No matter whether we've got a low end or high end system, we all expect the realtime 3D revolution to continue until we achieve near parity with reality. The push forward is backed by many factors including pure hardware performance and brilliant advances in techniques for better approximating what we see. But there's another side to the equation beyond just hardware and developers: there is the graphics API.

Unlike CPUs, graphics hardware (GPUs) do not have a common instruction set upon which tools and software can be built. In order to get the power of the hardware out to the public, we need a common interface that works no matter what GPU is underneath. It's left to the graphics hardware designer to take the code generated by this application programming interface (API) and translate it into something that their chip can use. Because it's the developer's single point of contact, the graphics API is incredibly important. It defines how much flexibility programmers have in using hardware and shapes the world of high performance realtime 3D graphics.

Some of the key work done through the graphics API is taking descriptions of 3D objects in a 3D world, sending those objects and other resources to the hardware, and then telling the hardware what to do with them. There is sort of a step by step process that needs to be followed that we generally call a pipeline. Graphics API pipelines have stages where different work is done. Here's the general structure of a 3D graphics pipeline:

First vertex data (information about the position of the corners of shapes) is taken in and processed. Then those shapes can then be further manipulated and re-processed if needed. After this, 3D objects are broken down from 3D shapes by projecting them into 2D fragments called pixels (this step is called rasterization), and then these pixels are each processed by looking up texture information and using lighting techniques and so on. When pixels are finished processing, they are output and displayed on the screen. And that's the mile high overview of how 3D graphics work.

For the past dozen years (it seems longer doesn't it?), we've seen makers of 3D graphics hardware accelerate two very prominent APIs: OpenGL and DirectX.

We recently touched on advancements tangential to OpenGL in our OpenCL article, but today our focus will be on DirectX. Microsoft's DirectX graphics API is much more heavily used in game engines than OpenGL, in a large part because DirectX tends to move much more quickly and sets the bar for both the hardware and DirectX in terms of feature set and flexibility. That always makes upcoming versions of DirectX exciting to talk about: they define the future capabilities of hardware and expose improved tools to developers. Upcoming DirectX versions are glimpses into our graphical future. Currently we have a lot of DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 games available and in development, but DirectX 11 looms on the horizon.

As usual, Microsoft will be trying to time the release of their next DirectX revision with the release of compatible graphics hardware. As with last time, DirectX 11 will also be released with Windows 7. With the Windows 7 Beta already under way, we expect the OS to be done some time this year.

Microsoft has been rather aggressive with Windows 7 scheduling in light of the rejection of Vista, so it appears they are stepping up to the plate to get everything out sooner rather than later. There was a little more than 4 years between the release of DirectX 9 and DirectX 10. As it hit the streets with Vista in January of 2007, DirectX 10 has just turned 2 and we are already anticipating it's replacement in the very near future. As we will learn, this speedy transition should be very good for DirectX 11 adoption as DirectX 10 hasn't even become pervasive yet: many games are still DirectX 9 only.

But let's take a closer look at what we are talking about before we go any further.

Introducing DirectX 11: The Pipeline and Features
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  • ssj4Gogeta - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    "DX11 offers nothing new over DX10, as quoted in the article its just a strict superset that builds on and adds features to DX10 capability."

    aren't you contradicting yourself? :)
    Reply
  • chizow - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    Oh right, that should read nothing new with regards to hardware requirements. They could've just as easily added the features and called it DX10a or DX10.2 etc.... Reply
  • FesterSilently - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    Hrm...all I really pulled from this article was:

    - "...the rejection of Vista" pg. 1
    - "...no one knew how much Vista would really suck" pg. 2
    - "...slow adoption of Vista" pg. 3
    - "...ends up being a more expensive Vista in a shiny package" pg. 3
    - "...because of Vista's failure" pg. 7
    - "...as Vista still sucks" pg. 8
    - "...better upgrade option for XP users than Vista" pg. 8

    Oh, yeah! And:

    - "...DX 11 looks to rawk" (my quote)

    Well.

    I'm glad we cleared all that up. Now where's that XP disk...?

    :/
    Reply
  • ssj4Gogeta - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    Sorry for posting this again, but Derek, have we had any more news on Larrabee? Weren't the first samples supposed to be ready by the end of 2008?

    I also read somewhere that Intel bought Project Offset to use their technology in the launch title for Larrabee.
    Reply
  • scruffypup - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    Interesting there is still the bashing on Vista,..

    Some say it "sucks"

    Answer this:
    Does Vista do everything Xp does? YES
    Does Xp do everything Vista does? NO

    So how can you say Vista sucks in comparison to XP? The driver issue? That has happened on most releases of Microsoft operating systems and is not the fault of the operating system? The fact old software does not always work on it? That again is not the operating system fault,.. the software was written for a certain operating system,...

    Security? I think we all know that Vista is inherently more secure
    Performance? Does a new software package (OS, driver, game) always mean better performance,... most often NO!!! GAMES especially,.. they do more,... but are bigger resource hogs,... most drivers you can say the same,...

