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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  • Mr Roboto - Thursday, February 26, 2009 - link

    How about this for the Windows 7 release, a DirectX 9 Halo 2 Port For Windows 7 But Needs it DirectX 11 To Run!

    OK so there was and still is no reason that Windows XP couldn't have DirectX 10 or DirectX 11 right? These were just more strong armed tactics by Microsoft to force us to hand them our cash for an aborted OS. Like the 4 year old DirectX 9 Halo port that somehow needed DirectX 10 to run, LOL it still makes me laugh. Whoever though up that idea should be shot. Fucking idiots.

    So how many DX10 games have been released to this day? Ten? How many have been exclusively DX10 like MS wanted? The answer is one the four year old Halo.

    I hope MS continues to hemorrhage money and eventually goes out of business. Nothing would make me happier and it would spur innovation simply by them dying off.
    Reply
  • MadBoris - Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - link

    Unfortunately the API will not be supported until consoles support it.
    Consoles now control game development technical design, thx to Microsofts sly ways.

    Until next gen consoles come out with the next DX API support then DX9 will still be the standard due to multiplatforming. We can barely get a developer to make the proper PC support changes in their multiplatform games, they aren't going to write seperate render paths unless MS pays them to, like with DX10.

    The only redeeming effect is the Nvidia 8800 GPU is one of the best GPU's I bought because it looks like it will last me many years.
    Reply
  • vistaisfine - Friday, February 20, 2009 - link

    personally i hope windows LIVE grows. they need it to. its a slick system that works well. at least in dawn of war 2 and gta IV. i don't think your assesment of how quickly developers are adopting DX 10 is accurate. Alot of gaming companys go for a wide demographic and that usually means creating content that can scale depending on the hardware. the reason why there are so many dx 9 game is because the lowest common demoninator gamer runs a dx 9 card. People are finshing maxing out their AGP builds. (crazy as that sounds). Reply
  • Mr Roboto - Thursday, February 26, 2009 - link

    Are you high? GFWL is an abomination. It has absolutely ruined GTA IV as well as all other games associated with it. It's a straight XBox port and it's total shit. There's no dedicated servers, no anti cheat mechanism, no easy way for matchmaking, constant disconnections, I could go on and on. It's very unfriendly and in typical fashion they treat something as trivial as save games as their own property. Go ahead try backing up your GTA IV save games folder and using them on another PC or game installation. It won't work because Microsoft either didn't think about it or more likely purposefully made it difficult because they think it belongs to them and they're in control of it.

    The only value GFWL has for MS (which I should have seen coming) is they're going to launch a digital distribution service. Punks. GFWL is so goddamn broken and yet they're going to try to sell games through it before it's even in decent form? Nice. You can bet they'll be ultra slow to in responding to critical bugs and spyware ready made to steal your info on launch day.

    Fucking garbage. You're settling for garbage. Valve knows how to do things, development, marketing, listening to their fan base, updating their games above and beyond what any other company would do. Even Steam isn't perfect and I'm not asking MS to become them (an impossibility) but Microsoft has a LONG way to come before they're even in the same conversation.

    I hope it crashes and burns even more than it already has because it's ported console junk.
    Reply
  • jharper12 - Thursday, February 05, 2009 - link

    americunts... that's clever. You got us!! We're idiots! I can't believe we never realized it before! You sir, are pure genius.

    I just feel absolutely terrible that 43 other countries joined us in our latest war. I feel even worse that the entire world economy was brought down by our financial sector that represents about 1% of our $14.33 trillion GDP... I mean I truly feel awful that we are dragging everyone down with us. I wish I could do something about it, but it seems as though everyone believes "americunts are idiots" and then continues to follow us into oblivion. Sorry about that, I wish there was something I could do to help.

    Sincerely,
    Americunt
    Reply
  • Matrix888 - Wednesday, February 04, 2009 - link

    I'll not be bother with the 2000 or so comments here and reply every one of them, but this is my 2 cents about VISTA:

    1) Drivers issues - there was some initial problem with drivers issues especially old hardware and lazy 3rd parties. But this wasn't MS fault. I've installed VISTA since day 1 and the only problem encountered was an X-FI driver from Creative...which isn't available until like 9 to 12 months later (and it's a beta!!!). Tell me which new O/S doesn't have drivers problem? Win98 was forever plagued with drivers problem, WIN XP suffers similar fate initially, but once the driver matures, it was ok. Hell i've waited for 1 year for an X-FI driver for Ubuntu 7....finally released and the next thing i did is upgrade to Ubuntu 8 (by the time the driver was releasead, UBuntu 8.1 is made available) and it bombs my X-FI.

    2) Memory hogging - another urban legend by people who have no ideas. VISTA does not works the same way like XP. What's the point of having idle memory and not used? VISTA pre-cache ur memory to make it better. 2GB of RAM ran just fine.

    3) You need a high spec PC for VISTA - BS. I've ran an Atom 330 PC with VISTA Premium with Aero on just fine. Even stress test it by opening tons of apps (including a Virtual PC running XP) and it multitask great with all your everyday apps...MS office, Firefox, e-mails, bit torrent etc....only 2GB RAM.

    4) Gaming performance suffers - if you have a moderately new hardware, you are not going to see any difference. I ran my games max settings at 1680x1050. Runs great.

