Petal to the Metal

Petal to the Metal

posted in: News | 0

Now we’re all ready for next-generation graphics

“Getting closer to metal” is the hot thing in graphics these days. With so many low power devices needing more horsepower without needing wads of power, companies like AMD, Microsoft and Apple are looking for ways to increase efficiency from the software side things. AMD got the ball rolling with their Mantle API, Apple introduced their Metal API with iOS 8 and Microsoft’s Windows 10 will also usher in the era of DirectX 12 and its low level access. That only leaves one major player and that’s the successor to OpenGL.

That successor’s name is Vulkan and with the backing of several key players such as Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, Valve, EA, Blizzard, Pixar and Epic Games, it promises to be right at the coat tails of DirectX 12. If you’re looking for digestible details, I suggest you pay a visit to AnandTech’s article on the matter.

We know who will support Vulkan but what will support it? Will the PlayStation 4 see support in the future? Is it even necessary? I’m sure it’ll make life a lot easier for porting reasons but if Sony already has solid low level access to their systems, what’s the incentive for Sony to support an API like Vulkan?

I’m glad the industry as a whole is doing this giant re-evaluation of software. I’m glad we’re not just stacking things on-top of established known quantities just because that’s the way they’ve always been. Apple have been at the forefront of technologies and breaking up established norms and it’s about time other companies are willing to shed away the old and make way for modern ideas.

Oh, Apple. How you amaze me

These are just a few items that are generating buzz for Apple.

  1. They’re looking to get into the car business.
  2. They secured the highest percentage of smartphone sales in the Q4 2014.
  3. The impending launch of the Apple Watch on March 9th

I want to talk about the second item, the popularity of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plaus and their 4.7″ and 5.5″ screens. We know what the market wanted. It’s in large part why Samsung phone sales ballooned during the iPhone 5 and 5S years. What I want to know is if Apple did this on purpose: did Apple purposely take the incremental step from 3.5″ to 4″ and finally to 4.7″ and 5.5″? Did they purposely drip feed the size increase with the 4″ iPhone 5 and 5S to maximize sales? I’m not condemning them for that move, I’m just wondering if they were doing it on purpose.

There was no reason not to tackle Samsung’s Galaxy S3 head on with a large screen of their own. I cannot believe that it took Apple this long to tackle the one handed utilization issues that purportedly held them back from pursing large screen phones in 2012.

Again, I’m just curious because by going down the path that they did, they made an incredible amount of money.

Quote of the Week

“Live long and prosper.”

— Lt. Commander Spock & Leonard Nimoy

Savestate: Direct Wireless

Savestate: Direct Wireless

posted in: Editorials & Features | 0

Early DirectX 12 Benchmarks

AnandTech have a preview of Microsoft’s upcoming DirectX 12. It’s a very promising start.

DirectX 12 will be the biggest iteration of the DirectX API since its inception during the Windows 95 days. It helped establish a set of standards that helped ease the pain of game development on Windows platforms. But as time marched forward and new ideas were tacked on, DirectX became bloated and we needed a new approach. AMD introduced Mantle which promised improved performance for its GPUs by granting lower level access to the hardware and minimizing the performance impact of the API.

That’s all well and good but it’s an AMD thing; what we really need is for a “platform” holder like Microsoft to overhaul things and it looks like they’ve done that with DirectX 12. And with Windows 10 being a free upgrade for the first year, nearly everyone can take advantage of the new API.

I predict the earlty performance gains will be none too dissimilar to the AnandTech conclusion to Mantle’s Civilization: Beyond Earth’s usage. Just replace Mantle with DirectX 12:

As for Mantle, it’s an interesting option if you have an AMD card. While we’re not seeing any huge benefits on our test system, it does typically run 5-10% faster than the DX11 path; this is good but in most cases it’s not enough to really make a palpable difference to the end user. The word is that lower spec CPUs like the Intel Core i3 and Pentium Anniversary Edition along with AMD APUs can benefit even more. I’m not sure how many people are actually pairing up slower CPUs with high-end GPUs these days, as $200 CPUs are pretty common for gaming systems, but additional options are never a bad thing.

Mantle does have a much more tangible impact on minimum frame rates, and this is always beneficial, particularly once a game is averaging more than 60FPS. In some cases Mantle was able to improve the minimum frame rates (e.g. on R9 290X) by 40-50%, though that was only at less strenuous settings. Still, even the 5-15% increases in minimum frame rates at higher resolutions are welcome.

Hopefully we’ll see more substantial gains down the line.

Re: Wireless Bridging & Forking Custom Firmwares

I’m no stranger to forks of custom firmware. Hell, I used Shibby’s Tomato custom firmware for a while and that lineage is even deeper.

