The Big Interview: AMD’s Robert Hallock On Mantle, DirectX 12, PS4/Xbox One, Free-Sync And More

‘AMD is thrilled to be at the heart of the current-gen consoles.’

Posted By | On 15th, Feb. 2015 Under Article, Interviews | Follow This Author @GamingBoltTweet


There is a popular saying that goes Give credit where credit is due and in AMD’s case this is most certainly true. AMD started off a revolution of sorts with its next generation graphics API, the Mantle. Long before Microsoft’s DirectX 12 was announced, AMD’s Mantle was already seeing some great results with increased draw calls, lower CPU overhead, reduction in command buffers submissions at the GPU level and runtime shader compilation overhead on the CPU.

To top this achievement, AMD is already a part of the current generation of consoles with its APU architecture. The current generation of consoles i.e. PS4 and Xbox One will probably sell over 120 million units combined in their life cycle so there is a guaranteed success ratio for AMD, not to mention the fact they have been continuously innovating with bringing out powerful GPUs at decent price points.

In short there is a lot happening at AMD. So in order to know more I sat with AMD’s Head of Global Technical Marketing, Robert Hallock to know where the company is heading in terms of Mantle, its potential competition with DirectX 12, the emergence of Free-Sync, the lack of any new CPUs from the company until 2016 and more.

Rashid Sayed: We are now heading into the first year of the new consoles [PS4 and Xbox One]. How does AMD feel about the success of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One?

Robert Hallock: AMD is thrilled to be at the heart of the current-gen consoles! Powering great gaming experiences across console and PCs is already beginning to have obvious cross-platform benefits, too, and we’re very excited about that.

Rashid Sayed: I wanted to ask about Mantle and the efforts you are putting to make it a widely accepted API. Although we have seen several AAA developers adopting it, there are claims from certain developers that Mantle is only a temporary solution before DirectX 12 launches. What are your thoughts on this?

Robert Hallock: Mantle and DirectX 12 are complementary tools. Of course Mantle is particularly well-suited for AMD hardware, which allows us to expose future hardware features that might not be present in DirectX. For reasons like this, game developers are already telling us that they want Mantle and DirectX to coexist. Developers from Firaxis and Oxide Games have posted public blogs to this effect. From the perspective of a developer, it just makes sense. As the age-old adage goes: the right tool for the right job. You don’t throw your screwdriver away because you currently need a wrench.

amd mantle

"CPU-bound scaling is a function of the game’s API calls on the producer thread vs. the CPU’s ability to prepare those calls in the command buffer for the GPU’s consumer thread. Memory doesn’t play much of a role there."

Rashid Sayed: Staying on Mantle, the API is compatible with HLSL. How are you making optimizations and tuning so that it is compatible with DirectX 12 in the future?

Robert Hallock: We will share more on the future of Mantle in the coming months. We’re very excited about what lies ahead.

Rashid Sayed: Mantle’s API has been slated similar to the PS4’s API. Do you think for the developer it will be easier to port between a PC game [using Mantle] and PS4?

Robert Hallock: We have previously commented that Mantle’s similarities to console API streamlines the path from console to PC and vice versa. We talked about it in our blog here.

Rashid Sayed: In my opinion, AMD is in a better position than its competitor and that is primarily due to your 100% share in the console market. Is it safe to assume that the technology used for PS4/Xbox One’s APU has laid the foundation of the future AMD hardware?

Robert Hallock: I can say this: AMD is constantly innovating. We have incredibly talented engineers at the helm—like Raja Koduri, Joe Macri and Jim Keller—that are literally defining the future of our industry. We’re very confident in that future, and we will be talking about it when the time is right.

Rashid Sayed: Talking about CPUs, AMD had done its fair share of work in that field. CPUs are still using DDR3 memory whereas GPUs are already on GDDR5, which obviously results into performance and bandwidth bottlenecks. Do you think with the adoption of DDR4, this can be resolved?

Robert Hallock: I do not believe DDR3 memory presents any sort of bottleneck to a modern graphics card. CPU-bound scaling is a function of the game’s API calls on the producer thread vs. the CPU’s ability to prepare those calls in the command buffer for the GPU’s consumer thread. Memory doesn’t play much of a role there.

amd cpus

"We pitted the AMD A10-7850K with Mantle against the Intel i5-4690 with DirectX at1080p, low preset, a huge number of draw calls. The A10-7850K delivered 32 average FPS at 80W system power vs. 15 FPS at 65W system power. That’s a performance/watt advantage of 1.7x in AMD’s favor."

Rashid Sayed: There will be no new CPU architecture from AMD till 2016. The CPU evolution hasn’t been able to keep up with the GPU and this will further slow down the process. What are your thoughts on this?

