First DirectX 12, Now Vulkan
About a week ago, I posted my thoughts on AMD putting an end to Mantle and what that could mean for DirectX 12. While I was pretty excited, some people were quick to remind me that while DirectX 12 is low-level, it’s still proprietary. Well the good news is that I only had half of the story. Not only was AMD pointing developers to DirectX 12, but they also started pointing them to the new API from Khronos Group, Vulkan.
For those unfamiliar with the Khronos Group (as I was a few days ago), they are the people responsible for OpenGL. In short, this API was originally designed for graphics workstations and while it could be used for gaming purposes, the code was built up over the span of 20 years making it difficult to program to. OpenGL ES was cleaner, but was only designed towards mobile devices. This is where Vulkan comes in. Vulkan has taken the best and brightest features of Mantle and brought the “close to the metal” concept to a completely open and cross-platform API. To put it simply, what DirectX 12 is accomplishing for Windows, Vulkan should be able to accomplish for pretty much every major graphics player in the industry including the Big 3 (INTEL, AMD, NVIDIA). Those of you who wanted something non-proprietary; it looks like you got it and it isn’t fragmenting the industry, which was a concern back in the early days of Mantle.
The other really interesting thing about Vulkan is what it could mean for the future of SLI and Crossfire. Rumors are floating around that these low-level APIs could allow users to mix and match just about ANY video card. This is due to the fact that Vulkan would treat each graphics device as it’s own separate unit and split the loads of processing evenly to what each device can handle. If you want great hair from AMD but really like that PhysX from NVIDIA, why not have both? If this sounds too good to be true, it’s probably because it will be. My thoughts are that while this will open up the possibilities of what video cards can be put together, I doubt we’ll be seeing multiple brands in one computer. What would be nice is if both SLI and Crossfire gave us more options across the board. Upgrades are nice but they tend to leave us with an older card that has to be sold or sit around collecting dust. Imagine being able to upgrade, getting the most horsepower out of your primary card, but leaving your older one in as a secondary that still adds more graphical power to your system. Not only could future upgrades be easier, but many INTEL users may finally get to use those integrated GPUs just sitting around doing nothing because the discreet GPU does all the work.
Vulkan really is great news for gamers everywhere, but we really can thank AMD for having a huge hand in changing the way things are. Mantle was the kind of innovation that couldn’t be ignored. While there may not be direct proof of this, AMD seems to have goaded both Khronos and Microsoft to get serious about their own APIs. If all goes well, then not only will Windows users get better gaming experiences for themselves, but people who have wanted a non-proprietary API may finally get to see better gaming experiences for things like mobile devices and Linux. All the while, competition will also exist for each platform as they fight to pull developers to their software. Time will tell just how good these low-level APIs actually are, but if all goes well, then I give AMD two huge thumbs up for pointing the gaming industry in the right direction!