality Program (dEQP), which is a conformance test suite that they bought back in 2014. They are going to expand it to Vulkan, so that developers will have more consistency between devices -- a big win for Android.
While we're not done with Vulkan, one of the biggest announcements is OpenGL ES 3.2 and it fits here nicely. At around the time that OpenGL ES 3.1 brought Compute Shaders to the embedded platform, Google launched the Android Extension Pack (AEP). This absorbed OpenGL ES 3.1 and added Tessellation, Geometry Shaders, and ASTC texture compression to it. It was also more tension between Google and cross-platform developers, feeling like Google was trying to pull its developers away from Khronos Group. Today, OpenGL ES 3.2 was announced and includes each of the AEP features, plus a few more (like “enhanced” blending). Better yet, Google will support it directly.
Next up are the desktop standards, before we finish with a resurrected embedded standard.
OpenGL has a few new extensions added. One interesting one is the ability to assign locations to multi-samples within a pixel. There is a whole list of sub-pixel layouts, such as rotated grid and Poisson disc. Apparently this extension allows developers to choose it, as certain algorithms work better or worse for certain geometries and structures. There were probably vendor-specific extensions for a while, but now it's a ratified one. Another extension allows “streamlined sparse textures”, which helps manage data where the number of unpopulated entries outweighs the number of populated ones.
OpenCL 2.0 was given a refresh, too. It contains a few bug fixes and clarifications that will help it be adopted. C++ headers were also released, although I cannot comment much on it. I do not know the state that OpenCL 2.0 was in before now.
And this is when we make our way back to Vulkan.
SPIR-V, the code that runs on the GPU (or other offloading device, including the other cores of a CPU) in OpenCL and Vulkan is seeing a lot of community support. Projects are under way to allow developers to write GPU code in several interesting languages: Python, .NET (C#), Rust, Haskell, and many more. The slide lists nine that Khronos Group knows about, but those four are pretty interesting. Again, this is saying that you can write code in the aforementioned languages and have it run directly on a GPU. Curiously missing is HLSL, and the President of Khronos Group agreed that it would be a useful language. The ability to cross-compile HLSL into SPIR-V means that shader code written for DirectX 9, 10, 11, and 12 could be compiled for Vulkan. He expects that it won't take long for a project to start, and might already be happening somewhere outside his Google abilities. Regardless, those who are afraid to program in the C-like GLSL and HLSL shading languages might find C# and Python to be a bit more their speed, and they seem to be happening through SPIR-V.
As mentioned, we'll end on something completely different.
For several years, the OpenGL SC has been on hiatus. This group defines standards for graphics (and soon GPU compute) in “safety critical” applications. For the longest time, this meant aircraft. The dozens of planes (which I assume meant dozens of models of planes) that adopted this technology were fine with a fixed-function pipeline. It has been about ten years since OpenGL SC 1.0 launched, which was based on OpenGL ES 1.0. SC 2.0 is planned to launch in 2016, which will be based on the much more modern OpenGL ES 2 and ES 3 APIs that allow pixel and vertex shaders. The Khronos Group is asking for participation to direct SC 2.0, as well as a future graphics and compute API that is potentially based on Vulkan.
The devices that this platform intends to target are: aircraft (again), automobiles, drones, and robots. There are a lot of ways that GPUs can help these devices, but they need a good API to certify against. It needs to withstand more than an Ouya, because crashes could be much more literal.
Subject: Shows and Expos | July 10, 2015 - 02:58 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: workshop, QuakeCon 2015, quakecon
Hey everyone, Ryan here. I have some bad news to report this week: the 2015 edition of the PC Perspective Hardware Workshop at Quakecon is canceled. I apologize for late announcement, but we were trying diligently to figure out a way to make it happen as expected. That just didn't happen.