Robert Hallock: I think that smart software, empowered with the ability to properly utilize multi-core CPUs, is making a big difference in the competitive landscape. For example the game Thief, which offers Mantle support,clearly shows AMD processors in the lead at resolutions used by millions of gamers.

Mantle is also proving that AMD processors can have a significant power efficiency advantage over competing processors when they’re properly utilized by a fully multi-core graphics API. I’ll give you an example: we analyzed the performance of the Star Swarm stress test. It’s available for free on Steam, and offers support for Mantle and DirectX 11. We pitted the AMD A10-7850K with Mantle against the Intel i5-4690 with DirectX at1080p, low preset, a huge number of draw calls. The A10-7850K delivered 32 average FPS at 80W system power vs. 15 FPS at 65W system power. That’s a performance/watt advantage of 1.7x in AMD’s favor.

Looking elsewhere, we’re seeing a 58% speedup in JPEG decoding using OpenCL-accelerated decode. People take pictures every day with digital cameras and smartphones, and transfer those photos to their PCs for editing and review. People used to think that the thumbnails for these pictures rendered very slowly because of CPU IPC bottlenecks or sluggishness in hard disk subsystem, but that’s clearly not true. It’s an API problem. AMD is solving that API problem in applications, too, with our work on OpenCL and HSA.

All of these scenarios prove that smart software is radically changing the competitive landscape. We are proving each and every day that there is a lot of room to improve the synergy between the software and the excellent potential of our hardware. And when that’s done, boy is it a different world.

Rashid Sayed: From a top level, can you tell us about how 4K adoption is improving and what kind of R&D are you guys doing for the future of 4K technology?

Robert Hallock: If you think back to the launch of the AMD Radeon R9 290X, our graphics card marked arguably the first time anyone could reasonably expect to play games at 4K on a single GPU. Sure, there were some games that needed two for peak image quality, but one was and is pretty solid for the majority of titles. We were also the first company to offer full support for 4K SST displays in our driver. 4K adoption is very popular amongst the elite enthusiasts, but understandably slower being adopted in lower-end segments. I couldn’t characterize the rates with hard numbers as that’s not my area of expertise, but this is the sense I’m getting from interacting with the AMD community every day.

Ultimately, the evolution of GPU horsepower is the biggest factor in driving 4K forward. Graphics being such an important part of our business, of course, you can count on great progress on that front as the years wind on.

AMD Radeon R9 295X2

"I personally do not envision 12GB being the standard, though lately we are seeing 8GB cards being advantaged. Reviewer data for games like Shadows of Mordor, for example, suggests that agame’s performance can improve by as much as about 15% on an 8GB card vs. a 4GB model."

Rashid Sayed: You guys do a fantastic job at getting high end GPUs at decent budgets but I wanted to ask about the silent, ongoing war between AMD and Nvidia for the ‘most power graphics card’. Although both companies have done an admirable joul in raising the bar higher, I am wondering if there is a practical implementation to these cards. Except the enthusiasts, whose numbers are extremely, do you see 12GB GPUs being the standard in the immediate future?

Robert Hallock: I personally do not envision 12GB being the standard, though lately we are seeing 8GB cards being advantaged. Reviewer data for games like Shadows of Mordor, for example, suggests that a game’s performance can improve by as much as about 15% on an 8GB card vs. a 4GB model. There are several 8GB AMD Radeon R9 290X GPUs entering the market from our partners to meet that challenge.

As far as “raising the bar” goes, I’m pleased that AMD continues to offer the world’s fastest graphics card: the AMD Radeon R9 295X2. It’s performance has gone unchallenged for months, and continues to receive praise for all aspects of its design.

Rashid Sayed: AMD is highly critical about Nvidia’s Gameworks but don’t you think this is anadd on for users who prefer Nvidia? Furthermore, is AMD working on a competitive solution?

Robert Hallock: AMD already makes game-enhancing graphics samples available for free in our public graphics SDK. Mantle was conceived to one day be a public SDK. Keeping this material free and open ensures that gamers can receive code from the developer that’s been vetted against, and optimized for, all industry hardware. The same cannot be said for Gameworks, which remains a mystery to developers unless they commit to a special license for which there are no public details.

Let’s be very clear: to date, Gameworks code has been forced to run on all graphics vendors – itis not isolated to Nvidia customers.Isn’t it disturbing that all of the Gameworks-enabled titles to date have not offered similar optimizations for AMD Radeon customers and have forced these customers to run code optimized for a different product, often at a penalty?That is a disservice to the significant percentage of the gaming public that runs AMD Radeon graphics, and it’s a disservice to the ingenuity of the developers.

Rashid Sayed: So besides Tress FX, we haven’t seen anything new announced for a while. What are you guys working on next?

Robert Hallock: I cannot speculate on the future, but we’re very excited about what TressFX 2.0 is offering gamers and developers. We recently published a blog about the improvements, and I think people will appreciate the progress we have made.

