Graphics, Hardware, Software Programs

AMD Paves Software Vision at GPU14 in Hawaii

While many expected AMD?s GPU14 event in Oahu to be a very GPU heavy event, the company definitely spent more of their time talking about the importance of cooperation with their ISVs and the things that they?re working on for future purposes.

While we can?t necessarily reveal all of the details about AMD?s upcoming GPU lineup quite yet, we can talk about the introduction of a new naming scheme of AMD?s which includes the Radeon R7 and Radeon R9 series. As it stands, there are two members of the R7 series and three members of the R9 series varying greatly in terms of performance and price.

The R7-250 is going to be AMD?s re-introduction into the $89 pricepoint but isn?t necessarily anything new in terms of architecture. Similarly, the R7-260X is a 1GB part of AMD?s new naming scheme and is their offering for the $139 price point. Now, the R9-270X is AMD?s offering for the $199 price slot and is a 2GB card, once again, nothing new when you look at AMD?s old lineup. Finally, you have the R9 280X, which is AMD?s 3GB offering and another refresh. The R9 280X, however, brings the old Radeon HD 7970 down to an even more affordable price bracket at $299. This represents a solid $100 or so drop in the price of that GPU, which will likely force Nvidia to have to drop the prices of their GPUs along their entire midrange to high-end lineup.

Finally, the newest addition to AMD?s lineup, which is the R9 290X. The R9 290X is AMD?s only really entirely new GPU in the new lineup and is going to be what AMD rides on for performance until they develop a dual GPU solution. As part of their launch of the R9 290X, AMD will be offering 8000 pre-order copies of Battlefield 4 bundle with Battlefield 4 included with the R9 290X. While I believe that AMD should extend this offer to anyone buying this card well into the game?s launch, there?s a possibility that it could be price restrictive for the company. The pre-order will begin on October 3rd and will run until supplies last or until October 29th, which is when the game launches.

The R9 290X is still going to be GCN-based, however, AMD has made some significant improvements to the GPU that make it fair to say that it is a new GPU and not a rebrand or a rebadge. First and foremost, the R9 290X will support DX 11.2 and sport over 5 TFLOPS of compute and 300 GB/s of memory bandwidth, thanks to the newly designed memory controller. While we can?t give precise details about the clocks, memory controller or shader cores available, we will be able to do so closer to the launch of the R9 290X fairly soon.

What AMD is allowing us to talk about is their contributions to 4K and their goals to improve the experience by simplifying the usage of 4K displays. This new VESA standard would automatically stitch 4K monitors that have tiled displays and would be enabled in-display and is already supported in AMD?s Catalyst drivers. Panasonic?s Viera 4K TV is expected to be the first of the displays in the world supporting this standard and is expected to ship fairly soon in the US. This is important because both AMD and Nvidia have had issues in the past with 4K and the solutions are not always immediate like they would be with this new VESA display standard.

Moving on from their improvements to 4K, AMD is introducing a renewed effort to improve the quality of sound in gaming with their new TrueAudio technology. TrueAudio is designed to improve the immersiveness of gaming by integrating an audio DSP onto the GPU to reduce the load on the CPU and to increase the overall quality of the audio in game. They will be utilizing GenAudio?s Astound Sound audio algorithm to improve the immerssiveness and help create improved virtual surround sound. They already have multiple game developers, middleware partners and audio processing algorithms already running on their new TrueAudio platform to make sure that there is ample support for it in games.

While it remains to be seen how this ultimately affects games, we are excited to see AMD continuing to try to improve the sound experience in games and to facilitate game developers? needs to improve audio effects and quality alongside graphics and gameplay. The technology will already be seen in games like THIEF from EIDOS Montreal and will be interesting to see firsthand how it improves the overall performance and experience.

TrueAudio will be made available on three of AMD?s new R7 and R9 GPUs, namely the R9 290X, R9 290 and the R7 260X. Hopefully we?ll eventually see this technology in all of AMD?s GPUs, but that will likely hinge on the success of this first initial release. While we?d like to give more details about the hardware side of TrueAudio, those details will have to wait until the official launch of the R9 290X and the 6 billion transistor chip.

Next, we had our friend Wallace Santos from Maingear who talked about his partnership with AMD and his excitement about the new R9 290X and AMD?s commitment to gaming (on consoles and PC) and how important it will be to have the best performance with the newest titles coming out this year. We?ve known Maingear for quite some time and have always considered them to be one of Nvidia?s biggest partners, so for them to be promoting AMD is a pretty big deal. Hopefully we?ll see some monster rigs from them that utilize three or four of AMD?s latest R9 290X GPUs and make the ultimate 4K x 3 gaming machines.

Last but not least, Raja Koduri came on stage to talk about something that he had only teased us about the day earlier, Mantle. Mantle is AMD?s program that is designed to help AMD harness their design wins within all three of the major next-gen consoles. While AMD is the primary CPU and GPU in both the Xbox One and PS4, it only powers the GPU in the Wii U and the CPU is still an IBM PowerPC core. Considering that most developers develop for Xbox and Play Station, AMD is in a very good place. Many people have been talking about how AMD will properly utilize their strength in the console design wins to improve their position in the PC sector. Mantle is that answer.

Mantle seeks to unify the development of both console and PC games with a certain set of APIs that are designed to directly access hardware in ways that DirectX never could. By enabling developers to get closer to the metal, AMD hopes to not only improve the performance of the console games but also to streamline to developmen
t process of console games and their porting to PC. In the past, one of the biggest problems for the PC industry has been poor PC ports from console games which is where the majority of game development has been. Even though consoles will still likely be the core of game development, I suspect that Mantle will entice them to create console and PC titles in parallel. What this means is that we may throw out the idea of a console to PC port and that games will simply launch on both platforms simultaneously.

Judging by all of these developments, it is clear that AMD is not only serious about gaming, but that they are very serious about exploiting their position within the gaming industry as a key player. We will need to talk with AMD in more depth to understand the impact of Mantle on game development and performance. But most importantly, we want to hear and see how developers respond to Mantle. What will be the most interesting thing will be to see what kind of changes we can expect to see in Battlefield 4 before and after the Mantle update which Johan talked about coming out shortly after the game?s release. Since AMD will be providing more information about Mantle at their AFDS conference in November, we have a feeling we won?t get much more than what we gather from Battlefield 4 until then.

While we weren?t necessarily wowed by AMD?s GPU announcements with the exception of the 290X, we are very interested to see how Mantle pans out and whether or not it can actually deliver more performance to people?s older cards giving an almost invaluable value added proposition to both their new and old cards over Nvidia. If anything, all of these developments mean that gamers will get more powerful hardware for less money, and that’s always a good thing.