Tag Archives: graphics

Nvidia unveils Pascal specifics — up to 16GB of VRAM, 1TB of bandwidth

NV-Pascal1

Nvidia may have unveiled bits and pieces of its Pascal architecture back in March, but the company has shared some additional details at its GTC Japan technology conference. Like AMD’s Fury X, Pascal will move away from GDDR5 and adopt the next-generation HBM2 memory standard, a 16nm FinFET process at TSMC, and up to 16GB of memory. AMD and Nvidia are both expected to adopt HBM2 in 2016, but this will be Nvidia’s first product to use the technology, while AMD has prior experience thanks to the Fury lineup.

HBM vs. HBM2

HBM and HBM2 are based on the same core technology, but HBM2 doubles the effective speed per pin and introduces some new low-level features, as shown below. Memory density is also expected to improve, from 2Gb per DRAM (8Gb per stacked die) to 8Gb per DRAM (32Gb per stacked die).

sk_hynix_hbm_dram_2

Nvidia’s quoted 16GB of memory assumes a four-wide configuration and four 8Gb die on top of each other. That’s the same basic configuration that Fury X used, though the higher density DRAM means the hypothetical top-end Pascal will have four times as much memory as the Fury X. We would be surprised, however, if Nvidia pushes that 16GB stack below its top-end consumer card. In our examination of 4GB VRAM limits earlier this year, we found that the vast majority of games do not stress a 4GB VRAM buffer. Of the handful of titles that do use more than 4GB, none were found to exceed the 6GB limit on the GTX 980 Ti while maintaining anything approaching a playable frame rate. Consumers simply don’t have much to worry about on this front.

The other tidbit coming out of GTC Japan is that Nvidia will target 1TB/s of total bandwidth. That’s a huge bandwidth increase — 2x what Fury X offers — and again, it’s a meteoric increase in a short time. Both AMD and Nvidia are claiming that HBM2 and 14/16nm process technology will give them a 2x performance per watt improvement.

Historically, AMD has typically led Nvidia when it comes to adopting new memory technologies. AMD was the only company to adopt GDDR4 and the first manufacturer to use GDDR5 — the Radeon HD 4870 debuted with GDDR5 in June 2008, while Nvidia didn’t push the new standard on high-end cards until Fermi in 2010. AMD has argued that its expertise with HBM made implementing HBM2 easier, and some sites have reported rumors that the company has preferential access to Hynix’s HBM2 supply. Given that Hynix isn’t the only company building HBM2, however, this may or may not translate into any kind of advantage.

HBM2 production roadmap

With Teams Red and Green both moving to HBM2 next year, and both apparently targeting the same bandwidth and memory capacity targets, I suspect that the performance crown next year won’t be decided by the memory subsystem. Games inevitably evolve to take advantage of next-gen hardware, but the 1TB/s capability that Nvidia is talking up won’t be a widespread feature — especially if both companies stick to GDDR5 for entry and midrange products. One of the facets of HBM/HBM2 is that its advantages are more pronounced the more RAM you’re putting on a card and the larger the GPU is. We can bet that AMD and Nvidia will introduce ultra-high end and high-end cards that use HBM2, but midrange cards in the 2-4GB range could stick with GDDR5 for another product cycle.

The big question will be which company can take better advantage of its bandwidth, which architecture exploits it more effectively, and whether AMD can finally deliver a new core architecture that leaps past the incremental improvements that GCN 1.1 and 1.2 offered over the original GCN 1.0 architecture, which is now nearly three years old. Rumors abound on what kind of architecture that will be, but I’m inclined to think it’ll be more an evolution of GCN rather than a wholesale replacement. Both AMD and Nvidia have moved towards evolutionary advance rather than radical architecture swaps, and there’s enough low-hanging fruit in GCN that AMD could substantially improve performance without reinventing the entire wheel.

Neither AMD nor Nvidia have announced a launch date, but we anticipate seeing hardware from both in late Q1 / early Q2 of 2016.

