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A graphics library war is a win for everybody

Whether AMD woke Microsoft from its slumber or this was planned, it doesn't matter.

For a while, it was looking like the graphics libraries for Windows were being left behind. Microsoft had not updated DirectX in a major way since DirectX 11 came out in 2008, while the Khronos Group, maintainer of the OpenGL library, had been a little better, releasing significant updates for the last few years.

But technology, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Along came AMD with its Mantle API for creating a more efficient means of programming today's GPUs, since GPUs have changed a lot in recent years. A part of Mantle's appeal is that it would reduce the CPU overhead currently required by Direct3D and OpenGL. It would also make cross-porting of games from Xbox, PlayStation, and PC a lot easier.

Well, Microsoft appears to have awakened from its slumber. Now, not long after the first Mantle-based game has arrived—and after a couple of years of stagnation in PC graphics APIs otherwise—it appears the keepers of both Direct3D and OpenGL may have responses in store. (Thanks to TR reader SH SOTN for the tip.)

Well, two new sessions have appeared for next month's Game Developer's Conference that show Microsoft hasn't quite given up the ghost on DirectX. One titled "DirectX: Evolving Microsoft's Graphics Platform" will be hosted by Anuj Gosalia, development manager for Windows Graphics, while the other is called "Direct3D Futures," and will be hosted by Max McMullen, development lead for Windows Graphics.

The description for Gosalia's session says, in part:

For nearly 20 years, DirectX has been the platform used by game developers to create the fastest, most visually impressive games on the planet.

However, you asked us to do more. You asked us to bring you even closer to the metal and to do so on an unparalleled assortment of hardware. You also asked us for better tools so that you can squeeze every last drop of performance out of your PC, tablet, phone and console.

Come learn our plans to deliver.

McMullen's session abstract says:

Come learn how future changes to Direct3D will enable next generation games to run faster than ever before!

In this session we will discuss future improvements in Direct3D that will allow developers an unprecedented level of hardware control and reduced CPU rendering overhead across a broad ecosystem of hardware.

If you use cutting-edge 3D graphics in your games, middleware, or engines and want to efficiently build rich and immersive visuals, you don't want to miss this talk.

Both of these sessions address exactly what AMD is trying to do with Mantle: lower the CPU overhead and get closer to the metal. It's been four years since DirectX has had a major update, and Microsoft tends to time big DirectX releases around new OS releases. If we can believe the rumors, there's a new Windows around the corner. So the timing works.

For its part, Khronos also has something in the works. Its session, "Approaching Zero Driver Overhead in OpenGL," will feature reps from AMD, Intel and Nvidia. Assuming they don't kill each, the session will be interesting:

Driver overhead has been a frustrating reality for game developers for the entire life of the PC game industry. On desktop systems, driver overhead can decrease frame rate, while on mobile devices driver overhead is more insidious--robbing both battery life and frame rate. In this unprecedented sponsored session, Graham Sellers (AMD), Tim Foley (Intel), Cass Everitt (NVIDIA) and John McDonald (NVIDIA) will present high-level concepts available in today's OpenGL implementations that radically reduce driver overhead--by up to 10x or more. The techniques presented will apply to all major vendors and are suitable for use across multiple platforms. Additionally, they will demonstrate practical demos of the techniques in action in an extensible, open source comparison framework.

OpenGL is not really important to gamers as it is to desktop workstation users, like people doing CAD, animation, and production-level graphics work. I'm sure they will be happy to see this.

Sounds like GDC will feature some pretty heavy graphics talk and will make some serious news. The show runs March 17-21 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

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