DX10 Redux

Being late to the game also means being late to DirectX 10; luckily for AMD there hasn't been much in the way of DX10 titles released nor will there be for a while - a couple titles should have at least some form of DX10 support in the next month or two, but that's about it. What does DX10 offer above and beyond DX9 that makes this move so critical? We looked at DirectX 10 in great detail when NVIDIA released G80, but we'll give you a quick recap here as a reminder of what the new transistors in R600 are going to be used for.

From a pure performance standpoint, DX10 offers more efficient state and object management than DX9, resulting in less overhead from the API itself. There's more room to store data for use in shader programs, and this is largely responsible for the reduction in management overhead. For more complex shader programs, DX10 should perform better than DX9.

A hot topic these days in the CPU world is virtualization, and although it's not as much of a buzzword among GPU makers there's still a lot to talk about the big V when it comes to graphics. DirectX 10 and the new WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) require that graphics hardware supports virtualization, the reason being that DX10 applications are no longer guaranteed exclusive access to the GPU. The GPU and its resources could be split between a 3D game and physics processing, or in the case of a truly virtualized software setup, multiple OSes could be vying for use of the GPU.

Virtual memory is also required by DX10, meaning that the GPU can now page data out to system memory if it runs out of memory on the graphics card. If managed properly and with good caching algorithms, virtualized graphics memory can allow game developers to use ridiculously large textures and objects. 3DLabs actually first introduced virtualized graphics memory on its P10 graphics processor back in 2002; Epic Games' Tim Sweeney had this to say about virtual memory for graphics cards back then:

"This is something Carmack and I have been pushing 3D card makers to implement for a very long time. Basically it enables us to use far more textures than we currently can. You won't see immediate improvements with current games, because games always avoid using more textures than fit in video memory, otherwise you get into texture swapping and performance becomes totally unacceptable. Virtual texturing makes swapping performance acceptable, because only the blocks of texels that are actually rendered are transferred to video memory, on demand.

Then video memory starts to look like a cache, and you can get away with less of it - typically you only need enough to hold the frame buffer, back buffer, and the blocks of texels that are rendered in the current scene, as opposed to all the textures in memory. So this should let IHVs include less video RAM without losing performance, and therefore faster RAM at less cost.

This does for rendering what virtual memory did for operating systems: it eliminates the hard-coded limitation on RAM (from the application's point of view.)"

Obviously the P10 was well ahead of its time as a gaming GPU, but now with DX10 requiring it, virtualized graphics memory is a dream come true for game developers and will bring even better looking games to DX10 GPUs down the line. Of course, with many GPUs now including 512MB or more RAM it may not be as critical a factor as before, at least until we start seeing games and systems that benefit from multiple Gigabytes of RAM.

Continuing on the holy quest of finding the perfect 3D graphics API, DX10 does away with the hardware capability bits that were present in DX9. All DX10 hardware must support the same features and furthermore, Microsoft will only allow DX10 shaders to be written in HLSL (High Level Shader Language). The hope is that the combination of eliminating cap bits and shader level assembly optimization will prevent any truly "bad" DX10 hardware/software from getting out there, similar to what happened in the NV30 days.

Although not specifically a requirement of DX10, Unified Shaders are a result of changes to the API. While DX9 called for different precision for vertex and pixel shaders, DX10 requires all shaders to use 32-bit precision, making the argument for unified shader hardware more appealing. With the same set of 32-bit execution hardware, you can now run pixel, vertex, and the new geometry shaders (also introduced in DX10). Unified shaders allow extracting greater efficiency out of the hardware, and although they aren't required by DX10 they are a welcome result now implemented by both major GPU makers.

Finally, there are a number of enhancements to Shader Model 4.0 which simply allow for more robust shader programs and greater programmer flexibility. In the end, the move to DX10 is just as significant as prior DirectX revisions but don't expect this rate of improvement to continue. All indications point to future DX revisions slowing in their pace and scope. However, none of this matters to us today; with the R600 as AMD's first DX10 architecture, much has changed since the DX9 Radeon X1900 series.

Index R600 Overview
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  • wjmbsd - Monday, July 02, 2007 - link

    What is the latest on the so-called Dragonhead 2 project (aka, HD 2900 XTX)? I heard it was just for OEMs at first...anyone know if the project is still going and how the part is benchmarking with newest drivers? Reply
  • teainthesahara - Monday, May 21, 2007 - link

    After this failure of the R600 and likely overrated(and probably late) Barcelona/Agena processors I think that Intel will finally bury AMD. Paul Ottelini is rubbing his hands with glee at the moment and rightfully so. AMD now stands for mediocrity.Oh dear what a fall from grace.... To be honest Nvidia don't have any real competition on the DX10 front at any price points.I cannot see AMD processors besting Intel's Core 2 Quad lineup in the future especially when 45nm and 32 nm become the norm and they don't have a chance in hell of beating Nvidia. Intel and Nvidia are turning the screws on Hector Ruiz.Shame AMD brought down such a great company like ATI. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, May 24, 2007 - link

    To be fair, we really don't have any clue how these cards compete on the DX10 front as there are no final, real DX10 games on the market to test.

