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Partially Resident Textures: Not Your Father’s Megatexture

John Carmack’s id Software may not be the engine licensing powerhouse it was back in the Quake 3 days, but that hasn’t changed the revolutionary nature of his engine designs. The reason we bring this up is because there’s a great deal of GPU technology that can be directly mapped to concepts Carmack first implemented. For id Tech 4 Carmack implemented shadow volume technology, which was then first implemented in hardware by NVIDIA as their UltraShadow technology, and has since then been implemented in a number of GPUs. For id Tech 5 the trend has continued, now with AMD doing a hardware implementation of a Carmack inspired technology.

Among the features added to Graphics Core Next that were explicitly for gaming, the final feature was Partially Resident Textures, which many of you are probably more familiar with in concept as Carmack’s MegaTexture technology. The concept behind PRT/Megatexture is that rather than being treated as singular entities, due to their size textures should be broken down into smaller tiles, and then the tiles can be used as necessary. If a complete texture isn’t needed, then rather than loading the entire texture only the relevant tiles can be loaded while the irrelevant tiles can be skipped or loaded at a low quality. Ultimately this technology is designed to improve texture streaming by streaming tiles instead of whole textures, reducing the amount of unnecessary texture data that is streamed.

Currently MegaTexture does this entirely in software using existing OpenGL 3.2 APIs, but AMD believes that more next-generation game engines will use this type of texturing technology. Which makes it something worth targeting, as if they can implement it faster in hardware and get developers to use it, then it will improve game performance on their cards. Again this is similar to volume shadows, where hardware implementations sped up the process.

In order to implement this in hardware AMD has to handle two things: texture conversion, and cache management. With texture conversion, textures need to be read and broken up into tiles; AMD is going with a texture format agnostic method here that can simply chunk textures as they stand, keeping the resulting tiles in the same format. For AMD’s technology each tile will be 64KB, which for an uncompressed 32bit texture would be enough room for a 128 x 128 chunk.

The second aspect of PRT is managing the tiles. In essence PRT reduces local video memory to a very large cache, where tiles are mapped/pinned as necessary and then evicted as per the cache rules, and elsewhere the hardware handles page/tile translation should a tile not already be in the cache. Large tomes have been written on caching methods, and this aspect is of particular interest to AMD because what they learn about caching here they can apply to graphical workloads (i.e. professional) and not just gaming.

To that end AMD put together a technology demo for PRT based on Per-Face Texture Mapping (PTEX), a Disney-developed texture mapping technique that maps textures to polygons in a 1:1 ratio. Disney uses this technique for production rendering, as by constraining textures to a single polygon they don’t have to deal with any complexities that arise as a result of mapping a texture over multiple polygons. In the case of AMD’s demo it not only benefits for the reasons that Disney uses it, but also because when combined with tessellation it trivializes vector displacement, making art generation for tessellated games much easier to create. Finally, PRT fits into all of this by improving the efficiency of accessing and storing the Ptex texture chunks.

Wrapping things up, for the time being while Southern Islands will bring hardware support for PRT software support will remain limited. As D3D is not normally extensible it’s really only possible to easily access the feature from other APIs (e.g. OpenGL), which when it comes to games is going to greatly limit the adoption of the technology. AMD of course is working on the issue, but there are few ways around D3D’s tight restrictions on non-standard features.

Tahiti: The First Direct3D 11.1 GPU Display Tech: HD3D Eyefinity, MST Hubs, & DDM Audio
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  • Wreckage - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    That's kind of disappointing. Reply
  • atticus14 - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    oh look its that guy that was banned from the forums for being an overboard nvidia zealot. Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, January 03, 2012 - link

    Maybe he meant "somebody @ anandtech is again pissing on AMDs cookies"?

    I mean "oh, it's fastest and coolest single GPU card on the market, it is slightly more expensive than competitor's, but it kinda sucks since AMD didn't go "significantly cheaper than nVidia" route" is hard to call unbiased, eh?

    Kind of disappointing conclusion, indeed.
    Reply
  • ddarko - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    To each their own but I think this is undeniable impressive:

    "Even with the same number of ROPs and a similar theoretical performance limit (29.6 vs 28.16), 7970 is pushing 51% more pixels than 6970 is" and

    "it’s clear that AMD’s tessellation efficiency improvements are quite real, and that with Tahiti AMD can deliver much better tessellation performance than Cayman even at virtually the same theoretical triangle throughput rate."
    Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    I prefer nVidia products, mostly because the games I play (EA/DICE Battlefield-series) are heavily sponsered by nVidia, giving them a developement-edge.

    That out of the way, nVidia has had their problems just like this card is going to experience. Remember when Fermi came out, it was a performance joke, not because it was slow, but because it used a ridiculous amount of power to do the same thing as an ATI card while costing substantially more.

    Fermi wasn't successful until second-generation products were released, most obviously the GTX460 and GT430, reasonably priced cards with quality drivers and low power consumption. But it took over a year for nVidia to release those, and it will take over a year for ATI to make this architecture shine.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    Wat? The only thing there might be an issue with is drivers. As far as power consumption goes, this should be better than Cayman. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    He's saying the 28mn node will have further power improvements. Take it as an amd compliment - rather you should have. Reply
  • StriderTR - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    EA/Dice are just as heavily sponsored by AMD, more in fact. Not sure where your getting your information, but its .. well ... wrong. Nvidia bought the rights to advertize the game with their hardware, AMD is heavily sponsoring BF3 and related material. Example, The Controller.

    Also, the GTX 580 and HD 6970 perform within a few FPS of each other on BF3. I run dual 6970's, by buddy runs dual 580's, we are almost always within 2 FPS of one and other at any given time.

    AMD will have the new architecture "shining" in far under a year. They have been focused on it for a long time already.

    Simple bottom line, both Nvidia and AMD make world class cards these days. No matter your preference, you have cards to choose from that will rock any games on the planet for a long time to come.
    Reply
  • deaner - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    Umm, yea no. Not so much with nvidia and EA/DICE Batttlefield series giving nvidia a development edge. (if it does, the results are yet to be seen)
    Facts are facts, the 5 series to our current review today, the 7970, do and again continue to edge the Nvidia lines. The AMD Catalyst performance of particular note, BF3, has been far superior.

    Reply
  • RussianSensation - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    ."..most obviously the GTX460 and GT430, reasonably priced cards with quality drivers and low power consumption. But it took over a year for nVidia to release those"

    GTX470/480 launched March 26, 2010
    GTX460 launched July 12, 2010
    GT430 launched October 11, 2010

    Also, Fermi's performance at launch was not a joke. GTX470 delivered performance between HD5850 and HD5870, priced in the middle. Looking now, GTX480 ~ HD6970. So again, both of those cards did relatively well at the time. Once you consider overclocking of the 470/480, they did extremely well, both easily surprassing the 5870 in performance in overclocked states.

    Sure power consumption was high, but that's the nature of the game for highest-end GPUs.
    Reply

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