Rashid Sayed: What is AMD doing in the mobile space, more specifically Mantle, especially given that DX12 will also launch on mobile?

Robert Hallock: Mantle is already compatible with any APU that features the Graphics Core Next architecture, be it a low-wattage APU or a more robust desktop chip. As it is widely known, Mantle makes a big difference for systems with more modest processors, much like the ones you would find in a tablet, so we’re excited about this synergy.

amd free-sync

"Any IHV will be able to create a Mantle solution for themselves, and it is on them to decide whether or not they want to catch up to AMD in the area of low-overhead, high-throughput and incredibly efficient graphics workloads."

Rashid Sayed: AMD announced Free-Sync earlier this year. Not much is known about it. Will it be possible for you to provide some top level details on the same and whether it will also be available on PS4 and Xbox One in some form?

Robert Hallock: We maintain a public FAQ that contains a complete repository of all the information we’ve shared to date: how it works, why it’s a good solution, how DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync and FreeSync are related (and different!) and so on.

Rashid Sayed: So when one compares it to Nvidia G-Sync, what kind of advantages are you guys offering?

Robert Hallock: There are three key advantages FreeSync holds over G-Sync: no licensing fees for adoption, no expensive or proprietary hardware modules, and no communication overhead.

The last benefit is essential to gamers, as FreeSync does not need to poll or wait on the display in order to determine when it’s safe to send the next frame to the monitor. You can learn more about how that works here. Ultimately, it’s designed for smooth/stutter-free/tearing-free gaming. Couldn’t be simpler!

Of course user cost is also important, and eliminating the need for expensive/proprietary modules in the monitor is a great way to encourage reduced product cost. Not charging licensing fees to manufacturers, because we pursued an open industry standard, is also a great influence on total user cost.

We think it’s shaping up to be the ideal solution for gamers.

Rashid Sayed: Switching back to Mantle once again, Intel had approached for access to API. Is there any progress on that front?

Robert Hallock: Other IHVs will receive access when we exit beta and make the API public for download. Any IHV will be able to create a Mantle solution for themselves, and it is on them to decide whether or not they want to catch up to AMD in the area of low-overhead, high-throughput and incredibly efficient graphics workloads. At this time, though, Mantle is still being privately developed by AMD and nearly 100 ISVs.


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  • Psionicinversion

    Tbh theres a couple of pretty stupid questions here showing complete lack of technical knowledge on gaming bolts part… for example

    “AMD announced Free-Sync earlier this year. Not much is known about it. Will it be possible for you to provide some top level details on the same and whether it will also be available on PS4 and Xbox One in some form?”

    answer no because freesync only works over display port not HDMI

    “Talking about CPUs, AMD had done its fair share of work in that field. CPUs are still using DDR3 memory whereas GPUs are already on GDDR5, which obviously results into performance and bandwidth bottlenecks. Do you think with the adoption of DDR4, this can be resolved?”

    answer DDR3 is no where saturated as it is, the main performance bottlenecks is the API (DX11) and the CPU to GPU bridge must be a bit of a bottleneck as nvidia using a new one with nvlink2. DDR4 may help APU’s in PC’s somewhat but in systems with dedicated GPU’s wont help at all.

    Also GDDR5 is on its way out and being replaced with High Bandwidth Memory being introduced with the 390/x so another fail there.

    • d0x360

      I like the part where they bring up ddr3 and gddr5. I dont think the interviewer knows gddr5 is ddr3 with some tweaks to make it better used as vram. There are very very small performance gains with ddr4 on the CPU level but we won’t see real world benefits for a couple years as they boost the clock and start stacking the chips.

      I also found their comment on freesync interesting. They insinuate its some big mystery despite there being tons of info about it.

    • Psionicinversion

      still wont even need it then, nvidia virtual unified memory allows the GPU to directly see system ram and CPU to directly see GPU RAM so things dont need to be copied and AMD working on something similar as well i think. Only ever seen one reference to it though.

      Also with systems that only be based on APU’s i can see HBM replacing both RAM stacked on the APU itself using APU’s unified memory system/HSA meaning smaller MB’s as no ram slots will be required. Think well see some very small form factor PC’s that can be used for businesses where there only working with excel and all that so wont need no PCIe lanes. probably shipped in SoC’s like intel is/was planning to do

    • d0x360

      I’ll have to read up on amds plans for their apus I haven’t stayed current with them beyond the consoles.

      Having a unified memory setup would be fantastic especially if they can both access the data at the same time. That would be a huge performance boon.

      I was reading up on a memory technology that uses light instead of electricity too but that’s not something coming any time soon but still very exciting to think about.

    • Psionicinversion

      yeah photonic memory and CPU’s think the memory is virtually ready i think but obviously MB will need to be redone and the way OS reads the stuff i think. But theres always promising tech that never quite makes it to us.

