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DirectX 12 vs. Mantle: Comparing PC gaming's software-supercharged future

Brad Chacos | March 24, 2014
After nearly five years of lingering on the same stable release, the next generation of DirectX is finally on its way. But a specter hung over Microsoft's introduction of DirectX 12 at GDC on Thursday: AMD's in-house Mantle technology.

After nearly five years of lingering on the same stable release, the next generation of DirectX is finally on its way. But a specter hung over Microsoft's introduction of DirectX 12 at GDC on Thursday: AMD's in-house Mantle technology.

While AMD's Raja Koduri was on-hand to say that DirectX 12 and Direct3D 12 was like "getting four generations of hardware ahead," the technology may have never seen the light of day without AMD's goading. After securing deals to create the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One's hardware, the company unveiled Mantle — a new set of console-like application programming interfaces designed to give game developers more direct access to PC hardware, and thus, boost graphics performance.

As Mantle technology began appearing in actual games, AMD officials wondered aloud whether a new version of DirectX would ever arrive, given Microsoft's strong focus on Xbox. Mere weeks later, here we are, and at first blush DirectX 12 appears awfully similar to Mantle. (That's what happens when you poke the bear!)

So how do Mantle and DirectX 12 stack up? Why should you care about either of them? Let's take a peek at what matters to you, dearest PC gamer.

What's the big deal with Mantle and DirectX 12?

Smoother, faster games, that's what.

The DirectX and OpenGL APIs powering virtually all PC games take a "high level" approach to ensure compatibility with the vast universe of PC hardware. Console developers are used to lower-level, "close-to-the-metal" access that lets them do more powerful things with hardware stemming from the more direct control.

Mantle mimics that by letting games written for Mantle talk directly to the Graphics Core Next architecture at the heart of AMD's Radeon Graphics cores, improving efficiency (read: performance) by reducing CPU bottlenecks.

Microsoft promises similar "console-like" efficiency for DirectX 12, with more efficient graphics rendering and better balancing of workloads across CPU cores, among other tweaks. You can read all the available technical details on the DirectX blog.

Mantle's already shipped in Thief and Battlefield 4, and early results are promising. Though the exact performance increase varies from PC to PC, BF4 frequently saw double-digit-percentage frame rate gains across various test configurations. Given the way Mantle works, so-called "CPU-bound" gaming PCs with low- to mid-range processors and solid graphics cards saw the biggest performance improvement running BF4 with Mantle.

Can it run on my existing hardware?

There's the kicker for Mantle. While AMD has promised to eventually release a Mantle SDK that Intel and Nvidia could use, that's never realistically going to happen, and Mantle-enabled titles work only with PCs powered by AMD's Radeon technology.

What's more, Mantle doesn't even work on all Radeon hardware, only on recent Radeon hardware built around AMD's Graphics Core Next technology (which is also found in the PS4 and Xbox One). Essentially, you need one of the recently-released Kaveri APUs (which combine CPU and GPU on a single chip) or a 7000-series, R7-series, or R9-series Radeon graphics card. The first Radeon 7000-series graphics cards launched in early 2012.

 

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