ATI Talks About DirectX 10 Page: 1
ATI Talk DirectX 10 and their Next Gen

ATI have given us an insight into DirectX 10 and their next-gen hardware. We attended a quick briefing where they gave us a run through with some reasons for the implementation of the hardware that will be running the hardware on Microsoft's next API. I'm going to try to give this a quick run-through and give you some idea of what to expect with the shiny new technology.

When reading this I would like to make sure that this is a presentation by ATI and the briefing is also by ATI. I will try my best to sum it all up but please remember that this is only the way ATI look at the whole thing. At this time I have not been able to get a comment out of nVidia on their lookout for DX10. I will try to get this in due course but please do bear this in mind.


DirectX 9 - Drawbacks

DirectX 9 comes with its prices. The GPU has to render object in the game such as guns, dust, smoke, people etc. Each of these objects comes with its own overhead from the way DX 9 handles the data

Here's a couple of slides from ATI to explain:

ATI next gen


Therefore each object comes inherent in the DirectX 9 API with an overhead. Developers have been very clever at making this work by many and varied ways but when it comes down to it they are constrained by the API and the overhead it brings with it.


DirectX 10

DirectX 10 solves this by working towards general processing units. The new Geometry Shader can manipulate Vertexes and many other types of objects. This means that it has more ways to process, access and move data. This extra level of manipulation adds a lot of headroom for developers to introduce new features into games and to utilise the GPU for more than just rendering of a scene.

This is the bit where it all gets a bit technical. ATI have made this slide so I'll let them show you:

ATI overhead

There you can see exactly what kind of advantage the new API gives. The overhead for each small object is reduced thus making the process faster and more slimlined. This balances out the API/Driver vs Game application balance. On DirectX 9 this is split API + driver vs Game Application 60%/40%. with the new API this could be balanced out 20% API + driver and 80% Game application. ATI have said that this will not mean that the game will be executed 80% of the time, but rather developers could be able to put more into the game.


Unified Architecture

Now here's where ATI step in. They have worked closely with Microsoft on this version of their DirectX. The API is very much targeted towards a unified architecture and way of working. In a traditional GPU you have one set of pipelines working whilst the other set sits there waiting for the "right" type of outputs. Once again ATI's slide shows this succinctly.

ATI's next gen

Put this way it is very hard to ignore this argument. The worry is of course is can ATI's card push through all of the things that the various single-application shaders do on their own. This is yet to be seen but we will come to this point a bit later.

ATI say that this will mean that they can fully load up all shader pipelines with all of the data without waiting for each separate unit to do their own thing. This means both Vertex shading and Pixel shading going through these multi-purpose units.


Pixels and Geometry

According to ATI, upcoming games are going to be both Geometry and Pixel compute intensive. This means that things like HDR, depth of field and motion blur will increase dramatically. We are already seeing this with the Tech demo's from Valve for Day of Defeat: Source and the gorgeous looking Crisis with its realistic depth of field will be able to be computed on the GPU. This frees up the CPU and also gives the GPU extra tasks that it can theoretically do.

This is things like processing Physics (I'll get to that later), Morphing, Sorting Image post-processing and lots of other things. Potentially DX10 and Unified

Shader will mean that developers can use the general purpose CPU to compute AI and other things that have sometimes been lacking in modern games.

dod post-processing

Will this mean that post-processing will get even better?

Read on for more...


ATI Talks About DirectX 10 Page: 2
Physics on the GPU?

After the briefing we had a chance to ask ATI if what they had planned for physics on the GPU. It was fairly clear throughout the presentation (and others previous to this one) that ATI are very keen to get their GPU's working on physics. To ATI this is just another thing that the developers can offload from the CPU. This includes things like clothes, water, smoke, explosions - all the things that Ageia's card is claiming to improve.

This all does begs the question:

Can DirectX 9 parts do physics?

Well...in short: Yes. ATI have already shown that their X1K series of cards are more than capable of this. They see the GPU as being able to add a whole lot of "clutter" to the games, thus making them more realistic. This can be done through ATI's next-gen Unified Shader or through a more conventional part already on sale today. Whether ATI will push the idea forward on their current gen was something I was not so sure of. Obviously a company making new graphics cards will want to sell them - but there is certainly promise that ATI's current gen of cards can do physics.

Apparently at this time Microsoft have not made their own physics API but ATI did not quell the idea totally leaving this open as well as suggesting that perhaps Havok or some other API could become industry standard - if Microsoft did not decide to release their own. From a personal perspective I would think that Microsoft could benefit from doing a physics API, but whether they will do this or not remains to be seen.


Immersion

With the next generation of cards we are going to see a whole new level of immersion. Trees will be shot down, clothes will rustle on the wind, water will react properley realistically with interaction. whether or not a unified architecture will be needed to make this happen is a thing for debate but the way ATI have presented DirectX 10 it does look very likely to be the way that graphics cards will have to go. Reducing the overhead and computing all processes on a single unit makes a lot of sense. This means your games will not necessarily go faster, but be more "full" and lifelike with more explosions, dust, smoke, clothing effects, depth of field, HDR and perhaps motion picture post-processing effects like blurring and magic effects.

next generation immersion


Of course, this is ATI's second generation of card to feature the unified architecture. They are not doing this for the first time and they have certainly worked hard with Microsoft to get the "Xenos" GPU to work well on the 360. ATI are also keen to point out that the Xbox 360 is the platform to develop on at the moment with a certain ID Software being incredibly keen on their platform.

This is not to say that nVidia will not be able to develop something just as fast and well-designed. You only need to take a look at the 6-series of cards to see what they are capable of development-wise.


Vista, DirectX requirements and YOUR graphics Card

There is no doubt DirectX 10 sounds awesome. A fully designed bottom-to-top API that implements a whole lot of features into games surely cannot be a bad thing.

Before we go on let's say this before we go any further:

DirectX 9 cards will NOT be able to run DirectX 10


There we go: I said it. For those of you who have forked out £300-500 for a GPU will HAVE to buy one to run a DX10 game in DX10.

This is not to say that you would not be able to play that game, but ATI have envisiged that the game would detect the hardware in a similar way that some games detect older hardware and run on DX7/8 instead of DX9.

Vista WILL be able to be run on DX 9 cards


Well thats good news. What ATI did mention was that maybe some of the features of the OS would not be able to be used if you are using a DX 9 part. This will mean the OS will not run to its full graphical potential.

All new hardware made to run on DirectX 10 will HAVE to run ALL of the features of DirectX 10. Now this may sound pretty obvious but it does mean that there will have to be industry compliance. There will be no labels with "DirectX 10 Compliant" that will not mean just that.

A small piece of good news is that your DirectX 9 X1K part will most likely be able to be ran as a piece of dedicated physics hardware. Note that this would have to be in conjunction with a DirectX 10 part to be able to run a game based on DirectX 10.


Conclusion

The future for DirectX 10 is certainly bright. The features that will be implemented look very promising and exciting. ATI's implementation of DirectX 10 is sounding promising as well as well-informed. They are on their second generation unified part even before DX10 comes out. I would say that this MUST put them ahead, but I would not like to comment before we hear what nVidia are doing. The initial implementation will be interesting as will the impending physics battle

When it comes down to it though it has to be said that DirectX 10 is going to be expensive for the consumers if they want to play games that are running the new API. Those who have bought an X1K or 7900 part are going to have to upgrade or risk falling a long way behind in the new games market.

I am disappointed in this but I have to say I could see it coming.

ATI say that their card is due out around "Winter time". Whatever you do....don't buy a new card right now...

Before I go let me just remind you what these games should look like..

crisis

crisis screenshot

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Matt Kemp