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Nvidia confirms G-Sync displays trigger massive power consumption bug

Nvidia’s G-Sync has been getting some press of late, thanks to a fresh crop of monitors promising new feature support and Nvidia’s push to put the technology in more boutique laptops. We’ve seen a number of displays with higher refresh rates hitting market recently, but there’s a bug in the latest driver sets and how they interface with the Asus ROG Swift PG279Q. Apparently, increasing refresh rates can cause steep increases in power consumption — and the bug doesn’t appear to be monitor-specific.

PC Perspective tracked down the problem and found it’s linked to G-Sync when running at high refresh rates. At or below 120Hz, the GPU sits comfortably at 135MHz base clock. Push the refresh rate above 120Hz, however, and power consumption begins to spike. PC Perspective believes the problem is linked to pixel refresh rates — the base 135MHz frequency isn’t fast enough to refresh a display above 120Hz, but you don’t need a GPU running full bore to handle a 144Hz refresh rate, or the 165Hz that the Asus panel can deliver.

powerdraw
Today, Nvidia confirmed the bug to PCPer and announced that it would have a fix in the pipeline in the near future. According to Nvidia, “That new monitor (or you) exposed a bug in the way our GPU was managing clocks for GSYNC and very high refresh rates. As a result of your findings, we are fixing the bug which will lower the operating point of our GPUs back to the same power level for other displays.”

We don’t have a G-Sync display with that high of a refresh rate to test, but we did pull an older 1080p Asus monitor out to check if the issue is confined to G-Sync. Even at 144Hz (the maximum refresh rate on this particular panel), our GTX 970 sits at a steady 135MHz. Granted, this is still a 1080p monitor, not the 2560×1440 panel that the Asus ROG Swift PG279Q uses. Nvidia’s phrasing, however, suggests that this is an issue with G-Sync and high refresh rates rather than one or the other (and the test results from PCPer appear to bear that out.

No word yet on when the driver will drop, but we expect it in the not-too-distant future. Nvidia is usually fairly quick to resolve bugs and take care of problems. If you have a high resolution, high-refresh rate display with G-Sync, you can check the issue for yourself. Just remember to let the computer sit idle at the desktop. Most modern browers use the GPU for rendering, so you’ll see power spikes if you’re actively surfing the web.

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Testing mobile G-Sync with the Asus G751JY: Boutique gaming’s killer feature?

Last January, we previewed how mobile G-Sync might perform on an Asus G751JY laptop that wasn’t fully certified for the feature but supported it well enough to give us a taste of what G-Sync could deliver. Today, we’re revisiting the topic, armed with a fully certified Asus G751JY-DB72. This system is nearly identical to the G751JY that we tested earlier this year, but with a handful of upgrades. Specifically, the G751JY-DB72 uses a Core i7-4720HQ CPU, 24GB of DDR3, a 256GB SSD, and a backup 1TB HDD for conventional mass storage. The system still uses a GTX 980M (4GB of RAM) and a 1,920-by-1,080, 17.3-inch screen.

AsusG751JY

At $1999 from Asus, it’s not a cheap laptop, but it’s one of the nicest and best-balanced systems I’ve ever tested. Because mobile G-Sync is a big enough feature to warrant its own treatment, we’re going to discuss the laptop’s performance and capabilities in a separate piece. For now, it’s enough to say that this is one of the best boutique laptops I’ve ever tested, even if the base model debuted a year ago.

How mobile G-Sync works

Mobile and desktop G-Sync accomplish the same goal, but they achieve it in different ways. Nvidia’s desktop G-Sync displays rely on a separate, Nvidia-built scaler unit. This scaler controls the monitor’s timing and synchronizes the display’s output with the video card. In 2013, when Nvidia debuted G-Sync, its custom scaler technology was the only way to achieve this kind of synchronization in a desktop display. That’s since changed with the launch of the VESA-backed Adaptive Sync standard (AMD calls its own implementation FreeSync). Laptops, however, don’t require custom scaler hardware — the ability to synchronize refresh rates is part of the embedded DisplayPort specification that both AMD and Nvidia use.