      Intel were supposed to be shipping a variation of broadwell soldered down on MB’s as a SoC not sure if there still doing that but thats where AMD’s APU’s will most likely go as well and having stacked HBM on them will be a plus

    • jacqueline7289

      what Russell said I am stunned that a single mom able to get paid $8986 in four weeks on the computer . website link -> to know more click here right now!!! <-

    • Cinnamon267

      And most console games are 30 and free-sync snd Gsync don’t help you there.

    • Psionicinversion

      well not 100% sure what the limitations of gsync are but with current panels pending on manufacturer freesync can cut off as low as 30-44hz but freesync does actually work right down to 9hz but if your runnign at 9fps you got bigger problems hahaha

  • d0x360

    I’m always seeing questions or comments on how mantle is similar to ps4 api but they are from the wrong angle.

    They are similar not because of what they do but what they DONT do and by extension every console ever made is similar to mantle not just ps4. The reason mantle, direct x, and console based api us more efficient than anything before it because it has less obfuscation between software and hardware. Consoles have always had this simply because they are by their nature more secure platforms. Pc on the other hand..well to simplify, if you have nothing that limits access to hardware you can basically write malware that no security software can ever detect because hardware has all the control.

    Low level api seen in consoles and now similar api like mantle and dx12 allow developers to take more direct advantage of hardware. This means more efficient code can be written but it also means new engines need to be made because the api is no longer doing behind the scenes legwork.

    The good news is it will allow lower power pc hardware to produce better visuals and higher power hardware to hit a whole bee level. The downside at least for consoles is as history as shown even when a system has less hardware power than a pc it can still compete visually for the most part. Its why games like halo 4 and last of us looked so damn good on ancient hardware…hardware that if it was powering a pc wouldn’t be able to run halo 2 properly. Consoles are about to be left in the dust, permanently.

    We are about to witness the death of consoles. It will take a couple Years for all the benefits of these new APIs to reach mainstream use but its coming. we might see one more console generation but thats most likely it. After this gaming will be back in the pc grasp as far as AAA titles go and indie style games will run on basically any device out there.

    Its a sad time but also an exciting time. The end of a very long era. Welcome to the future.

    • shredenvain

      Mantle and DX12 will help PC gaming, but your forgetting one critical thing the consoles will always have over PCs. Consoles still have the advantage of every system having the same exact hardware. This will still allow devs to optimize console games to a degree they will never reach on PC. So yes new APIs will allow lower level access on PC, but devs still have to make their games works on thousands of different possible configurations. So you should rejoice in the fact PCs are getting these new APIs, but calling it the death of consoles is a bit ridiculous.

    • Psionicinversion

      They don’t have to make it work on thousands of combos at all because that’s what dx11 high level abstraction is for it does most of the work for you. With dx12 it’s more difficult not sure how it will work but I think there will be enough abstraction for dx12 to handle the low level calls for the 4 different architectures mostly by itself as long as the game is coded properly for low level, so PC’s will get free performance boosts in some cases massive performance boost’s pending on your configuration. May even see people using quad core AMD processors and using the iGPU s as a floating point unit boosting performance in some areas although not sure if it would help for games that much

    • Zealot

      You’re obviously letting some sort of bias clouding your judgment. There aren’t that many configurations for testers to validate. We no longer have Matrox, S3 or Via in the mainstream like 20 years ago. It’s just AMD and Nvidia and that’s it. And Intel on laptops, but the large majority of games aren’t tested for Intel anyway.
      So there really isn’t a need for consoles anymore. Neither Sony nor Microsoft want people to realise that of course, so they will continue to subsidise exclusive games for as long as possible. And considering how many idiots are loyal to Nvidia no matter what, don’t expect the console makers to run out of loyal idiots anytime soon.

    • shredenvain

      Seriously? I am letting something cloud my judgement?
      If you as Dev want your game to support anything older than the latest And and Nvidia cards you will have to put in optimization time on making sure your code works on older architectures. By the way I’m not the only person on the planet earth that thinks a closed box system brings advantages in performance. You seem to be the one with clouded judgement and biases. Nvidia fanboys are Idiots? What about Amd fanboys?

    • yomtvraps

      Unless the PC market can simplify gaming very similar to what nintendo, sony, microsoft has done, consoles will always be around. Most people do not want to mess with fixing, tweaking or upgrading technology. Fact

  • JerkDaNERD7

    “Mantle’s API has been slated similar to the PS4’s API. Do you think for the developer it will be easier to port between a PC game [using Mantle] and PS4?”

    Can you be even more obvious? Keep your bias to yourself and ask better questions.

  • ArtGlu

    I just hope Freesync in real monitors fully supports really low framerate like 20 or 25 and not starts only from 30/40.


 

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