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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  • just4U - Wednesday, February 04, 2009 - link

    While there might be some programs out there that definitely do take advantage of 8G of ram.. I haven't noticed that for Vista. It seems to hit a sweet spot at 4Gigs (or 3.3 for 32bit) I don't think 2Gigs of ram is optimal for Vista at all tho, and always push for 4 with all my builds. Reply
  • dzmcm - Tuesday, February 03, 2009 - link

    Do yourself the biggest favor and Google kat mouse. I used ubuntu for a while and got spoiled by the mouse wheel functionality. This little program will allow your to scroll windows not in focus. And it adds extra functionality to the middle mouse button (which I just dissable). Plus you can set up per application rules. Reply
  • SoCalBoomer - Monday, February 02, 2009 - link

    Fail. Sigh.

    A: 2Gigs works great. 3 Works FINE. 4 works happily with 64.
    B: DECENT video cards work fine. By Decent, I mean anything in the past couple of years - nVidia 7xxx cards, for instance. PCI vid cards? Prolly not. . .
    C: Why not just do it within Windows? UAC is easy to turn off. Windows Defender actually works okay. Readyboost doesn't do anything if you don't turn it on, etc.

    "Nothing like Ubuntu though" - true. I have Ubuntu on my laptop (although it's got Win7 on it and is a TON more functional now) but then Ubuntu doesn't have ANY common use programs written for it - Open Office is about it and . . . much as I like it, it's missing stuff that I use every day on my desktop.

    Games? Well, yes, but there are things other than games - like Office. . . yeah, you know, that behemoth office suite that controls the world? Yeah, not necessarily my fav (except for OneNote - which is awesome) but you gotta do it.

    You can't make your mouse work the way you want and THEREFORE Vista fails? Dude. . . epic fail.
  • stmok - Saturday, January 31, 2009 - link

    Vista IS a marketing failure.

    * It failed to get massive adoption as expected by Microsoft. A good majority of people and businesses are sticking with XP. Go and actually search for world wide statistics, and you'll see for yourself.

    * No matter how much Microsoft spent on marketing (see Seinfield+Gates ads and Mojave), it never caught on...Viral and deceptive marketing don't work.

    * Why do you think the next one is called "Windows 7" (even though you can basically call it Windows Vista Second Edition). Simple. The name "Vista" is a marketing failure. Its kryptonite to the Windows brand name. That's why they dropped it.

    Linux works well when the user has strong motivations to learn and adopt it. When they don't, they are better off using something like Linux Mint (which has all the video codec, and Flash, etc pre-installed) or not even using Linux at all. (Which is better for all involved).

    When a user treats Linux like Windows, it just doesn't work. Hence, all the complaining about how Linux on the desktop won't happen. (Linux was never intended for the desktop. The point was to create a cheap Unix-like solution for the x86 platform).

    Many don't realise that in Linux, the people take responsibility, not a company like Apple or Microsoft. Its about getting your butt off the ground and doing things to make it happen.

    Nothing happens when all you do is sit and complain how Linux isn't this all or that. Its up to you (if you choose to), to do something about it...This is identical to life itself.
  • gochichi - Thursday, February 19, 2009 - link

    If Microsoft wants to go Windows 7 early, they need to reconsider their pricing for Vista upgraders. B/c I have 3 Vista computers and I'm unwilling to spend more than $100.00 to upgrade all 3 of them to Windows 7.

    That's $33.33 per computer as my ceiling. And I'm not going to upgrade one and not all of them. I have more than earned the right to a good price from Microsoft. If they want to charge me full price for Office 2010 (or whatever it'll be called) that's fine, but OS upgrades can't be $100+ a pop, not if Microsoft wants to change OS's every two years.

    I kind of wonder if Vista will pick up traction in the piracy circles once 7 is released. I don't even know if I'll want to upgrade period... I mean, Vista really is fine, and why fix what aint broke.

    I've tried Windows 7 and other than being unusually unstable (which is "alright" technically because it's a beta) it does offer up some decent usability improvements. I'm quite sure that most Vista users will feel like I do... namely, that we should be getting the cosmetic upgrades for free... since we're footing their bills and all. Windows 7 is just warmed over Vista... and frankly if you're excited about Windows 7 yet you "hate" Vista... you're weird b/c they're the same thing.

    Like I said, Windows 7 is UNSTABLE which given the "mission statement" is truly alarming. I mean, I'm running Windows 7 by itself (no apps installed) and yet sometimes Windows Explorer needs to restart (one of my biggest gripes (probably the only legitimate one) with Vista).

    I guess those of us even considering buying OSes separately from PCs are crazy, and now with Windows 7 we'll be even crazier (pricing pending). Hopefully Microsoft will offer us a hand so we can all leave Vista (not because it's horrible, just for uniformity) together. Otherwise, Windows 7 will probably have even worse adoption rates than Vista.

    Microsoft: Don't be greedy! Don't split your user base so much. Let me have computers with the same OS without charging me an arm and a leg. Let Vista users have access to DirectX 11 too... b/c the "gaming" community is just going to backlash and boycott 7 like they did Vista.

    We all "naturally" want the latest version of the OS, coercion isn't necessary at all.
  • x86 64 - Thursday, February 26, 2009 - link

    Nah, Vista is already easier to pirate than XP ever was. All you need is a BIOS with an SLIC table and a VLK (easily done yourself with some research). Then you activate it using Vista's Software License Service (SLsvc.exe the way big OEM's like Dell and HP mass activate PC's) and MS can't tell the difference between a bogus or a legit installation, unless they overhaul their validation methods (not likely).

    With XP you had to deal with trying to remove the WGA nagware. Also there are some WinXP Pro student editions floating around that don't need activation because they don't contain WGA. The thought was that eventually MS would ban these keys but it has yet to happen.

    I imagine Windows 7 will be just as easy as to pirate as Vista, either through a BIOS softmod or foolproof BIOS hardmod.
  • nilepez - Wednesday, February 04, 2009 - link

    WTF are you talking about? Why would MS have expected Vista to get 30 or 40% market share after 2 years?

    For all the BS that XP is God and sold like gangbusters out the door, a little research shows that XP had less than 40% market share in 2005

    You'd have to be a complete idiot to think that Businesses were transition to Vista quicker than they transitioned to XP.

  • swaaye - Monday, February 02, 2009 - link

    I think Vista has "failed" only because there's little reason for the vast majority of users to switch to it. It's very expensive to upgrade to it, and there's just little reason to. The fact of the matter is that for everyone that doesn't care about DX10 gaming, XP can do anything Vista can.

    Personally, I think Vista is ok. If Win 7 improves on it, there's nowhere to go but up. But I also have no dislike of XP, either, and certainly see that it has its place on every PC with <2GB RAM.
  • michaelklachko - Monday, February 02, 2009 - link

    That's a good post. Especially about Linux. Thanks! Reply

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