GSync-1

In order to qualify for the mobile G-Sync moniker, Nvidia requires laptop manufacturers to prove that their hardware meets certain standards. We don’t know all the details on what panels need to have, but we do know that they must support variable overdrive. Nvidia has stated that it works with ODMs to ensure that the G-Sync implementations in each laptop are tuned to the specifications of the underlying panels.

LCD-Response

As the name implies, variable overdrive allows the display to decrease pixel ghosting by anticipating what color a pixel may need to be on the next refresh cycle and adjusting voltage accordingly. Nvidia has noted that this could result in a slight decrease in color accuracy in some conditions, but the net result should still be improved color reproduction.

G-Sync: A Goldilocks solution:

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how mobile G-Sync works, let’s talk about its specific implementation in the Asus G751JY. This laptop uses a 75Hz panel, which is important to know, because it specifies the maximum refresh speed at which G-Sync can operate. If you have a 75Hz panel and your game is kicking out a steady 200 FPS, G-Sync disables automatically and the game will switch to either V-Sync on or off. By default, NV switches to V-Sync on, since this is much less jarring then the sudden appearance of tearing, but if you prefer to disable V-Sync when the frame rate exceeds 75 FPS, you can specify that at the control panel.

This might seem less-then ideal, since gamers are typically taught to prefer high frame rates, but the relative advantage of faster FPS is subject to diminishing marginal returns. The higher the frame rate, the less visible a missed frame is.

If the frame rate falls below a certain level, however, G-Sync can run into another problem. While it doesn’t shut off due to low FPS, the GPU will automatically interpolate and insert multiple frames to smooth playback. If performance is relatively steady, this is an excellent way to smooth the game without impacting playability. If the frame rate is changing significantly from moment to moment, however, some frames will end up repeated and some will not.

PC Perspective wrote an excellent report on how FreeSync and G-Sync handle low frame rates. The graph below shows how G-Sync inserts additional frames, boosting the refresh rate as a result.

gsync2

As the frame rate fluctuates, the number of frames G-Sync injects to smooth presentation can vary as well. While the end result can still be superior to not having G-Sync on at all, a variable frame rate below ~35 FPS doesn’t produce the buttery smoothness that Adaptive Sync and G-Sync provide at higher refresh rates.

This ideal window is why we call G-Sync (and Adaptive Sync) a Goldilocks solution. Both technologies work best when your frame rate is neither too high nor too low. In this case, users should target an average consistent frame rate between 40 and 60 FPS.

Testing G-Sync

One of the intrinsic problems with testing a feature like G-Sync is that it’s hard to capture the output difference without a high-speed camera. One website, Blurbusters, has built a G-Sync simulator that you can use to examine the relative impact of having G-Sync enabled vs. disabled. You can see and select various display modes to compare the output, but if you choose G-Sync, be advised that the frame rate will rise until it reaches your monitor’s maximum refresh rate, then drop and start again. You can compare the output in this mode against the various other options (V-sync enabled, disabled, frame rate drops, etc).

The best video demonstration we’ve found of G-Sync vs. V-Sync On is embedded below. I’d recommend watching it full-screen and not trying to focus too hard on any one area of the image. If you relax your eyes and focus on the green line between the two rotating outputs, you’ll see that the V-Sync output on the left has a small but noticeable stutter that the G-Sync output lacks. The relevant portion of video is at 1:10.

One problem with testing a feature like G-Sync is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the human tendency to look for evidence that confirms a hypothesis while ignoring or discounting evidence that could disprove it. If I know that G-Sync is enabled, I may claim that a game looks better because I expect G-Sync to deliver a marked improvement. We avoided this problem by using a single-blind A/B test.

Before each test, the laptop was configured to enable or disable G-Sync. I was then asked to choose whether G-Sync had been enabled or disabled based on how the game/benchmark ran. No frame rate information or third-party tools like FRAPS, that might inadvertently hint at whether or not G-Sync was enabled, were enabled and I was not allowed to alt-tab the game or check my results until after the entire set of test runs had been concluded.

