Digging deeper into the shader core

Many of the same patterns that lead designers of current hardware to their conclusions are still true today. For instance, pixels next to each other on the screen still tend to follow a very similar path through the hardware. This means that it still makes sense to process pixels in quads. As for changes, as hardware becomes more programmable, we are seeing a higher percentage of scalar data being used. In spite of the fact that much of the work done by graphics hardware is vector based, it becomes easier to schedule code if we are working with a bunch of parallel, independent, scalar processors. It is also more efficient to build separate units for texture addressing and filtering, and ATI has done this for quite some time now.

NVIDIA has finally decoupled the texture units from their shader hardware, enabling math and texturing to happen at the same time with no scheduling issues. They have also decided to implement their math hardware as a collection of scalar processors that can be used together to perform vector operations. NVIDIA calls the scalar processors Stream Processors (SPs), and they handle all the math performed in the shader core of G80.

It isn't surprising to see that NVIDIA's implementation of a unified shader is based on taking a pixel shader quad pipeline, and breaking up the vector units into 4 scalar units. Now, rather than 4 pixel quads, we see 16 SPs per "quad" or block of stream processors. Each block of 16 SPs shares 4 texture address units, 8 texture filter units, and an L1 cache.

G70 Pixel Shader Quad

G80 Stream Processor Block

The fact that these SPs are now independent and scalar gives NVIDIA the ability to keep more of them busy more of the time. This is very important as programmers start to write longer more complex shaders. Even while working with vectors, programmers need to use scalar values all the time to manipulate and evaluate data.

Each Stream Processor is able to complete one MAD and one MUL per clock cycle. While this is based on maximum throughput, we can reasonably expect to achieve this even though the hardware is pipelined. In spite of the 4 or 5 cycles (depending on precision) latency of a MUL in Conroe, SSE is now capable of one MUL per cycle throughput (as long as there are no stalls in the pipeline). Latency of operations in G80 could be even longer and sustain high throughput, as most of the time we are working with code that isn't riddled with dependencies.

The fact that each SP is capable of IEEE 754 single precision and can sustain high throughput for MAD and MUL operations while running any type of shader code makes this hardware very powerful and more general purpose than ever.

As a thread exits the SP, G80 is capable of writing the output of the shader to memory. The fact that SPs can do this at any time (except after pixel shaders) goes beyond the DX10 spec of just allowing for stream output after the Geometry Shader. On previous hardware, data would have to go through every stage of the pipeline until a value was finally written out to the frame buffer. Now, we can write data out at the end of anything but a pixel shader (as pixel shaders must send their output straight over to the ROPs for processing). This will be a great benefit to GPGPU (general purpose computing on graphics processing units).

G80: A Mile High Overview Branching, Early Z and Memory Interface


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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    Page 17:

    "The dual SLI connectors are for future applications, such as daisy chaining three G80 based GPUs, much like ATI's latest CrossFire offerings."

    Using a third GPU for physics processing is another possibility, once NVIDIA begins accelerating physics on their GPUs (something that has apparently been in the works for a year or so now).
  • Missing Ghost - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    So it seems like by substracting the highest 8800gtx sli power usage result with the one for the 8800gtx single card we can conclude that the card can use as much as 205W. Does anybody knows if this number could increase when the card is used in DX10 mode? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    Without DX10 games and an OS, we can't test it yet. Sorry. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    Incidentally, I would expect the added power draw in SLI comes from more than just the GPU. The CPU, RAM, and other components are likely pushed to a higher demand with SLI/CF than when running a single card. Look at FEAR as an example, and here's the power differences for the various cards. (Oblivion doesn't have X1950 CF numbers, unfortunately.)

    X1950 XTX: 91.3W
    7900 GTX: 102.7W
    7950 GX2: 121.0W
    8800 GTX: 164.8W

    Notice how in this case, X1950 XTX appears to use less power than the other cards, but that's clearly not the case in single GPU configurations, as it requires more than everything besides the 8800 GTX. Here's the Prey results as well:

    X1950 XTX: 111.4W
    7900 GTX: 115.6W
    7950 GX2: 70.9W
    8800 GTX: 192.4W

    So there, GX2 looks like it is more power efficient, mostly because QSLI isn't doing any good. Anyway, simple subtraction relative to dual GPUs isn't enough to determine the actual power draw of any card. That's why we presented the power data without a lot of commentary - we need to do further research before we come to any final conclusions.
  • IntelUser2000 - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    It looks like putting SLI uses +170W more power. You can see how significant video card is in terms of power consumption. It blows the Pentium D away by couple of times. Reply
  • JoKeRr - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    well, keep in mind the inefficiency of PSU, generally around 80%, so as overall power draw increases, the marginal loss of power increases a lot as well. If u actually multiply by 0.8, it gives about 136W. I suppose the power draw is from the wall. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    max TDP of G80 is at most 185W -- NVIDIA revised this to something in the 170W range, but we know it won't get over 185 in any case.

    But games generally don't enable a card to draw max power ... 3dmark on the other hand ...
  • photoguy99 - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    Isn't 1920x1440 a resolution that almost no one uses in real life?

    Wouldn't 1920x1200 apply many more people?

    It seems almost all 23", 24", and many high end laptops have 1900x1200.

    Yes we could interpolate benchmarks, but why when no one uses 1440 vertical?

  • Frallan - Saturday, November 11, 2006 - link

    Well i have one more suggestion for a resolution. Full HD is 1920*1080 - that is sure to be found in a lot of homes in the future (after X-mas any1 ;0) ) on large LCDs - I believe it would be a good idea to throw that in there as well. Especially right now since loads of people will have to decide how to spend their money. The 37" Full HD is a given but on what system will I be gaming PS-3/X-Box/PC... Pls advice. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    This should be the last time we use that resolution. We're moving to LCD resolutions, but Derek still did a lot of testing (all the lower resolutions) on his trusty old CRT. LOL Reply

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