My wife gave birth to our first child, a baby girl named Emmaline, on June 27th. However, her original due date was August 18th. Based on that original due date, we had planned to host and operate the workshop at the 20th Quakecon as we normally have. However, on June 9th, my wife was admitted to the hospital with pre-eclampsia and placed on full-time hospital bed rest until the birth of the baby. Every day that we could keep Emma safely inside mom meant a lot fewer complications with pre-term birth, so that was our focus.
Regardless of our intent to make it to August, Emma had other ideas and she was born at 3:51am on June 27th. She was immediately carted off in an incubator to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) where she has remained ever since. Expected "go home" dates vary from day to day, but as of last week it was getting pretty close to the dates of Quakecon.
As you might imagine, my heart belongs here at home, with my wife and baby, as we try to carefully coax her into health as a preemie of nearly 8 weeks. Planning and finalizing the workshop and traveling to Dallas for one of the most fun weekends of my year just isn't possible this time.
Emmaline apologizes for messing up the workshop this year!!
Things are looking good for us, so I don't want to paint a dire picture here. Emmaline is growing, is off oxygen and IV fluids and taking bottles like a champ!
I also want to be sure everyone knows that the entire Quakecon staff has been great with me on this, understanding my need to cancel last minute and offering all the support they could. It's great to have people that care and we have already been invited back for next year - and that's our plan!
So, I apologize to all the fans and gamers of the PC Perspective Workshop and Quakecon. Hopefully you all understand the circumstances this time around. Thanks to all the sponsors of our event as well for being cool with my change of plans. Have a blast at Quakecon everyone, I'll see you next year!
- Ryan Shrout
Subject: Shows and Expos | June 20, 2015 - 02:19 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: hitman, E3 2015, E3 15, E3
SquareEnix would apparently prefer to say “no DLC or microtransactions” when referring to free, post-launch, content updates. Personally, I think “free DLC” would be an acceptable name for their plans. However you want to brand it, the new Hitman will have content added for not additional cost. This was once a common practice for PC games, at a time when they had access to internet, consoles did not, and there was nothing like Steam or Xbox Live to facilitate microtransactions.
Some of the updates could deviate from what is considered “traditional DLC” though. For instance, they might push an update that adds or modifies an NPC to be a target, but just for a couple of days. Since Hitman has been one of the games that scores how effectively you can take down opponents, PC Gamer hopes that impromptu and time-limited missions will test players on skill and intuition, rather than manufacturing a calculated strategy. In fact, some will only occur once and you might not have more than a photo to go off of.
Hitman (no subtitle) is scheduled to launch on December 8th.
Subject: Shows and Expos | June 18, 2015 - 05:47 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: E3, E3 15, E3 2015, blizzard, Starcraft II, legacy of the void, whispers of oblivion
While StarCraft II is known for its multiplayer component, some of us are mostly interested in the campaign... and Arcade mods, but there's no news on that front. Legacy of the Void is the end of the StarCraft II trilogy, which is said to finally deal with the hybrids that were introduced in the secret missions of Brood War and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. They played a larger role in Heart of the Swarm's campaign although that did not even have unlockable missions, so they wouldn't exist otherwise.
StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void does not yet have a release date, but there will be a mini-campaign released for free before it launches. StarCraft II: Whispers of Oblivion (or is that StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void: Whispers of Oblivion?) are three single-player missions that will be released in July. Those who pre-purchase Legacy of the Void will get the missions first, which might mean that everyone else needs to wait until after July to play them... or not. That said, if you are patient, you do not even need to own StarCraft II at all. Free to all, but timed-exclusive for those who pre-order.
Subject: Shows and Expos | June 18, 2015 - 07:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, E3 2015, E3 15, E3
This has been a good E3 for the PC platform. We got our first keynote, organized by PC Gamer and AMD, which took the format in its own direction. This had basically the same reaction as putting Skittles in an M&Ms vending machine; they are good, but you'll see lots of weird faces on those who were expecting chocolate that melts in their mouths and not in their hands. It also ran long, celebrating the platform for almost two and a half hours, which is problematic for fans of console games who are very busy (and anyone with sub-phenomenal blood circulation or irritable bowels). Personally, I found it very interesting (while a bit long).