Our initial tests of BioShock Infinite failed because the game was either running well above the 75 Hz refresh rate on the Asus G751JY (and enabling V-Sync at these higher frame rates rather than using G-Sync), or running below the 30 FPS mark when we tested at 4K using Dynamic Super Resolution. We discussed the situation with Nvidia and chose IQ settings that kept the game at the 40-50 FPS mark where G-Sync’s impact is most noticeable. Once we did, I could successfully identify whether BioShock Infinite used G-Sync or not in every single test.

BioShockInfinite

We also tested The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, though in its case, we had to install additional texture mods to pull frame rates low enough for G-Sync to kick in. Again, I was able to correctly determine whether or not G-Sync was enabled in every single test. In most cases, it took just seconds — camera pans and movement are much smoother when G-Sync is enabled.

Skyrim2K

As someone who would benchmark a llama if I could find one with a PCIe slot, I’m loathe to issue an opinion that comes down to “Trust me, it’s awesome.” In this case, however, that’s what’s called for. With G-Sync enabled, camera pans are much smoother. V-Sync just doesn’t deliver an equivalent experience — not unless your game is already holding a steady 120+ FPS frame rate and you own one of the handful of monitors that support a refresh rate that high.

Is G-Sync worth it?

The FreeSync vs G-Sync battle between AMD and Nvidia has mostly played out in the desktop space, where FreeSync / Adaptive Sync displays have generally been cheaper than their G-Sync counterparts. The situation is different in mobile, where multiple vendors are shipping G-Sync-enabled laptops, while FS/AS appear to be a no-show thus far. We’ve heard rumors that this could change in the next few months, but for now, mobile G-Sync is the only show in town.

It’s true that getting G-Sync up and running properly can require some fine-tuning, but we’re not talking about anything extravagant — if you’re comfortable adjusting in-game video settings, you can tune a game to work well in G-Sync. Older titles may require some additional intervention, but if you’re comfortable installing graphics mods, it’s easy to find frame rates that showcase the feature.

Sometimes, buying into a new technology when it initially rolls out means paying a premium for a less-than ideal experience — but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. The Asus G751JY is a well-balanced system, and the GTX 980M is unmatched in mobile GPUs. True, Nvidia now offers a desktop-class GTX 980 in an ostensibly mobile form factor, but we have some significant concerns about just how that solution will actually work in the real world. The 980M, in contrast, is a proven high-performance solution.

AMD will likely counter with its own solutions — the first FreeSync demos were originally doneon a mobile platform — but for now, if you want this technology, Nvidia is the only game in town. It’s a feature that makes a significant difference, and if we were in the market for a boutique gaming laptop, we’d put G-Sync high on our list of desired features.

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AMD announces comprehensive graphics reorganization as investor rumors swirl

Two major pieces of AMD news have crossed the wire today, and both could be good news for the struggling chip company. First, AMD is announcing a major reorganization of its graphics division. The entire graphics team will now be headed by Raja Koduri, including all aspects of GPU architecture, hardware design, driver deployments, and developer relations. Koduri left AMD for Apple in 2009, only to return to the company in 2013. Since then, he’s served as the Corporate Vice President of Visual Computing.

Now, Raja is being promoted to senior vice president and chief architect of AMD’s entire graphics business (dubbed the Radeon Technologies Group). In this new role, Koduri will oversee the development of future console hardware, AMD’s FirePro division, the GPU side of APUs, and all of AMD’s graphics designs on 14/16nm. Bringing all of these elements under one roof, along with developer relations and driver development, will allow AMD to unify its approach to various products that have previously been managed by different departments. This could pay significant dividends in areas like driver management and feature updates, which have previously been handled by other teams that reported to different managers. Koduri is well-respected in the industry and we’ve heard that the R9 Nano, which debuts in the verynear future, was a project he championed at AMD.

