NVIDIA's Dirty Dealing with DX10.1 and How GT200 Doesn't Support it

I know many people were hoping to see DX10.1 implemented in GT200 hardware, but that is not the case. NVIDIA has opted to skip including some of the features of DX10.1 in this generation of their architecture. We are in a situation as with DX9 where SM2.0 hardware was able to do the same things as SM3.0 hardware albeit at reduced performance or efficiency. DX10.1 does not enable a new class of graphics quality or performance, but does enable more options to developers to simplify their code and it does enhance performance when coding certain effects and features.

It's useful to point out that, in spite of the fact that NVIDIA doesn't support DX10.1 and DX10 offers no caps bits, NVIDIA does enable developers to query their driver on support for a feature. This is how they can support multisample readback and any other DX10.1 feature that they chose to expose in this manner. Sure, part of the point of DX10 was to eliminate the need for developers to worry about varying capabilities, but that doesn't mean hardware vendors can't expose those features in other ways. Supporting DX10.1 is all or nothing, but enabling features beyond DX10 that happen to be part of DX10.1 is possible, and NVIDIA has done this for multisample readback and can do it for other things.

While we would love to see NVIDIA and AMD both adopt the same featureset, just as we wish AMD had picked up SM3.0 in R4xx hardware, we can understand the decision to exclude support for the features DX10.1 requires. NVIDIA is well within reason to decide that the ROI on implementing hardware for DX10.1 is not high enough to warrant it. That's all fine and good.

But then PR, marketing and developer relations get involved and what was a simple engineering decision gets turned into something ridiculous.

We know that both G80 and R600 both supported some of the DX10.1 featureset. Our goal at the least has been to determine which, if any, features were added to GT200. We would ideally like to know what DX10.1 specific features GT200 does and does not support, but we'll take what we can get. After asking our question, this is the response we got from NVIDIA Technical Marketing:

"We support Multisample readback, which is about the only dx10.1 feature (some) developers are interested in. If we say what we can't do, ATI will try to have developers do it, which can only harm pc gaming and frustrate gamers."

The policy decision that has lead us to run into this type of response at every turn is reprehensible. Aside from being blatantly untrue at any level, it leaves us to wonder why we find ourselves even having to respond to this sort of a statement. Let's start with why NVIDIA's official position holds no water and then we'll get on to the bit about what it could mean.

The statement multisample readback is the only thing some developers are interested in is untrue: cube map arrays come in quite handy for simplifying and accelerating multiple applications. Necessary? no, but useful? yes. Separate per-MRT blend modes could become useful as deferred shading continues to evolve, and part of what would be great about supporting these features is that they allow developers and researchers to experiment. I get that not many devs will get up in arms about int16 blends, but some DX10.1 features are interesting, and, more to the point, would be even more compelling if both AMD and NVIDIA supported them.

Next, the idea that developers in collusion with ATI would actively try to harm pc gaming and frustrate gamers is false (and wreaks of paranoia). Developers are interested in doing the fastest most efficient thing to get their desired result with as little trouble to themselves as possible. If a techique makes sense, they will either take it or leave it. The goal of a developer is to make the game as enjoyable as possible for as many gamers as possible, and enabling the same experience on both AMD and NVIDIA hardware is vital. Games won't come out with either one of the two major GPU vendors unable to run the game properly because it is bad for the game and bad for the developer.

Just like NVIDIA made an engineering decision about support for DX10.1 features, every game developer must weight the ROI of implementing a specific feature or using a certain technique. With NVIDIA not supporting DX10.1, doing anything DX10.1 becomes less attractive to a developer because they need to write a DX10 code path anyway. Unless a DX10.1 code path is trivial to implement, produces the same result as DX10, and provides some benefit on hardware supporting DX10.1 there is no way it will ever make it into games. Unless there is some sort of marketing deal in place with a publisher to unbalance things which is a fundamental problem with going beyond developer relations and tech support and designing marketing campaigns based on how many games dispaly a particular hardware vendors logo.

The idea that NVIDIA is going to somehow hide the capabilities of their hardware from AMD is also naive. The competition through the use of xrays, electron microscopes and other tools of reverse engineering are going to be the first to discover all the ins and outs of how a piece of silicon works once it hits the market. NIVIDA knows AMD will study GT200 because NVIDIA knows it would be foolish for them not to have an RV670 core on their own chopping block. AMD will know how best to program GT200 before developers do and independantly of any blanket list of features we happen to publish on launch day.

