Intel approached AMD about access to Mantle

Intel has approached AMD about access to its game-boosting Mantle technology, an AMD executive said Friday.

Intel, for its part, confirmed that it has indeed asked AMD for access to the Mantle technology, for what it referred to as an "experiment". However, an Intel spokesman said that it remains committed to what it calls open standards like Microsoft's DirectX API.

AMD launched its low-level Mantle API technology last year, providing a low-level code path for game developers. Microsoft's own DirectX APIs or the open OpenGL API provide generic instruction sets for a variety of graphics chips, including those from Intel and Nvidia. But by writing "to the metal," as it were, developers can write instructions optimized for a particular graphics architecture, dramatically increasing the game's performance on that particular chip. Early tests show that a game like Battlefield 4, optimized for Mantle, can show gains of up to 58 percent in terms of frame rate compared to DirectX, though performance gains vary greatly by hardware configuration.

battlefield 4 naval strike attackboat wm

The game developers who make first-person shooters like the Battlefield series are being aggressively courted by AMD and Nvidia.

Nvidia has also reorganized its gaming libraries, including its PhysX engine, into what it calls GameWorks. Nvidia has licensed GameWorks to Crytek and Ubisoft (which used GameWorks in Watch Dogs), while AMD has signed up about 47 game developers for Mantle, according to Richard Huddy, AMD's "gaming scientist," in an interview.

That has turned the competition between Nvidia and AMD into a race to sign up developers. Meanwhile, gamers are watching eagerly to see if their games will receive a free boost from adopting one graphics technology or another.

Intel on the sidelines?

So far, the fight has been between AMD and Nvidia, which combined sold about 33 percent of the GPUs sold during the second quarter, according to Jon Peddie Research. The remaining two-thirds of the market is owned by Intel, which hasn't publicly committed to an architecture-specific API.

Huddy previously worked as chief gaming evangelist for Intel. He declined to comment when asked if Intel was working on its own Core-specific API. 

core i7 4770k

Does Intel need a Core-specific API? So far, the company says no.

"I know that Intel have approached us for access to the Mantle interfaces, et cetera," Huddy said. " And right now, we've said, give us a month or two, this is a closed beta, and we'll go into the 1.0 [public release] phase sometime this year, which is less than five months if you count forward from June. They have asked for access, and we will give it to them when we open this up, and we'll give it to anyone who wants to participate in this."

An Intel spokesman confirmed that it had made the request, but downplayed any Intel-specific low-level API plans.

"At the time of the initial Mantle announcement, we were already investigating rendering overhead based on game developer feedback," an Intel spokesman said in an email. "Our hope was to build consensus on potential approaches to reduce overhead with additional data.  We have publicly asked them to share the spec with us several times as part of examination of potential ways to improve APIs and increase efficiencies. At this point though we believe that DirectX 12 and ongoing work with other industry bodies and OS vendors will address the issues that game developers have noted."

In a separate email, the Intel spokesman said that it had been working with the Khronos Group and with Microsoft to ensure that future APIs target "a wide range of graphics hardware".

"Our belief is that software developers will prioritize their investments by bringing their great games and user experiences to all platforms using non-proprietary/open solutions; and whilst we all experiment, we hope that these experiments are used primarily to drive better standards and improve the graphics industry for everyone," the Intel spokesman said.

Mantle's roadmap

But back to Mantle. Huddy previously told PCWorld that AMD would bring its Mantle technology to Linux and to Steam boxes, the Linux-based gaming devices spearheaded by Valve Software. Naturally, AMD will continue to evolve the Mantle technology, Huddy said.

steam machines

Mantle will eventually accelerate Steam boxes, AMD says.

The Mantle drivers are part of AMD's Catalyst software, a wrapper for AMD's software drivers. Huddy described Catalyst as "a little long in the tooth," and said his understanding was that AMD planned to "rev it" with a new update soon.

For now, Mantle's focus is on improving the frame rates of games that tap into it, an easy way to sell AMD's performance to the numbers-obsessed world of gamers and benchmarking sites. That doesn't preclude AMD spending resources to improve the graphical quality, though.

"Our very first iteration has primarily focused on a performance differentiation, but we do know with that extra performance we can spend it on extra [image] quality," Huddy said. 

Likewise, AMD has prioritized its relationship with game developers and the engines that drive them, not the professional graphics space, Huddy said. But he added that his focus on games left him unaware of whether or not AMD was having similar conversations in the professional graphics space—one of the priorities for AMD's chief executive, Rory Read. 

"I would think that a workstation app developer who has looked at any care at what we have done with Mantle so far would realize that there is a pretty significant benefit" with Mantle, he said.

Mantle hasn't even officially launched yet. But with companies already taking sides, low-level APIs could become the battleground of the next few years.

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