Raja Koduri

Based on what we’ve heard, AMD isn’t just shuffling employees on a spreadsheet — it’s looking to increase its investment in graphics products as well. While we wouldn’t expect the company to suddenly hurl huge amounts of money at the concept, this is an excellent time to make prudent additional expenditures in the GPU market. 14/16nm GPUs will come to market next year, with significant performance and power consumption improvements. The advent of HBM2 will allow for larger frame buffers and could turbo-charge AMD’s future Zen-based APUs. If AMD seizes these technological opportunities and capitalizes on the recent launch of DirectX 12, it’ll be in a much stronger competitive position 12-18 months from now.

Did Silver Lake acquire part of AMD?

There’s a rumor making the rounds today that Silver Lake Partners may have purchased a significant stake in AMD. Fudzilla reports that Silver Lake Partners, which owns significant shares in Avagao, Alibaba, and Dell, may have purchased a 20% share of the company. Such a move would inject much-needed capital into AMD and likely negate the need to take on additional debt to finance continuing operations.

If the rumor proves true, it suggests that Silver Lake saw something in AMD’s future roadmap that they felt justified the investment stake. Such an announcement would likely buoy the company’s rather battered stock price, while the fresh cash injection could help AMD hit its production targets for 2016 and beyond. Even if Zen and AMD’s first ARM-based hardware both hit the ground running in 2016, it’ll take time for AMD to rebuild its overall market position.

As always, take financial rumors with a grain of salt.

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Asynchronous compute, AMD, Nvidia, and DX12: What we know so far

Ever since DirectX 12 was announced, AMD and Nvidia have jockeyed for position regarding which of them would offer better support for the new API and its various features. One capability that AMD has talked up extensively is GCN’s support for asynchronous compute. Asynchronous compute allows all GPUs based on AMD’s GCN architecture to perform graphics and compute workloads simultaneously. Last week, an Oxide Games employee reported that contrary to general belief, Nvidia hardware couldn’t perform asynchronous computing and that the performance impact of attempting to do so was disastrous on the company’s hardware.

This announcement kicked off a flurry of research into what Nvidia hardware did and did not support, as well as anecdotal claims that people would (or already did) return their GTX 980 Ti’s based on Ashes of the Singularity performance. We’ve spent the last few days in conversation with various sources working on the problem, including Mahigan and CrazyElf at Overclock.net, as well as parsing through various data sets and performance reports. Nvidia has not responded to our request for clarification as of yet, but here’s the situation as we currently understand it.

Nvidia, AMD, and asynchronous compute

When AMD and Nvidia talk about supporting asynchronous compute, they aren’t talking about the same hardware capability. The Asynchronous Command Engines in AMD’s GPUs (between 2-8 depending on which card you own) are capable of executing new workloads at latencies as low as a single cycle. A high-end AMD card has eight ACEs and each ACE has eight queues. Maxwell, in contrast, has two pipelines, one of which is a high-priority graphics pipeline. The other has a a queue depth of 31 — but Nvidia can’t switch contexts anywhere near as quickly as AMD can.

NV-Preemption

According to a talk given at GDC 2015, there are restrictions on Nvidia’s preeemption capabilities. Additional text below the slide explains that “the GPU can only switch contexts at draw call boundaries” and “On future GPUs, we’re working to enable finer-grained preemption, but that’s still a long way off.” To explore the various capabilities of Maxwell and GCN, users at Beyond3D and Overclock.net have used an asynchronous compute tests that evaluated the capability on both AMD and Nvidia hardware. The benchmark has been revised multiple times over the week, so early results aren’t comparable to the data we’ve seen in later runs.

Note that this is a test of asynchronous compute latency, not performance. This doesn’t test overall throughput — in other words, just how long it takes to execute — and the test is designed to demonstrate if asynchronous compute is occurring or not. Because this is a latency test, lower numbers (closer to the yellow “1” line) mean the results are closer to ideal.