So who really suffers from NVIDIA's flawed policy of silence and deception? The first to feel it are the hardware enthusiasts who love learning about hardware. Next in line are the developers because they don't even know what features NVIDIA is capable of offering. Of course, there is AMD who won't be able to sell developers on support for features that could make their hardware perform better because NVIDIA hardware doesn't support it (even if it does). Finally there are the gamers who can and will never know what could have been if a developer had easy access to just one more tool.

So why would NVIDIA take this less than honorable path? The possibilities are endless, but we're happy to help with a few suggestions. It could just be as simple as preventing AMD from getting code into games that runs well on their hardware (as may have happened with Assassin's Creed). It could be that the features NVIDIA does support are incredibly subpar in performance: just because you can do something doesn't mean you can do it well and admitting support might make them look worse than denying it. It could be that the fundamental architecture is incapable of performing certain basic functions and that reengineering from the ground up would be required for DX10.1 support.

NVIDIA insists that if it reveals it's true feature set, AMD will buy off a bunch of developers with its vast hoards of cash to enable support for DX10.1 code NVIDIA can't run. Oh wait, I'm sorry, NVIDIA is worth twice as much as AMD who is billions in debt and struggling to keep up with its competitors on the CPU and GPU side. So we ask: who do you think is more likely to start buying off developers to the detriment of the industry?

Derek's Conjecture Regarding SP Pipelining and TMT GT200 vs. G80: A Clock for Clock Comparison
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  • gigahertz20 - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    I think these ridiculous prices and lackluster performance is just a way for them to sell more SLI motherboards, who would buy a $650 GTX 280 when you can buy two 8800GT's with a SLI mobo and get better performance? Especially now that the 8800GT's are approaching around $150. Reply
  • crimson117 - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    It's only worth riding the bleeding edge when you can afford to stay there with every release. Otherwise, 12 months down the line, you have no budget left for an upgrade, while everyone else is buying new $200 cards that beat your old $600 card.

    So yeah you can buy an 8800GT or two right now, and you and me should probably do just that! But Richie Rich will be buying 2x GTX 280's, and by the time we could afford even one of those, he'll already have ordered a pair of whatever $600 cards are coming out next.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    Nope, the majority of these cards go to Alienware/Falcon/etc. top of the line, overpriced pre-built systems. These are for the people that blow $5k on a system every couple years, don't upgrade, might not even seriously game, they just want the best TODAY.

    They are the ones that blindly check the bottom box in every configuration for the "fastest" computer money can buy.
    Reply
  • gigahertz20 - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    Very few people are richie rich and stay at the bleeding edge. People that are very wealthy tend not to be computer geeks and purchase their computers from Dell and what not. I'd say at least 96% of gamers out there are value oriented, these $650 cards will not sell much at all. If anything, you'll see people claim to have bought one or two of these in forums and other places, but their just lying. Reply
  • perzy - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    Well I for one is waiting for Larabee. Maybee (probably) it isen' all that its cranked up to be, but I want to see.

    And what about some real powersaving Nvidia?
    Reply
  • can - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    I wonder if you can just flash the BIOS of the 260 to get it to operate as if it were a 280... Reply
  • 7Enigma - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    You haven't been able to do this for a long time....they learned their lessons the hard way. :) Reply
  • Nighteye2 - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    Is it just me, or does this focus on compute power mean Nvidia is starting to get serious about using the GPU for physics, as well as graphics? It's also in-line with the Ageia acquisition.
    Reply
  • will889 - Monday, June 16, 2008 - link

    At the point where NV has actually managed to position SLI mobos and GPU's where you actually need that much power to get decent FPS (above 30 average) from games gaming on the PC will be entirely dead to all those but the most esoteric. It would be different if there were any games worth playing or as many games as the console brethren have. I thought GPU's/cases/power supplies were supposed to become more efficient? EG smaller but faster sort of how the TV industry made TV's bigger yet smaller in footprint with way more features - not towering cases with 1200KW PSU's and 2X GTX 280 GPU's? All this in the face o drastically raised gas prices?

    Wanna impress me? How about a single GPU with the PCB size of a 7600GT/GS that's 15-25% faster than a 9800GTX that can fit into a SFF case? needing a small power supply AND able to run passively @ moderate temps. THAT would be impressive. No, Seargent Tom and his TONKA_TRUCK crew just have to show how beefy his toys can be and yank your wallet chains for said. Hell, everyone needs a Boeing 747 in their case right? cause' that's progress for those 1-2 gaming titles per years that give you 3-4 hours of enjoyable PC gaming.....

    /off box
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - link

    The 4850 might actually hit that target... Reply

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