Threads & Gaming

Tim gave us some extremely interesting information. Yes, the extra computing power of multi-cores is welcome in the gaming industry. Better game physics, animation and intensive and accurate sound effects are made possible with more than one core.

[3] Galactic Civilizations is another example of how game developers can make good use of multithreading. This galactic domination game, which has a lot of emphasis on diplomacy, research and empire management, needs an AI with the most complex decisions. By multithreading this engine, it is possible that the game engine is thinking while the player is playing instead of working turn-based. In the next years, we may expect much better AI. But the price (game) developers have to pay is high: a multithreaded game engine triples or at least doubles the development effort, as Tim told us.

The tools, which Intel advertises in almost any multi-core presentation, are next to useless for the problems that the developers face, as Tim explained. Auto parallelisation is a nice trick to increase the spec FP score, but it is next to useless for a real world application. The good news for Intel, AMD and others is that the CPU will play a much more important role again. Physics, Artificial Intelligence and animation can be improved significantly by being parallelised and using the extra capabilities in dual core CPUs. But there are limits to Thread Level Parallelism. While increased ILP (Instruction Level Parallelism, IPC) might require exponentional increasing efforts of the manufacturer, using more and more threads, or increased TLP (Thread Level Parallelism), requires exponentional efforts from the developers. Tim clearly emphasizes that only parts of the application can be economically parallelized. Increasing parallelisation, using more threads, is simply not feasible. There is a pretty hard economic limit to TLP.

Tim Sweeney resumes:
"You can expect games to take advantage of multi-core pretty thoroughly in late 2006 as games and engines also targeting next-generation consoles start making their way onto the PC.

Writing multithreaded software is very hard; it's about as unnatural to support multithreading in C++ as it was to write object-oriented software in assembly language. The whole industry is starting to do it now, but it's pretty clear that a new programming model is needed if we're going to scale to ever more parallel architectures. I have been doing a lot of R&D along these lines, but it's going slowly."

Unreal 3 Conclusion
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  • ChronoReverse - Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - link

    Eh? 20% speed reduction? The dual-core sample in the new post was running at 2.4GHz (FX-53). Sure it's not FX-55 speeds but it's still faster than most everything. Reply
  • kmmatney - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    edit - I just read some of the above posts. Yes, I agree that dual core can be more efficent than dual cpu. However you have about a 20% reduction in core speed which the dual core optimizations will have to overcome, when compared to a single core cpu. Reply
  • kmmatney - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    For starters, why would dual core be any different than dual cpu? One of the Quake games (quake 3?) was able to make use of a second cpu, and the gain was very minimal. I'm not even sure Id bothered with dual cpu use for Doom3. If everybody has dual core cpu's, then obviously more work would be done to make use of it, but we've had dual cpu motherboards for a long time already. Reply
  • Verdant - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    there is no one who (has a clue) doubts that you will see an ever increasing level of cores provide an ever increasing level of performance, in fact i would not be surprised if the Mhz races of the 90s become the "number of core" races of this decade.

    but i think the one line that really hit the nail on the head is the one about a lack of developer tools.

    writting a lower level multi-threaded application is extremely difficult, game developers aren't using tools like java or c# where it is a matter of enclosing a section of code in a synchronized/lock block, throwing a few wait() calls in and launching their new thread. - the performance of these platforms just isn't there.

    for consideration - a basic 2 thread bounded buffer program in C is easily 200 lines of code, while it can easily be done in a language like C# in about 20.

    developers are going to need to either: move to one of these new languages/platforms and take the performance hit, develop a new specialized platform/language, or they will most likely go bankrupt with the old tools.

    the other thing that may have some merit - is a compiler that can generate multi-threaded code from single thread code, however to have any sort of real effect it will need to have an enormous amount of research poured into it, as automatically deciding un-serializable tasks is a huge AI task. Intel's current compiler obviously is many years away from the sort of thing i am talking about.
    Reply
  • Doormat - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    #20/#29:

    The AMD architecture is different than Intels dual core architecture.

    AMD will have a seperate HTT link between chips (phy layer only) for intercore communication, and a seperate link to the memory arbitor/access unit.

