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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  • dwalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    When using older cards sacrificing IQ for performance is typically acceptable. Who needs AA when running F.E.A.R on a 9700 Pro.

    However, on a just launched high-end card, why would anyone feel the need to sacrifice IQ for performance? Some may say resolution over AA, but I find it hard to believe that there is a lot of gaming enthusiasts with deep pockets, who play with insane resolutions yet no AA.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    If I look for jaggies, I see them. On most games, however, they don't bother me much at all. Running at native resolution on LCDs or at a really high resolution on CRTs, I'd take that over a lower res with 4xAA. If you have the power to enable 4xAA, great, but I'm certainly not one to suggest it's required. I'd rather be able to enable vsync without a massive performance hit (i.e. stay above 60 FPS) than worry about jaggies. Personal preference. Reply
  • munim - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    "With the latest 1.09 patch, F.E.A.R. has gained multi-core support,"

    Where is this?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    I wrote that, but it may be incorrect. I'm trying to get in contact with Gary to find out if I'm just being delusional about Quad Core support. Maybe it's NDA still? Hmmm.... nothing to see here! Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    Okay, it's the 1.08 patch, and that is what was tested. Since we didn't use a quad core CPU I don't know if it will actually help or not -- something to look at in the future. Reply
  • Nelsieus - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    I haven't even finished reading it yet, but so far, this is the most comprehensive, in-depth review I've seen on G80 and I just wanted to mention that beforehand.

    :)
    Reply
  • GhandiInstinct - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    What upcoming games will be the first to be fully made on DX10 structure? And does the G80 have full support of DX10? Reply
  • timmiser - Thursday, November 09, 2006 - link

    Microsoft Flight Simulator X will be DX10 compliant via a planned patch once Vista comes out.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    All DX10 hardware will be full DX10 (see pages 2-4). As for games that will be DX10 ready, Halo 2 for Vista will be for sure. Beyond that... I don't know for sure. As we've explained a bit, DX10 will require Vista, so anything launching before Vista will likely not be DX10 compliant. Reply
  • shabby - Wednesday, November 08, 2006 - link

    They're re-doing a dx8 game in dx10? You gotta be kidding me, whats the point? You cant polish a turd. Reply

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