Why AMD’s Mantle API will outlive DirectX 12

Legacy support, cutting edge features, and performance are the keys…

Radeon Red Seattle (1 of 1)-2

We had a chance to sit down with AMD’s Chief gaming scientist, Richard Huddy, outside of Intel’s IDF conference last week and talk about the value that AMD sees in maintaining and promoting its own graphics API. There are three major reasons why AMD believes making continued investments in the Mantle graphics API is good for not only AMD, but for gamers in general.

The biggest issue is legacy support. If Microsoft continues its traditional pattern of not supporting its latest and greatest APIs on older operating systems it’s likely that any additional updates other than the initial DirectX 12 release will never be available on the Windows 7 platform. AMD wouldn’t confirm anything directly but they did point out that Microsoft is EOL’ing Windows 7 next year. Windows 7 currently constitutes just over half of the Windows install base. Obviously for the majority of gamers there’s a lot of value in having a cutting edge graphics API available on your platform, and that’s not something Microsoft can offer them after next year. This is where AMD comes in with Mantle to support the latest advances in graphics on a platform that Microsoft has written off. According to AMD there’s no technical reason that they can’t support Windows 7 with Mantle for many years to come. For Windows 7 users who want the latest graphics APIs but don’t want to move to a more recent OS AMD’s GPUs may eventually become the only solution.

The second biggest reason that AMD will be keeping Mantle around is its value as a tool for moving the industry forward and showing off the best of AMD’s architecture through future revisions to the API.  AMD has plans to introduce additional revisions to the Mantle API as it releases new GPU architectures so that developers can take advantage of the most advanced capabilities of AMD hardware. As an example of this in action AMD’s original development and announcement of Mantle kick-started a major new trend in graphics APIs: reduced abstraction. API’s that offer lower level access to the hardware have been created by many important groups like Microsoft, Apple, and Khronos in the wake of Mantle’s debut. Thus AMD sees Mantle as a worthwhile endeavor for allowing them to more rapidly define the pace of innovation in the graphics industry.

The final reason that AMD wants Mantle is for performance. AMD believe that in a majority of cases Mantle will provide better performance than DirectX 12 because Mantle is a less generic API. The gap will be small, 0 to 10 percent, and in some cases AMD believes that DirectX 12 may outperform Mantle. But by and large they feel that they can do a better job of optimizing Mantle for their GPUs than Microsoft can do with DirectX 12 or the Khronos group can with OpenGL. That’s a reasonable assumption to make and it gives us a great insight into AMD budding desire to control its own future rather than wait for the rest of the industry to show them the way forward.

We also had a chance to ask AMD about their thoughts on the probability that Intel, Nvidia, or any of the other graphics vendors would announce support for Mantle when the API is publicly released as an open standard near the end of this year. Largely AMD is unsure of how the other vendors will react although they thought that Nvidia and Intel picking up support for Mantle wasn’t entirely outside of the realm of possibility. They also reminded us that Mantle has been designed from the get go to support any modern DirectX 11 class GPU architecture, with the exception of Tile-based architectures like PowerVR’s and that both companies had expressed interest in at least looking at the API.

If you’re looking for an example of the new culture and programs that AMD’s turnaround has fostered inside the company then look no further than AMD’s efforts to promote and support its own API. Mantle is here to stay and it’s a long-term play by AMD to consistently steer and prod the graphics industry forward.S|A

The following two tabs change content below.
Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.