Radeon R9 290

Here’s the R9 290’s performance. The yellow line is perfection — that’s what we’d get if the GPU switched and executed instantaneously. The y-axis of the graph shows normalized performance to 1x, which is where we’d expect perfect asynchronous latency to be. The red line is what we are most interested in. It shows GCN performing nearly ideally in the majority of cases, holding performance steady even as thread counts rise. Now, compare this to Nvidia’s GTX 980 Ti.

vevF50L

Attempting to execute graphics and compute concurrently on the GTX 980 Ti causes dips and spikes in performance and little in the way of gains. Right now, there are only a few thread counts where Nvidia matches ideal performance (latency, in this case) and many cases where it doesn’t. Further investigation has indicated that Nvidia’s asynch pipeline appears to lean on the CPU for some of its initial steps, whereas AMD’s GCN handles the job in hardware.

Right now, the best available evidence suggests that when AMD and Nvidia talk about asynchronous compute, they are talking about two very different capabilities. “Asynchronous compute,” in fact, isn’t necessarily the best name for what’s happening here. The question is whether or not Nvidia GPUs can run graphics and compute workloads concurrently. AMD can, courtesy of its ACE units.

It’s been suggested that AMD’s approach is more like Hyper-Threading, which allows the GPU to work on disparate compute and graphics workloads simultaneously without a loss of performance, whereas Nvidia may be leaning on the CPU for some of its initial setup steps and attempting to schedule simultaneous compute + graphics workload for ideal execution. Obviously that process isn’t working well yet. Since our initial article, Oxide has since stated the following:

“We actually just chatted with Nvidia about Async Compute, indeed the driver hasn’t fully implemented it yet, but it appeared like it was. We are working closely with them as they fully implement Async Compute.”

Here’s what that likely means, given Nvidia’s own presentations at GDC and the various test benchmarks that have been assembled over the past week. Maxwell does not have a GCN-style configuration of asynchronous compute engines and it cannot switch between graphics and compute workloads as quickly as GCN. According to Beyond3D user Ext3h:

“There were claims originally, that Nvidia GPUs wouldn’t even be able to execute async compute shaders in an async fashion at all, this myth was quickly debunked. What become clear, however, is that Nvidia GPUs preferred a much lighter load than AMD cards. At small loads, Nvidia GPUs would run circles around AMD cards. At high load, well, quite the opposite, up to the point where Nvidia GPUs took such a long time to process the workload that they triggered safeguards in Windows. Which caused Windows to pull the trigger and kill the driver, assuming that it got stuck.

“Final result (for now): AMD GPUs are capable of handling a much higher load. About 10x times what Nvidia GPUs can handle. But they also need also about 4x the pressure applied before they get to play out there capabilities.”

Ext3h goes on to say that preemption in Nvidia’s case is only used when switching between graphics contexts (1x graphics + 31 compute mode) and “pure compute context,” but claims that this functionality is “utterly broken” on Nvidia cards at present. He also states that while Maxwell 2 (GTX 900 family) is capable of parallel execution, “The hardware doesn’t profit from it much though, since it has only little ‘gaps’ in the shader utilization either way. So in the end, it’s still just sequential execution for most workload, even though if you did manage to stall the pipeline in some way by constructing an unfortunate workload, you could still profit from it.”

Nvidia, meanwhile, has represented to Oxide that it can implement asynchronous compute, however, and that this capability was not fully enabled in drivers. Like Oxide, we’re going to wait and see how the situation develops. The analysis thread at Beyond3D makes it very clear that this is an incredibly complex question, and much of what Nvidia and Maxwell may or may not be doing is unclear.

Earlier, we mentioned that AMD’s approach to asynchronous computing superficially resembled Hyper-Threading. There’s another way in which that analogy may prove accurate: When Hyper-Threading debuted, many AMD fans asked why Team Red hadn’t copied the feature to boost performance on K7 and K8. AMD’s response at the time was that the K7 and K8 processors had much shorter pipelines and very different architectures, and were intrinsically less likely to benefit from Hyper-Threading as a result. The P4, in contrast, had a long pipeline and a relatively high stall rate. If one thread stalled, HT allowed another thread to continue executing, which boosted the chip’s overall performance.

GCN-style asynchronous computing is unlikely to boost Maxwell performance, in other words, because Maxwell isn’t really designed for these kinds of workloads. Whether Nvidia can work around that limitation (or implement something even faster) remains to be seen.