Linksys Linux based firmware -> HyperWRT -> Tomato -> TomatoUSB -> Shibby’s Tomato build

I installed Shibby’s Tomato on my ASUS RT-N66U for the longest time but decided to switch over to a spin-off of the official firmware known as ASUSWRT-Merlin. (Link req’d) With the spin-off (known as John’s fork), the ability to crank up the transmit power on the wireless radios was restored and what a difference it has made. I can nearly get away without a bridging/repeating solution.

As I alluded to yesterday, I currently have the RT-N16 acting as a wireless repeater to the RT-N66U’s 2.4GHz radio. The RT-N16 sees the 2.4GHz network at 100% signal strength but the performance fluctuates wildly at times. Some times even going down to 1 Mbps. I’m not sure what’s the culprit here. Is it the RT-N16’s hardware or firmware? I know the RT-N16’s 2.4GHz radio isn’t as powerful as the RT-N66U’s but at 78-83% signal strength is still pretty good.

On top of performance issues, the Roku 3 cannot connect to or acquire an IP address through the wireless repeating solution. I believe it has something to do with the fact that the RT-N16 isn’t acting as proper bridge. Every other device functions fine but the Roku 3 is finicky like that. Thankfully, it’s close enough to the RT-N66U to use the 2.4GHz radio.

So what are my options at the moment?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Hard wiring — Ethernet, power line or otherwise — isn’t possible which is why I’m investing so much time and effort into this solution.

  1. Swap out the RT-N16 and try the Linksys E4200 w/ Shibby’s Tomato installed and try to establish a Wireless Ethernet Bridge
  2. Change the RT-N16’s firmware back to the latest Shibby Tomato build and try to establish a Wireless Ethernet Bridge
  3. Buy an ASUS RT-AC68U ($230) and couple it with my RT-N66U and form a Media Bridge (with ASUS’ firmware) or Wireless Ethernet Bridge (with Shibby’s Tomato). I can also try wireless repeating again.
  4. Buy a Netgear R7000 Nighthawk ($180) and couple it with my RT-N66U to form a Wireless Ethernet Bridge or try wireless repeating again.
  5. Buy an Amped SR20000G ($130) or Netgear EX6200 ($130) — actual wireless repeaters.

Plenty of options and I still haven’t exhausted the free ones. This has been somewhat enjoyable but at the same time, I wish everything would work as I wanted.

Random Thought of the Week

Pull ups are a real challenge. I will persevere though.

Microsoft Announced DirectX 12 Last Week

posted in: Game News | 0

microsoftThere will be a new version of DirectX coming in 18 months or so and like all announcements, there’s unbridled optimism for the latest Microsoft API.

The hallmark feature of DirectX 12 is the return of low level graphics programming. Low level graphics programming –something console game developers have been enjoying on closed ecosystems — allows developers to forgo abstraction layers and execute code with better performance.

With DirectX 12, Microsoft and the GPU vendors including AMD, NVIDIA, Intel and Qualcommm have agreed to a set of standards that will make low level programming possible across different graphics cards.

Microsoft and its partners are promising DirectX 12 compatibility with many of today’s and yesteryear’s graphics cards:

AMD GCN 1.0 (Radeon 7000/8000/200)
GCN 1.1 (Radeon 200)
Intel Gen 7.5 (Haswell/4th Gen Core)
NVIDIA Fermi (GeForce 400/500)
Kepler (GeForce 600/700/800)
Maxwell (GeForce 700/800)

Great news! All my active video cards will support the upcoming API. The next obvious question is: which operating systems will support DirectX 12? It’s obvious that Windows 8 will but what about Windows 7?

Since the Xbox One sports a supported and compatible AMD GPU, it too will receive DirectX 12 support. This will undoubtedly enable easier porting between consoles and PCs.

I hope DirectX 12 manages to deliver on all its promises. Game developers need all the performance and compatibility help they could get.

Linux Gaming Inches Closer to Reality

posted in: Game News | 0

linux-logoThere are games on Linux but the selection available is paltry compared to Windows. And the reasons why the selection is so limited is due to lack of middleware support and the dominance of DirectX.

Crytek have ported their CryEngine to Linux and will be demonstrating its capabilities at GDC 2014 next week. I’m curious if it will perform better than the DirectX version.

Valve is continuing their efforts to sway the masses away from Microsoft and DirectX with “ToGL“, a DirectX to OpenGL translation layer. It’s limited to DirectX 9.0c for now but it’s a start. If developers can just flip a switch and port to OpenGL with minimal effort, they would be more inclined to support Linux.

All these efforts sound good but how long would it take before we see day and date high profile releases from the likes of Activision and Electronic Arts?

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