    5) UAC? - Cmon. It's only because XP users never use any other OS like Linux or MAC/OS and they can't get this idea in their head it's for their own good. Linux and MAC/OS will prompts u administrator and password when u try to install something or do something funny. It is perfectly fine and u can always turn it off.

    So far, i really have minimal problem with VISTA. VISTA MCE makes a great front-end for HTPC and believe this, the start up is MUCH FASTER than XP. Sure a fresh XP will beat VISTA in terms of boot up time, but once you installed tons of apps into it, XP will slow like a turtle while VISTA will have minimal degradtion and you get response to your desktop much faster.

    I've finally migrated all my PCs and notebooks last year to VISTA and dump XP forever.

    I've no doubt Windows 7 will be great, but to me, it'll be nothing more than VISTA Edition 2. It'll be re-packaging to wow idiots who simply believe all those VISTA rumours without ever using it (or try to run it on a Pentium 3). Seriously, nobody ask you to install a 3.0 engine into a Japanese kei-car!!! :x

    For the rest of us, it'll simply be a moderate update of a already fantastic OS.

    Hasta La Vista!
    Reply
  • volgagerman - Monday, February 02, 2009 - link

    One thing that hasn't been stated yet is that the success of any API is directly related to market forces and timing.

    DirectX 9.0c has been successfull largely for two reasons. One, it took advantage of the market shift that developers would target consoles first and port to PC second in order to extract the largest possible return on investment. Two, many of the gaming engines we enjoy today began their life with the release of DirectX 8. It took 3-4 years for those engines to be built, and they finally meshed with the feature set of DirectX 9, as it was an evolution over 8 and not a true revolution.

    DirectX 10 has not revealed any jaw dropping improvements in shipping titles over 9 because developers are still leveraging those engines for exploitation on the console market. They can easily up the visuals for a port to the PC by removing texture compression, upping resolution support and increasing texture sizes, but the major underlying changes to truly support 10 will not happen in the immediate term.

    That brings me to my next thought. From everything I've read, the next generation of consoles are targeted for release in the 2011-2012 timeframe. A true next-gen game engine takes at least 4 years to fully bake. That means Unreal Engine 4.0, Id Tech 6, next-gen Gamebryo are all now in development to be ready when those next-gen consoles hit. It's a safe bet they are leveraging DirectX 11 to its fullest. To go one step further, I would guess that market forces are not going to change in the future, and game developers will still target consoles first and PCs second. What that means in the 2011-2012 timeframe is a solid install base of DirectX 11 on even low-end PCs by that point. It would be a no-brainer to anticipate Microsoft leveraging it's latest and greatest API in the next generation XBOX. With market forces and timing in alignment, the next-gen gaming engines and the the next-gen consoles are set to take full advantage of DirectX 11. I will expect nothing less than revolutionary changes to the quality of gaming graphics in that time frame.

    Here's one final tidbit. If Microsoft takes Intel's bait and utilizes a 32nm modified version of the Larrabee project for a single chip CPU/GPU solution in the next XBOX, developers will have to shift gears yet again and prepare for a rendering model that is mostly software based. That is beyond DirectX 11 and will lead to even more revolutionary changes...Microsoft would no longer be constrained by the capability of their CPU/GPU, but by the efficiency of the software algorithms to achieve playable frame rates. I look forward to a future on consoles and PCs when a simple patch improves frame rates significantly. No hardware update required. :)
    Reply
  • mechBgon - Monday, February 02, 2009 - link

    Touching on the "rejected" Vista:

    Valve's monthly user survey was updated today. WinXP lost 2.48% in just the last month, and Vista has gained 2.47% of that. The ratio of Vista to WinXP is now 1 to 1.91. I guess you could say Vista is "picking up Steam," ;) and rapidly, too.

    Ten months ago, this AnandTech thread also indicated (much to the OP's annoyance, I'm sure) that even then, the Vista adoption rate among AnandTech Forum users was already about 50%:

    http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...">http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid...

    In light of the readership's tastes, also pretty clearly illustrated in the comments here, I suggest calming the anti-Vista rhetoric and not reading more into things than what's really there.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Sunday, February 01, 2009 - link

    Do you think someone over there at anand could do an article explaining exactly WHY DirectX 10 can't be supported by XP? PLEASE!!!!!! Reply
  • DerekWilson - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    because Microsoft chose to tie in driver specific features to DX10 that make a retrofit not technically possible. Microsoft could have chosen to spec out DX10 so that new hardware features were exposed while simply allowing for a new driver model, but they did not: they required the new driver model features.

    this stuff has to do with power management, threading, OS managed/virtual memory, hardware virtualization (sharing between software and even VMs), etc...

    Now that what DX10 is eternally locked into existence as is, porting back is not possible. We're in a similar boat with DX11.

    There is ZERO technical reason that microsoft couldn't have chosen at the outset to enable the Geometry Shader, to extend const/register limits, and to do all the other things that game developers actually use on Windows XP. It would have required hardware companies to implement a distinct WinXP DX10 driver and Vista DX10 driver, but now that can't be done.

    The /why/ of no DX10 on XP is that MS simply decided not to make that an option when developing DX10 and built in features extraneous to game development that require the Vista platform.
    Reply

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