We always get very excited when we see a new GPU architecture come down the pipe from ATI or NVIDIA. For the past few years, we've really just been seeing reworked versions of old parts. NV40 evolved from NV30, G70 was just a step up from NV40, and the same is true with ATI as well. Fundamentally, not much has changed since the introduction of DX9 class hardware. But today, G80 ushers in a new class of GPU architecture that truly surpasses everything currently on the market. Changes like this only come along once every few years, so we will be sure to savor the joy that discovering a new architecture brings, and this one is big.

These massive architecture updates generally coincide with the release of a new DirectX, and guess what we've got? Thus we begin today's review not with discussions of pixel shaders and transistors, but about DirectX and what it will mean for the next-generation of graphics hardware, including G80.

DirectX 10

There has been quite a lot of talk about what DirectX 10 will bring to the table, and what we can expect from DX10 class hardware. Well, the hardware is finally here, but much like the situation we saw with the launch of ATI's Radeon 9700 Pro, the hardware precedes the new API. In the mean time, we can only look at our shiny new hardware as it performs under DX9. Of course, we will see full DX9 support, encompassing everything we've come to know and love about the current generation of hardware.

Even though we won't get to see any of the new features of DX10 and Shader Model 4.0, the performance of G80 will shine through due to its unified shader model. This will allow developers to do more with SM3.0 and DX9 while we all wait for the transition to DX10. In the mean time we will absolutely be able to talk about what the latest installment of Microsoft's pervasive graphics API will bring to the table.

More Efficient State and Object Management

One of the major performance improvements we will see from DX10 is a reduction in overhead. Under DX9, state change and draw calls are made quite often and can generate so much overhead that the API becomes the limiting factor in performance. With DX10, we will see the addition of state objects which hold all of the state information for a given pipeline stage. There are 5 state objects in DX10: InputLayout (vertex buffer layout), Sampler, Rasterizer, DepthStencil, and Blend. These objects can quickly change all state information without multiple calls to set the state per attribute.

Constant buffers have also been added to hold data for use in shader programs.

Each shader program has access to 16 buffers of 4096 constants. Each buffer can be updated in one function call. This hugely reduces the overhead of managing a lot of input for shader programs to use. Similar to constant buffers, texture arrays are also available in order to allow for much more data to be stored for use with a shader program. 512 equally sized textures can be stored in a texture array, and each shader is allowed 128 texture arrays (as opposed to 16 textures in DX9). The combination of 8Kx8K texture sizes with all this texture storage space will offer a huge boost in texturing ability to DX10 based games and hardware.

A new construct called a "view" is being introduced in DX10 which will allow resources to be used as more than one type of thing at the same time. For instance, a pixel shader could render vertex data to a texture, and then a vertex shader could use a view to interpret the data as vertex buffer. Views will basically give developers the ability to share resources between pipeline stages more easily.

There is also an DrawAuto call which can redraw an object without having to go back out to the CPU. This combined with predicated rendering should cut down on the overhead and performance impact of large numbers of draw calls currently being used in DX9.

GPUs get Virtual Memory
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  • Sunrise089 - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Then I suppose he's in the market to part with an ugly old high-end CRT. I'd love to buy it from him. Seriously. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    You want an older 21" Cornerstone CRT? It's a beast, but you can have it for the cost of shipping (which unfortunately would probably be ~$50). I'd also sell my Samsung 997DF 19" CRT for about $50, and maybe an NEC FE991-SB for $50 (which unfortunately has a scratch from my daughter in the anti-glare coating). If anyone lives in the Olympia, WA area, you know how to contact me (I hope). I'd rather someone come by to pick up any of these CRTs rather than shipping, as I don't think I have the original boxes. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    lol next thing you know links to ebay auctions are gonna start showing up in our articles :-) Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    lol, I've got a 21" techtronics I'll sell for $200 usd, plus shipping ;) Hasnt been used since I purchased my Viewsonic VA1912wb (well, been used very little ). Reply
  • imaheadcase - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    can't stand AA benchmarks myself :)

    Question: Do you have any info on what kinda card nvidia releasing this feb? Is it something in between these 2 cards or something even lower?

    Im looking for a $300ish g80! :D
    Reply
  • flexy - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    if ANYTHING counts then how those high-end cards perform WITH their various AA settings.... the power of those cards (and the money spent on :) RIGHT translated into ---> IMAGE QUALITY/PERFORMANCE.

    Please dont tell you you would get an G80 but do NOT care about AA, this does NOT make any sense...sorry...

    I am especially impressed reading that transparency AA has such a LITTLE performance impact. What game engine did you test this on ?

    On the older ATI cards (and am i right that T.A. is the same as "adaptive antialiasing" ? )...this feature (depending on game engine) is the FPS killer....eg. w/ games like oblivion (WHERE ARE THE GOTHIC 3 BENCHEIS BTW ? :)...much vegetation etc. game-engines.

    Enable transparency AA and see all those trees, grass etc. without jaggies.

    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Well lots of people don't are for AA. Even if i had this card I would not use it. I visually see NO difference with it on or off. Its personal test. I don't even see "jaggies" on my older 9700 PRO card. Reply
  • flexy - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    you sure are talking about ANTIALIASING ???

    What resoltions do you run ? Not that my CRT can even handle more than 1600x1200..but even w/ 1600 i get VERY prominent jaggies if i dont run AA.

    I made it a habit to run at least 4xAA in ANY game, and some engines (hl2:source engine) etc. run extremely well with 4xAA, even 6xAA is very playable at elast with HL2.

    The very recent games, namely NWN2 and G3 now dont support AA, playing at 1280x1024 and it looks utterly horrible ! If you say you dont see jags in say ANY resolution under 1600..very hard to believe
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Yes im talking about antialiasing. I normally play BF2 and oblivion at 1024x768 (9700 pro remember).

    Fact is most people won't see them unless someone points them out. The brain is still better at rendering stuff the way you want to see it vs hardware :)
    Reply
  • flexy - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    ok..but then it's also a performance problem. If it doesn't bother you, well ok.
    I also have to settle w/ the fact that many RECENT games are even unable to do AA..however i wish they would.

    But once i get a 8800 i will do &&&& to get the most out of IQ, AA, AF, transparency/texture AF, you name it. ALONE also for the reason that i would need a super-high end monitor first to even run resolutions like 2000xsomething...and as long as i have a lame 19" CRT and CANNOT even go over 1600 (99,99% of games even running everything on 1280x or 1360x) i will use all the power to get out best possible IQ in those low resolutions.

    Also..looking at the benchmarks..its NOT that you lose any real time gaming-experiencee since THOSE monster cards are made for exactly this...eg. running oblivion with all those settings at MAX AND AA on and HDR...and you are still in VERY reasobale FPS ranges.
    Reply

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