Throughout E3, PC Gamer has also kept a vast (but not as complete as they claim) list of titles at the event. Each entry in the slideshow (I know) format has a brief blurb about the game, its release date if available, and whether it is coming to the PC platform. It is updated as the event progresses, but it already has about forty entries. Of the current list, only four are not yet confirmed for the PC. That sounds pretty good, and a stark contrast from five-to-ten years ago.
These four are:
- The Last Guardian (no surprise)
- Fallout Shelter (iOS only)
- Rise of the Tomb Raider (which will probably make it to the PC at some point)
- Final Fantasy 7 Remake (which was twice a PC release already)
Unfortunately, they are missing many titles that would be excluded from the PC, so I will add to it here. Gears 4 has not been confirmed for the PC, although the developer is bringing the original Gears remake to the platform. Yup, we get the one Gears we already had (at least until Games for Windows Live had something to say about it). Uncharted 4, Ratchet and Clank, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Dreams are pretty safe bets against the PC. Microsoft has been extremely quiet about Halo 5 and its chances on the PC; ReCore and Rare Replay sounds like Xbox One exclusives, as in excluding the PC as well as the other consoles, as well. Then you add Nintendo, and this list blows up from 12, including my additions, to a much bigger number that I don't even want to figure out.
Still, it is interesting to browse through PC Gamer's slideshow and look at all the content that we will get. It has been a good year for the PC. Microsoft is pulling Windows 10 forward with equivalent effort to what they have spent dragging the mostly unprofitable Xbox division around. They know that gaming is an essential component of why people are locked in to Windows, and it has thrived even through the decade-plus of neglect and maltreatment. On the other side, we see Sony appreciating the PC as a profitable market that can exist alongside their PlayStation initiatives for Sony Online content, and they don't even have as much first-party developers as they used to anyway.
But yeah. Lots of games is good. While I've managed for the last couple years, I feel it's getting much easier to ignore the console exclusives. How about you?
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 17, 2015 - 10:24 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Steam Controller, microsoft, E3 2015, E3 15, E3, controller
And, of course, Xbox One... but I can assume who is the bulk of my audience.
Microsoft announced the Xbox One Elite Controller at E3, which includes support for Windows 10. This is part of their initiative to amend relations with the PC gaming industry. They seem to be going about it by focusing on the high-end gamer first. If not, then I wonder why they chose a $150 controller as a leading product.
At that price, you could literally purchase three Steam Controllers from Valve instead of a single one of these, but whether you should... depends. In all honesty, I might end up purchasing both and doing a comparison between them over a variety of games. Of course, my primary input device is the mouse and keyboard for most games, but I occasionally add an early model Xbox 360 wired controller to the mix for Saint's Row, Grand Theft Auto, NASCAR 2003, and a few other titles.
The real disappointment is its D-Pad, though. It just cannot reliably send a single direction without sometimes accidentally sending others. This gets worse in games that are styled in the “8-bit” and “16-bit” era. I actually need to play most of those on a keyboard, which is a terrible experience. Valve's implementation looks interesting with the cross-shaped thumbpad, but Microsoft's new version has options: an old-fashioned cross as well as a nine-sectioned cup, called a “faceted D-pad”.
That leads into the main design of Microsoft's controller: customization. Two switches on the back of the controller allow the range of trigger motion to be limited on the fly. This is designed for games like Grand Theft Auto, where the player wants precise control over throttle and brake, but would prefer to rapidly max-out the trigger as fast as possible when shooting a weapon. With this controller, you flip the switch when you leave the car and, what normally would be some fraction of its range, would be considered “bottoming out” and it would apparently even physically stop the trigger from pushing in further. According to the website, the threshold is user-customizable. I did not use it personally because I wasn't at E3.