What does this mean for gamers and DX12?

There’s been a significant amount of confusion over what this difference in asynchronous compute means for gamers and DirectX 12 support. Despite what some sites have implied, DirectX 12 does not require any specific implementation of asynchronous compute. That aside, it currently seems that AMD’s ACE’s could give the company a leg up in future DX12 performance. Whether Nvidia can perform a different type of optimization and gain similar benefits for itself is still unknown. Regarding the usefulness of asynchronous computing (AMD’s definition) itself, Kollock notes:

“First, though we are the first D3D12 title, I wouldn’t hold us up as the prime example of this feature. There are probably better demonstrations of it. This is a pretty complex topic and to fully understand it will require significant understanding of the particular GPU in question that only an IHV can provide. I certainly wouldn’t hold Ashes up as the premier example of this feature.”

Given that AMD hardware powers both the Xbox and PS4 (and possibly the upcoming Nintendo NX), it’s absolutely reasonable to think that AMD’s version of asynchronous compute could be important to the future of the DX12 standard. Talk of returning already-purchased NV cards in favor of AMD hardware, however, is rather extreme. Game developers optimize for both architectures and we expect that most will take the route that Oxide did with Ashes — if they can’t get acceptable performance from using asynchronous compute on Nvidia hardware, they simply won’t use it. Game developers are not going to throw Nvidia gamers under a bus and simply stop supporting Maxwell or Kepler GPUs.

Right now, the smart thing to do is wait and see how this plays out. I stand by Ashes of the Singularity as a solid early look at DX12 performance, but it’s one game, on early drivers, in a just-released OS. Its developers readily acknowledge that it should not be treated as the be-all, end-all of DX12 performance, and I agree with them. If you’re this concerned about how DX12 will evolve, wait another 6-12 months for more games, as well as AMD and Nvidia’s next-generation cards on 14/16nm before making a major purchase.

If AMD cards have an advantage in both hardware and upcoming title collaboration, as a recent post from AMD’s Robert Hallock stated, then we’ll find that out in the not-too-distant future. If Nvidia is able to introduce a type of asynchronous computing for its own hardware and largely match AMD’s advantage, we’ll see evidence of that, too. Either way, leaping to conclusions about which company will “win” the DX12 era is extremely premature. Those looking for additional details on the differences between asynchronous compute between AMD and Nvidia may find this post from Mahigan useful as well.  If you’re fundamentally confused about what we’re talking about, this B3D post sums up the problem with a very useful analogy.

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Autodesk’s Stingray Gets Into Video Game Guts

Tired of serving as just a pretty face, Autodesk on Monday announced that it’s putting its muscle into the business of making video games. The new Stingray engine, introduced at the Game Developers Conference, pulls together Autodesk’s efforts in the games space.

Autodesk later in August will offer Stingray worldwide for US$30 a month — and it will make the game engine available to Maya LT Desktop Subscription customers before the summer’s close.

Stringray is a cross-platform engine that supports Xbox One, PlayStation 4, the Oculus Rift, Windows, Android and iOS.

The industry is shifting toward new technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, and Stringray was built with those “new complexities” for indie game developers in mind, said Chris Bradshaw, Autodesk senior vice president of media and entertainment.

“Stingray makes it easy and intuitive for artists with varying skill sets and programming expertise to create the next generation of 3D blockbuster games, entertainment and even architecture,” Bradshaw said.

Stingray’s Innards

Autodesk built Stringray to be flexible and familiar. Developers can alter the engine and renderer without having to access Stringray’s source code.

It’s cross-platform support allows developers to roll out gameplay and graphical changes to multiple platforms at once, which helps smaller studios stay agile and competitive.

Stingray’s toolkit includes Autodesk’s animation middleware HumanIK, it’s user interface development tool Scaleform Studio, its artificial intelligence engine Navigation, its Beast lighting system, its data exchange SDK FBX, Audiokinetic’s sound engine Wwise and Nvidia’s PhysX engine.