    I feel that Derek's article was unprofessional and filled with a bias which will lead me to steer clear of his future articles,... and ESPECIALLY any opinions he wants to chime about,... sorry to see the Anandtech site have such "craptacular" articles that "suck"!!!
    Reply
  • MightyDrunken - Wednesday, February 04, 2009 - link

    To love or hate Vista - either way is an opinion. For me there is no correct answer regarding Vista. If the article writer is not allowed an opinon which disagrees with some of it's readers then AnandTech articles will be worthless.
    I use Vista daily and my impression is it sucks, sorry.
    On a two year old dell its slow, very slow(2 Gig RAM, Dual Core duo). All drivers are up to date. My slower windows XP machine was much faster.
    The only improvements with Vista I notice are the breadcrumb trail in Explorer and search on the start menu.
    Those improvements are not worth 13+ gigs of files and a fairly recent computer. Someone will pipe up and say, "Oh but hard drives are cheap", but what if I want to backup my install to DVD, memory stick...?
    Vista is pure bloat. Lets hope the Windows 7 hype is not as misleading as Vista's hype before release.
    Reply
  • epyon96 - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    Suffice to say the article does not have the flair of Anand Shimpi but it was educational. The Vista comment was unnecessary and seemed out of place.

    You kept emphasizing how Dx11 is a superset of Dx10. I am wondering why Microsoft just named it Dx10.2 or something of that nature to indicate the superset nature of it? What is the fundamental difference between a 1 and 0.1 or 0.2 advancement in Direct X technologies.
    Reply
  • bigsnyder - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    I think many of you are trying to interpret what you want to hear from his Vista comments. Bottom line, it is his article, he can say what he wants. I would say that there is far more people agreeing with his comments than what is posting here. There is no denying the fact the Vista did not live up to its hype at launch. Sure, XP had teething problems as well, but the difference here is that XP does offer a significant reason to upgrade over its predecessors win98/ME (w2k was a different market segment). Outside of DX10, what does Vista offer that I should be compelled to upgrade? Vista does not offer that same compelling reason. The current state of Vista is almost irrelevant (I'm sorry, but even with the improvements, Vista still does not paint a rosie picture). The damage is already done. Why do you think MS is accelerating Windows 7 development? Derek, thank you for your honest perspective. Reply
  • Intelman07 - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    Urgh Vista bashing from Anandtech...

    Vista simply does not suck.
    Reply
  • bobvodka - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    Ok, lets cover a few things with one post;

    1) Vista "sucks".
    I find this claim today intresting; 99% of those I know who have used Vista have seen it as a large improvement over XP, myself included, and those who haven't generally have low spec or unsupported hardware. I've used Win3, 3.11, 95, 98, 98SE, ME, 2K, XP, XPx64 and now Vista and out of all of them Vista has been the smoothest OS I've had from day one (this was March 2007 when I accidently killed my XPx64 install by not paying attention) with the only troubles being 3rd party drivers (such as Creative's inability to write drivers which work first time out and NV apprently forgetting how to write them for around 9months in 2007).

    So, Vista far from sucks, what Vista suffers from is being bashed left, right and center even before it was released by 'tech sites' who brought into the whole 'Vista sucks' thing and continued the myth. I can only assume this is because you get better readership from saying something of MS's sucks rather than 'hey, it isn't perfect BUT...' type thing. Hey, that's journalism all over I guess.

    2) Vista's development time
    This was always going to be a problem for MS. XP was built upon Win2K, indeed they share the same driver model, which was built upon NT and the 9x kernel (in places) so it had a very long development history behind it. Vista had a whole new design thrown at it, new driver model, improved security model etc etc; this stuff doesn't happen quickly nor cheaply. The fact it had such a major overhall and worked so well out of the gate is nothing short of impressive.

    The problem however is that many of these changes are 'under the hood'. All the end user sees is a new shiney interface and wonders 'why did this take so long?'. Now, I guess MS could have tried to explain this to the ordinary person, much like they did to technical people, however I suspect this would have been a waste of time because all average Joe User cares about is if it will run his stuff.

    (side note: this is something MS really don't get enough praise for, the mindbending amount of work they put in to maintain backwards compatbility between their OS revisions. Take program written for Win95 and chances are it'll work just fine in Vista, THATS impressive.)

    3) DX10 and the performance quest
    This is another one of those things were people needed more information than they were given to understand whats going on here. The simple truth is, yes, DX10 allows you to write programs which use the GPU better and reduce CPU overhead (this reduction was infact a major part of the performance they were talking about, however everyone assumed when they said 'performance' they meant 'frames per second'); however this would require writing DX10 code, not naively port their DX9c code across and hope everything works out. The problem is this cost time and money, and with the major 2 consoles being DX9 level hardware (more or less) anything which needs to be crossplatform isn't going to have 'shiney DX10 renderer' high on their 'todo list'. (site note: the PS3 doesn't use OpenGL, it has an OpenGL|ES library but anyone with any sense codes to Sony's own graphics library instead).

    Of course, once these DX10 renderers are done they add more things to the scene as well, be it particles or general increase in the level of detail. So suddenly you are getting more things on screen for around the same cost in many cases.

    End of the day however the DX10 API IS a better API than DX9c and OpenGL; OpenGL did have the chance to 'catch up' but with the dropping of Longs Peak and the release of OpenGL3.0 they threw that away. (personal note; I'd used OpenGL since 1999, however that dropping of the ball made me move away from it).

    4) DX11 on XP.
    Not going to happen.
    Cost and development time don't make it worth while; unless ofcourse everyone was prepared to pay $150+ for an upgrade, because it makes no financal sense to even consider doing this for free and at that cost, well, you might as well get Vista or Windows7.

    5) DX11 and Multi-threading
    I was at the XNA Gamefest 2008 in london and I'm 99% sure that the multithreaded stuff DOESNT require a driver update. Granted, you'll get better performance with one but the runtime itself can deal with it.

    (As for who I am; I work as a programmer for a UK based games company. I wrote the chapter on GLSL for More OpenGL Game Programming and I've been coding now for over 15 years on various pieces of hardware. Just incase you felt I was some newbie :))
    Reply

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