Like Valve's controller, it has optional rear paddles near the grips. They are stainless steel apparently, and can be used to compensate for weird button combinations by mapping them to fingers that normally just clutch the device itself. In Valve's version, there is just two while Microsoft's allows for up to four. Microsoft also allows you to detach them, rather than just disable them.
This is when we get to software customization. Valve claims that the Steam Controller can be bound to many events across mouse, keyboard, and gamepad buttons and axises. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be keeping within the range of buttons found on a standard Xbox One controller. This is concerning to me because it means that extended inputs will be redundant, which is fine for an Xbox One game but could be annoying for a PC title that has many independent, simpler commands. This might be a limitation of XINPUT, which supposedly cannot address more than 10 buttons. I thought I remembered that limit being extended, but that seems to be true even in the MSDN documentation. Even still, the driver could address the extra functions as a secondary virtual device (keyboards, etc.) but Microsoft doesn't seem to want to. As a final note, Valve also allows the end of both triggers to be considered a clicky button, while Microsoft just recognizes it as a bottomed-out axis.
The Xbox One Elite Controller will ship in October for $149.99. A wireless adapter for the PC will not be required if you use the included USB Micro cable, but add that to the price if you want it wireless. Add batteries on top of that, because it takes AA. They include a pair of disposable AA, but that is obviously not a permanent solution.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 6, 2015 - 07:00 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: sound card, powercolor, devil hdx, computex
PowerColor is best known as an add-in board (AIB) partner of AMD who has also branched out into cases and power supplies. This year, they have introduced a new product category: sound cards. The PowerColor Devil HDX connects via PCIe and can take up one or two slots, depending on whether the user wants to install its included (!!) daughterboard with analog (4 x 3.5mm) surround outputs and a microphone input. Without the daughterboard, the card has a quarter-inch headphone jack, two analog RCA jacks for stereo, an RCA SPDIF output, and an optical SPDIF output. The main card is covered in a full EMF shield, because it's inside a computer.
The card includes switchable OP-AMPs, high quality capacitors, a Cmedia CM8888 audio processor, and a Wolfson WM8741 DAC. This configuration is capable of driving headphones with up to 600 Ohm impedance. The signal-to-noise ratio is a little better on the RCA jacks, because they're not amplified, but not by much. The RCA jacks are rated at 124 dB SNR, while the headphones are rated at 120 dB SNR with the supplied OP-AMPs. PowerColor wrote a driver interface, called “Xear”, which includes ASIO 2.2 support.
The PowerColor Devil HDX doesn't have a release date but Tom's Hardware, who spoke with the company, said it should be “over the coming months”. They also said it will retail for $159, which is apparently $50 less than their competition.
Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | June 2, 2015 - 11:47 PM | Allyn Malventano
Tagged: tlc, ssd, micron, flash, computex 2015, computex, 16nm
While 16nm TLC was initially promised Q4 of 2014, I believe Micron distracted themselves a little with their dabbles into Dynamic Write Acceleration technology. No doubt wanting to offer ever more cost effective SSDs to their portfolio, the new TLC 16nm flash will take up less die space for the same capacity, meaning more dies per 300mm wafer, ultimately translating to lower cost/GB of consumer SSDs.
Micron's 16nm (MLC) flash
The Crucial MX200 and BX100 SSDs have already been undercutting the competition in cost/GB, so the possibility of even lower cost SSDs is a more than welcome idea - just so long as they can keep the reliability of these parts high enough. IMFT has a very solid track record in this regard, so I don't suspect any surprises in that regard.
Full press blast appears after the break.