    We will try really hard to get a good idea of what DX10 will look like on the HD 2000 series and the GeForce 8 Series using game demos, pre-release code, and SDK samples. It won't be a real reflection of what users will experience, but we will certainly hope to get a glimpse at performance.

    It is fair to say that NVIDIA bests AMD in current game performance. But really there are so many possibilities with DX10 that we can't call it yet.
    Reply
  • spinportal - Friday, May 18, 2007 - link

    From the last posting of results for the GTS 320MB round-up
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2953...">Prey @ AnandTech - 8800GTS320
    we see that the 2900XT review chart pushes the nVidia cards down about 15% across the board.
    http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=2988...">Prey @ AnandTech - ATI2900XT
    The only difference in systems is software drivers as the cpu / mobo / mem are the same.

    Does this mean ATI should be getting a BIGGER THRASHING BEAT-DOWN than the reviewer is stating?
    400$ ATI 2900XT performing as good as a 300$ nVidia 8800 GTS 320MB?

    Its 100$ short and 6 months late along with 100W of extra fuel.

    This is not your uncle's 9700 Pro...
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, May 20, 2007 - link

    We switched Prey demos -- I updated our benchmark.

    Both numbers are accurate for the tests I ran at the time.

    Our current timedemo is more stressful and thus we see lower scores with this test.
    Reply
  • Yawgm0th - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    The prices listed in this article are way off.

    Currently, 8800GTS 640MB retails for $350-380, $400+ for OC or special versions. 2900XT retails for $430+. In the article, both are listed as $400, and as such the card is given a decent review in the conclusion.

    Realistically, this card provides slightly inferior performance to the 8800GTS 640MB at a considerably higher price point -- $80-$100 more than the 8800GTS. I mean, it's not like the 8800Ultra, but for the most part this card has little use outside of AMD and/or ATI fanboys. I'd love for this card to do better as AMD needs to be competing with Nvidia and Intel right now, but I just can't see how this is even worth looking at, given current prices.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Thursday, May 17, 2007 - link

    really, this article focuses on architechture more than product, and we went with MSRP prices...

    we will absolutly look closer at price and price/performance when we review retail products.
    Reply
  • quanta - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    As I recalled, the Radeon HD 2900 only has DVI ports, but nowhere in DVI documentation specifies it can carry audio signals. Unless the card comes with adapter that accepts audio input, it seems the audio portion of R600 is rendered useless. Reply
  • DerekWilson - Wednesday, May 16, 2007 - link

    the card does come with an adapter of sorts, but the audio input is from the dvi port.

    you can't use a standard DVI to HDMI converter for this task.

    when using AMD's HDMI converter the data sent out over the DVI port does not follow the DVI specification.

    the bottom line is that the DVI port is just a physical connector carrying data. i could take a DVI port and solder it to a stereo and use it to carry 5.1 audio if I wanted to ... wouldn't be very useful, but I could do it :-)

    While connected to a DVI device, the card operates the port according to the DVI specification. When connected to an HDMI device through the special converter (which is not technically "dvi to hdmi" -- it's amd proprietry to hdmi), the card sends out data that follows the HDMI spec.

    you can look at it another way -- when the HDMI converter is connected, just think of the dvi port as an internal connector between an I/O port and the TMDS + audio device.
    Reply
  • ShaunO - Tuesday, May 15, 2007 - link

    I was at an AMD movie night last night where they discussed the technical details of the HD 2900 XT and also showed the Ruby Whiteout DX10 Demo rendered using the card. It looked amazing and I had high hopes until I checked out the benchmark scores. They're going to need more than free food and popcorn to convince me to buy an obsolete card.

    However there is room for improvement of course. Driver updates, DX10 and whatnot. The main thing for me personally will be driver updates, I will be interested to see how well the card improves over time while I save my pennies for my next new machine.

    Everyone keeps saying "DX10 performance will be better, yadda yadda" but I also want to be able to play the games I have now and older games without having to rely on DX10 games to give me better performance. Nothing like totally underperforming in DX9 games and then only being equal or slightly better in DX10 games compared to the competition. I would rather have a decent performer all-round. Even saying that we don't even know for sure if DX10 games are even going to bring any performance increases of the competition, it's all speculation right now and that's all we can do, speculate.

    Shaun.
    Reply

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