Shader Model 4.0 Enhancements

Aside from defining the capabilities and instructions that the different shaders must support, Microsoft also specifies attributes like precision, number of instructions that can make up a shader program, and the number of registers available to the programmer. Here's a table comparing DX9 and DX10 shader models.

Along with these changes, Microsoft has made some lower level adjustments. Until now, shaders have been exclusively floating point. This means that operations like memory addressing and array indexing (which use integer values) must be done carefully if interpolation is to be avoided. With DX10, integer and bitwise operations have been added to the mix. This means programmers can make use of traditional data structures and memory operations. Increasing the flexibility of the hardware and enabling programmers to employ methods commonly used on more general purpose hardware will certainly be helpful in creating a better platform for developers to create the effects they desire.

Floating point operations have also been enhanced, as Microsoft has placed tighter requirements on how to handle the numbers. IEEE 754 is a specification that defines all aspects of floating point interaction. Sticking to such a standard allows programmers to guarantee that operations will be consistent between different types of hardware. Because Microsoft hasn't been as strict in the past, we've seen some issues where ATI and NVIDIA don't provide the exact same result due to rounding and accuracy differences. This time around, DX10 has very nearly IEEE 754 requirements. There are certain aspects of IEEE 754 that are not desirable in graphics hardware. These aspects have to do with over and underflow and denorms. The special results that are usually returned in these cases under IEEE specifications aren't as useful as clamping the value of a calculation to either the smallest possible result or largest possible result. With DX10, we do see the addition of NaN and infinity as possible results, and along with a better specification of accuracy and precision, those interested in general purpose computing on graphics processors (GPGPU) should be very happy.

What are Geometry Shaders?

A whole new shader type has been added this time around as well: Geometry shaders. These shaders are similar to vertex shaders in that they operate on geometry before it has been projected on to screen space where pixel processing can take over. Rather than operating on single vertices, however, geometry shaders operate on larger blocks: meshes. These meshes (made up of vertices) can be manipulated in a myriad of ways. Working with an object containing vertices gives programmer the ability to manipulate those vertices in relation to each other more easily. Vertices can even be added or removed from a mesh. The ability to write out data from the geometry shaders (rather than simply sending it on for pixel processing) will also allow software to reprocess vertices that have been added or altered by the geometry shaders. As an extension to geometry instancing, we will have more flexibility in manipulating instanced geometry in order to avoid the cut and paste look. All of these new features mean we should see things like particle systems move completely off of the CPU and on to the GPU, and geometry may begin to play a larger role in graphics in the future.

In the beginning, increasing the number of triangles that could be rendered in a scene was a huge factor in performance. After a certain point, software, CPUs, buses, and overhead in general started to get in the way of how much difference adding more triangles made. Rather than having millions of really tiny triangles moving around, it became much faster to use textures to simulate geometry. Currently, per pixel lighting combined with uncompressed normal maps do a great job of simulating a whole lot of geometry at the expense of a lot of pixel power. With the new 8k*8k texture sizes and other DX10 enhancements, there is a lot of potential for using pixel processing to simulate geometry even better. But the combination of unified shaders and geometry shaders in new hardware should start to give developers a whole lot more flexibility in how they approach the problem of fine detail in geometry.

All GPUs are Created Equal: Say Goodbye to Cap Bits G80: A Mile High Overview
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  • yyrkoon - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    If you're using Firefox, get, and install the extension "flashblock". Just did this myself today, tired of all the *animated* adds bothering me while reading articles.

    Sorry AT guys, but we've had this discussion before, and its realy annoying.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Do you want to be able for us to continue as a site? Because ads support us. Anyway, his problem is related to not seeing images, so your comment about blocking ads via flashblock is completely off topic. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Of course I want you guys to continue on as a site, just wish it were possible without annoying flashing adds in a section where I'm trying to concentrate on the article.

    As for the off topic part, yeah, my bad, I mis-read the full post (bad habit). Feel free to edit or remove that post of mine :)
    Reply
  • archcommus - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    What browser are you using? Reply
  • falc0ne - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    firefox 2.0 Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    If Firefox, I know there's an option to block images not on the originating website. In this case, images come from image.anandtech.com while the article is on www.anandtech.com, so that my be the cause of your problems. IE7 and other browsers might have something similar, though I haven't ever looked. Other than that, perhaps some firewall or ad blocking software is to blame - it might be getting false positives? Reply
  • archcommus - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Wow to Anandtech - another amazing, incredibly in-depth article. It is so obvious this site is run by dedicated professionals who have degrees in these fields versus most other review sites where the authors just take pictures of the product and run some benches. Articles like this keep the AT reader base very very strong.

    Also wow to the G80, obviously an amazing card. My question, is 450W the PSU requirement for the GTX only or for both the GTX and GTS? I ask because I currently have a 400W PSU and am wondering if it will be sufficient for next-gen DX10 class hardware, and I know I would not be buying the highest model card. I also only have one HDD and one optical drive in my system.

    Yet another wow goes out to the R&D monetary investment - $475 million! It's amazing that that amount is even acceptable to nVidia, I can't believe the sales of such a high end, enthusiast-targeted card are great enough to warrant that.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Sales of the lower end parts which will be based off G80 are what make it worthwhile, I would guess. As for PSU, I think that 450W is for the GTX, and more is probably a safe bet (550W would be in line with a high-end system these days, although 400W ought to suffice if it's a good quality 400W). You can see that the GTX tops out at just under 300W average system power draw with an X6800, so if you use an E6600 and don't overclock, a decent 400W ought to work. The GTX tops out around 260W average with the X6800, so theoretically even a decent 350W will work fine. Just remember to upgrade the PSU if you ever add other components. Reply
  • photoguy99 - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    I just wanted to second that thought -

    AT articles have incredible quality and depth at this point - you guys are doing great work.

    It's actually getting embarrasing for some of your competing sites, I browsed the Tom's article and it had so much fluff and retread I had to stop.

    Please don't forget the effort is noticed and appreciated.
    Reply
  • shabby - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    It wasnt mentioned in the review, but whats the purpose of the 2nd sli connector? Reply

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