Today AMD is announcing initial support via a new beta driver for the recently ratified 1.0 specification of the Vulkan graphics API. Vulkan is a low overhead graphics API maintained by the Khronos Group best known for their stewardship of the OpenGL graphics API. OpenGL and Vulkan will continue to live side by side for the foreseeable future with OpenGL aimed at general applications and Vulkan reserved for high performance applications. As AMD is quick to point out Vulkan is derived from AMD’s Mantle API. A version of which was submitted to the OpenGL Next working group in 2014 and has been developed with input from the Khronos Group’s industry partners into the now ratified 1.0 specification for the Vulkan API.
As a cross-platform and cross vendor API Vulkan is designed to support Windows 7, 8.1, and 10 alongside Android and Linux. Intel for its part is expected to offer Vulkan support shortly given their public demos Vulkan running on their on-die graphics both at GDC and SIGGRAPH last year.
Nvidia on the other hand has been much more verbal than Intel about Vulkan. The company’s given presentations at its own GTC conference and at SIGGRAPH last year on the subject. Additionally, they’ve released a few blogs under the banner of their GameWorks program aimed at helping developers tune their Vulkan code to run best on Nvidia’s GPUs. Based on their GTC presentation Nvidia is planning to release a driver with Vulkan support alongside the official 1.0 specification release.
UPDATE 2/16/2016 @ 8:52 PST: AMD has posted its Vulkan Beta Driver, a blog post on what Radeon GPUs support Vulkan, and an introductory video to Vulkan. Unsurprisingly only GCN equipped Radeon GPUs will offer Vulkan support. Khronos has also put out a press release that has more resemblance to a love letter from the OpenGL Next working group members than a API release.
Vulkan will be competing with other Mantle inspired low overhead graphics APIs like DirectX 12 and Apple’s Metal for market dominance over the next few years. At this point it’s hard to say who will come out on top, especially on contentious platforms like Windows where Vulkan and DirectX 12 will compete directly, but Vulkan does offer a degree of cross-platform compatibility than DirectX 12 and Metal can only aspire to.S|A