Subject: Storage, Shows and Expos | June 2, 2015 - 11:18 PM | Allyn Malventano
Tagged: Z-Drive 6300, Z-Drive 6000, Trion, ssd, pcie, OCZ Technology, ocz, NVMe, computex 2015, computex
OCZ is showing off some new goodies at Computex 2015 in the form of a completely new SSD model – the Trion:
The Trion is based on an in-house Toshiba ‘Alishan’ controller – the first internal design from that company. Since it is sourced from within Toshiba, the new SSD controller is to be tuned for consumer workloads and should employ lower power states than prior OCZ / Indilinx SSD controllers, as well as Toshiba’s own proprietary QSBC (Quadruple Swing-By Code) error correction technology, which should squeeze a bit more usable life out of the A19nm TLC flash. This is what QSBC looks like compared to competing BCH and LDPC technologies:
We suspect Toshiba dialed back the algorithm a bit for client usage, but it should still be far superior to BCH. We don’t have many more details as the Trion has not yet been officially launched, but we do have this shot of a round of benchmark results from a pre-production 960GB model:
From what we can see, it appears to be a good performer (by modern SATA 6Gb/sec SSD standards), but we naturally can't tell anything for sure until we get samples in for local testing, as we have no idea of the state of preconditioning of the Trion in those tests.
Also on display were the recently launched Z-Drive 6000 and 6300 Series parts:
These are OCZ’s enterprise-grade NVMe devices, available in 800GB, 1.6TB, and 3.2TB. The 6000 series is a 2.5” 15mm SFF-8639 device aimed at lighter workloads with a rating of 1 Drive Write Per Day (DWPD) over a 5-year period, while the 6300 series brings that figure up to 3 DWPD and offers an HHHL PCIe card as an optional form factor. The higher writes per day are facilitated by the move to A19nm eMLC flash.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on these new developments from OCZ and we are eager to get these in the shop for some thorough testing!
Press blast for the Trion and Z-Drive 6300 Series after the break!
A substantial upgrade for Thunderbolt
Today at Computex, Intel took the wraps off of the latest iteration of Thunderbolt, a technology that I am guessing many of you thought was dead in the water. It turns out that's not the case, and this new set of features that Thunderbolt 3 offers may in fact push it over the crest and give it the momentum needed to become a useable and widespread standard.
First, Thunderbolt 3 starts with a new piece of silicon, code named Alpine Ridge. Not only does Alpine Ridge increase the available Thunderbolt bandwidth to 40 Gbps but it also adds a native USB 3.1 host controller on the chip itself. And, as mobile users will be glad to see, Intel is going to start utilizing the new USB Type-C (USB-C) connector as the standard port rather than mini DisplayPort.
This new connector type, that was already a favorite among PC Perspective staff because of its size and its reversibility, will now be the way connectivity and speed increases this generation with Thunderbolt. This slide does a good job of summarizing the key take away from the TB3 announcement: 40 Gbps, support for two 4K 60 Hz displays, 100 watt (bi-directional) charging capability, 15 watt device power and support for four protocols including Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, USB and PCI Express.
Protocol support is important and Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C will be able to connect directly to a DisplayPort monitor, to an external USB 3.1 storage drive, an old thumb drive or a new Thunderbolt 3 docking station. This is truly unrivaled flexibility from a single connector. The USB 3.1 controller is backward compatible as well: feel free to connect any USB device to it that you can adapt to the Type-C connection.
From a raw performance perspective Thunderbolt 3 offers a total of 40 Gbps of bi-directional bandwidth, twice that of Thunderbolt 2 and 4x what we get with USB 3.1. That offers users the ability to combine many different devices, multiple displays and network connections and have plenty of headroom.
With Thunderbolt 3 you get twice as much raw video bandwidth, two DP 1.2 streams, allowing you to run not just a single 4K display at 60 Hz but two of them, all over a single TB3 cable. If you want to connect a 5K display though, you will be limited to just one of them.
For mobile users, which I think is the area where Thunderbolt 3 will be the most effective, the addition of USB 3.1 allows for charging capability up to 100 watts. This is in addition to the 15 watts of power that Thunderbolt provides to devices directly - think external storage, small hubs/docks, etc.