With its “one-click workflow,” Stingray’s nervous system ties all the pieces together. There’s a live link between Stingray and Autodesk’s animation software.

Autodesk appears to have checked off every box for a next-generation game engine. It already has succeeded in the computer-aided design market, but now it has to answer the question, where will it go next? suggested Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT.

“3D gaming’s sizzling growth pace makes it an attractive commercial target, which is why Autodesk acquired the Bitsquid engine (Stingray’s underlying tech) last year,” he told TechNewsWorld. “But Autodesk also has numerous other development tools and applications that complement Stingray, meaning that what we’re seeing is just the opening gambit in a long strategic effort.”

Stingray’s Barb

Along with its cross-platform support and deep integration with Autodesk’s other tools, Stingray’s profile is raised by its parentage: Autodesk.

Developers already use several of Autodesk’s tools on competing game engines, noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group.

“It creates a suite of game developer tools that together can become both a stronger offense and defense through ever tighter integration with their existing leading developer tools,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Stingray is entering waters filled with apex predators such as CryTech’s CryEngine and the Unreal 4 engine, which was released earlier this year.

However, the cocktail of venom in Stingray’s barb is made more potent by its cross-platform support and low overhead, noted King.

“As a new entry to an established yet still growing market, Autodesk seems to be positioning Stingray as a powerful yet highly affordable alternative to mainstream 3D platforms like Unity 5 and Unreal 4,” he said. “Stingray’s $30 per month per seat subscription price should make it attractive to small and midsize studios that aren’t firmly wed to one of the larger platforms.”

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Nvidia kills mobile GPU overclocking in latest driver update, irate customers up in arms

Update (2/20/2015):  Nvidia has announced that overclocking will return in a future driver update.

Original story below: 

Nvidia’s mobile Maxwell parts have won significant enthusiast acclaim since launch thanks to excellent performance and relatively low power consumption. Boutique builders and enthusiasts alike also tend to enjoy pushing the envelope, and Maxwell’s manufacturing characteristics apparently make it eminently suited to overclocking. Now, apparently, Nvidia is cracking down on these options with a driver update that removes the overclocking features that apparently some vendors sold to customers.

As DailyTech points out, part of what makes this driver update problematic is that system manufacturers actively advertise their hardware as having overclock support baked in to mobile products. Asus, MSI, Dell (Alienware) and Sager have apparently all sold models with overclocking as a core feature, as shown in the copy below.

GTX980M-Asus

Nvidia apparently cut off the overclocking feature with its 347.09 driver and kept it off with the 347.52 driver released last week. Mobile customers have been demanding answers in the company forums, with Nvidia finally weighing in to tell its users that this feature had previously only been available because of a “bug” and that its removal constituted a return to proper function rather than any removal of capability.

Under normal circumstances, I’d call this a simple case of Nvidia adjusting a capability whether users like it or not, but the fact that multiple vendors explicitly advertised and sold hardware based on overclocking complicates matters. It’s not clear if Asus or the other manufacturing charged extra for factory overclocked hardware or if they simply shipped the systems with higher stock speeds, but we know that OEMs typically do put a price premium on the feature.

To date, Nvidia has not responded formally or indicated if it will reconsider its stance on overclocking. The company isn’t currently under much competitive pressure to do so — it dominates the high-end GPU market, and while AMD is rumored to have a new set of cards coming in 2015, it’s not clear when those cards will launch or what the mobile flavors will look like. For now, mobile Maxwell has a lock on the enthusiast space. Some customers are claiming that they’re angry enough to quit using Team Green, but performance has a persausive siren song all its own, and the performance impact of disabling overclocking is going to be in the 5-10% range for the majority of users. If customers can prove they paid extra for the feature, that could open the door to potential claims against the OEMs themselves.

For Nvidia, this surge of attention on their mobile overclocking is a likely-unwelcome follow-up to concerns about the GTX 970’s memory allocation and the confusion and allegations swarming around mobile G-Sync. While none of these are knock-out blows, they continue to rile segments of the enthusiast community.

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