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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.

DirectX 12 should run on a vast swathe of hardware, however. Microsoft expects DX12 to work on 80 percent of all gaming PC hardware shipping today and 50 percent of the total PCs being used when DX12 finally hits the streets. AMD's GCN-based graphics products will support DX12. Every Nvidia graphics card that runs DirectX 11 will also run DirectX 12, as will Intel's most current processors. That's impressive — and DirectX's far-reaching hardware support is one of the reasons the technology became so dominant to begin with.

Will my games play nice with Mantle and DirectX 12?

Hardware support's useless if games don't actually use the new gaming APIs, though. DirectX is the flag-bearer for PC gaming APIs, with the vast majority of Windows PC games being built around it or OpenGL. If DirectX 12 truly works with disparate PC hardware as well as DirectX 11 does, but offers even more efficiency and raw power, there's no reason to think it won't be just as widely adopted.

AMD's fighting more of an uphill battle with Mantle, thanks to its being so tightly bound to GCN-based Radeon hardware. Because of that, in fact, PC developers that offer Mantle optimizations offer it as an extra, beyond traditional DirectX/OpenGL implementations. Thief and Battlefield 4's Mantle-enabled drivers each appeared after the normal versions of the games launched.

But the allure of performance gains and more direct control is strong for developers — especially if they're looking to port over a PC game from the GCN-packing PS4 or Xbox One. Several big-name developers have already dabbled with Mantle: EA DICE (maker of Battlefield), Crytek (maker of Crysis and Far Cry), Eidos and Square Enix (makers of Thief), and Rebellion Developments (maker of Sniper Elite). Star Citizen, Robert Space Industries' rip-roaring, $40-plus million, crowd-funded game success, will also be Mantle-enabled, as will Oxide's Nitrous game engine.

That's far from a comprehensive list — but it's not a bad start for AMD.

Sweet! So when can I start playing games with Mantle and DirectX 12?

Aaaaaaaand here's DirectX 12's biggest drawback. While you can pick up and start playing Mantle-enabled PC games right now — assuming you have compatible hardware, of course — DirectX 12 won't be available for a long, long time. Microsoft is targeting the first DX12 games to hit stores in holiday 2015. Yes, 2015. And don't forget that game developers took their sweet time pushing out DirectX 11 games back in the day, too.

Ugh.

With such a far-off timetable, Microsoft's announcement of DirectX12 definitely seems to be a response to the threat of Mantle. And with such a far-off timetable, AMD will definitely have the opportunity to woo developers into Mantle's arms.

 

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