    Whereas intel (when they opt for two seperate cores, two seperate pieces of silicon) will have a link between the two processors, but its is a bus, and not point-to-point, and also will share that bus with all traffic out to the northbridge/mch. Memory traffic, non-DMA I/O traffic, etc.

    In other words, AMD has a dedicated intercore comm channel via HTT while Intel does not. This will affect heavily interconnected threads.
    Reply
  • saratoga - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    "Unless you hit a power and/or heat output wall.

    Tell nVidia that parallell GPUs are bad, they alreay sell their SLI solution for dual-GPU computers."

    Multicore doesn't make much sense for GPUs because its not cost effective, and because GPUs do not have the same problems as CPUs. With a GPU you can just double the number of pipelines and your throughput more or less doubles (though bandwidth can be an issue here), and for a fraction the cost of two discreet boards or two seperate GPUs. That approach doesn't work well with CPUs, hence the interest in dual core CPUs.

    "Isn't a high IPC-count also a form of parallelism? If so, then beyond a certain count won't it be just as hard to take advantage of a high IPC-count."

    Yup. High IPC means you have a high degree of instruction level parallelism. Easily multithreaded code means you have a high degree of thread level parallelism. They each represent part of the parallelism in a piece of code/algorythm, etc.
    Reply
  • Fricardo - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    "While Dual core CPUs are more expensive to manufacture, they are far more easier to design than turning a single core CPU into an even more wider complex CPU issue."

    Nice grammer ;)

    Informative article though. Good work.
    Reply
  • suryad - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    Dang...good thing I have not bought a new machine yet. I am going to stick with my Inspiron XPS Gen1 for a good 3-4 years when my warranty runs out before I go run out and by another top of the line laptop and a desktop.

    It will be extremely interesting how these things turn out. Things had been slowing down quiet a lot in the technology envelope front last year but AMD with its FX line of processors were giving me hope...now dual cores...I want an 8 cored AMD FX setup. I think beyond 8 the performance increases will be zip.

    I am sure by the end of 2006 we will have experienced quiet a massive paradigm shift with multi cored systems and software taking advantage of it. I am sure the MS DirectX developers for WinFX or DirectX Next or WGF 1.0 or whatever the heck it is called are not going to be sitting on their thumbs and not fixing up the overheads associated as mentioned in the article with the current Direct3D drivers. So IMHO we are going to see a paradigm shift.

    Good stuff. And as far as threads over processes, I would take threads, lightweight...thats the main thing. Threading issues are a pain in the rear though but I am quiet confident that problem will be taken care of sooner or later. Interesting stuff.

    Great article by the way. Tim Sweeney seems quiet humble for a guy with such knowhow. I wonder if Doom's next engine will be multithreaded. John Carmack i am sure is not going to let the UE 3.0 steal all the limelight. What I would love to see is the next Splinter Cell game based on the UE 3.0 engine. I think that would be the bomb!!
    Reply
  • stephenbrooks - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    In the conclusion - some possibly bad wording:

    --[The easiest part of multithreading is using threads that are running completely independent, that don't share any data. But this source of threading is probably already being used almost to the fullest.]--

    It'll still provide large performance increases when you go to multi-cores, though. You can't "already use" the concept of little-interacting threads when you don't have multiple cores to run them on! This is probably actually one of the more exciting increases we'll see from multi-core.

    The stuff that needs a lot of synchronising will necessarily be a bit of a compromise.
    Reply
  • Matthew Daws - Monday, March 14, 2005 - link

    #26: I don't think that's true:

    http://www.anandtech.com/tradeshows/showdoc.aspx?i...

    This suggests (and I'm certain I've read this for a fact elsewhere) that each *core* has it's own cache: this means that cache contention will still be an issue, as it is in dual-CPU systems. I'm not sure about the increased interconnection speed: it would certainly seem that this *should* increase, but I've also read that, in particular, Intel's first dual-core chips will be a real hack in regards to this.

    In the future, sure, dual-core should be much better than dual-cpu.

    --Matt
    Reply

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