AMD Radeon R9 and R7 Series Re-branding Introduction

AMD is announcing a new re-branding structure for its video cards. The AMD Radeon R9 and R7 series will make up AMDs new video cards moving forward. Most are re-brands of current series GPUs, but two will be next generation. We will discuss each model announced with specifications and comparison.

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Mantle

Mantle is the biggest new technology that we need to talk about, and that you need to know about. Mantle is a thin graphics API developed by AMD. This was born out of the fact that AMD now has silicon on the next generation consoles, XBox One and Playstation 4. By having its GPUs inside both of the next generation consoles, and on PC, AMD is in a position to promote an open-source API across all of its GCN supported GPUs.

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Mantle allows "bare metal access" to the GPU. This means that Mantle is able to allow developers to work directly to core features on the GPU at levels that are not possible under DirectX. This is how games are already developed on console systems. Developers can access core GPU functions at a much lower level. This is why consoles can perform as good as those can or look as good as those can with hardware that is light-years behind the PC. Now that AMD has been developing this low-level support on its silicon on the console systems, AMD can bring this to PC GPUs.

Mantle will be supported across all GCN (Graphics Core Next) GPUs. Yes, this also means Radeon HD 7000 series GPUs. The potential is there for this to be a game changer. AMD has been quoted as saying this could increase the draw call ability to 9X on the PC over what DirectX 11 supports. That alone could lead to massively more immersive games, or performance gains.

Of course, we have yet to see Mantle in action. Like any API, the developer has to use it to be effective, otherwise it's just an unused piece of software. We've seen plenty of software go by the wayside because developers haven't used it. Though Mantle is a bit different because in this case it will be use for both of the next gen consoles. Therefore, console ports of games to the PC may get very interesting in the future on AMD GCN GPUs.

We do not know if these claims hold water in real-world PC gaming and the whole console to PC port thing is not likely to be terribly simple either. We won't know a lot of things about Mantle until Mantle support is released in a game and we get developer feedback. The first game that will support Mantle is Battlefield 4. In December, there will be a Battlefield 4 patch that will introduce Mantle API support. When you are inside the game's graphics settings you will have a new option, you can select DirectX 11 or Mantle API. Only then will we see how it affects performance or allows developers to improve image quality. When that time comes, rest assured we will be on it to find out what the deal is.


TruAudio

Whoever thought AMD would be pioneering audio acceleration on the GPU? Gotta say, we did not see that one coming. TruAudio is hardware that has a fully programmable audio pipeline. The caveat being only the Radeon R9 290X, R9 290, and R7 260X will support TruAudio. That is GCN 2.0 and GCN 1.1. All other GCN 1.0 parts don't have this technology.

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There will be multiple integrated Tensilica HiFi EP audio DSP cores built into the GPUs on R9 290/X and R7 260X. These are dedicated audio DSP solutions for sound effects and fully programmable. It is yet to be seen what developers can do with this technology. Theoretically it can allow more accurate 3D spatialization audio. It can allow more voice streams and audio channels. It can also reduce CPU load, by offsetting to the GPU. Until we hear this in practice, we won't know the true benefits. Like any new technology it is again up to the developer to use it, otherwise it doesn't do a darn thing. Luckily, there are a few games set for release with TruAudio support: Star Citizen, Thief, Murdered Soul Suspect, Lichdom and Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed.


GCN and DirectX 11.2

GCN stands for "Graphics Core Next." It is the architecture that drives the Radeon HD 7000 series and Radeon R7 and R9 series. It is also the architecture that runs the Playstation 4 and XBox One. Through this architecture, AMD is able to support Mantle and DirectX 11.2.

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DirectX 11.2 is currently shipping with Windows 8.1. Unfortunately, it will only be on Windows 8 that you find DX 11.2. As far as is planned right now, DX 11.2 is staying Windows 8 only, and not coming to Windows 7. DX 11.2 allows 3D Tiled Resources and exposes AMD's partially-resident texture feature. Hardware-managed virtual memory for the GPU is supported and some other new features. It is too early to tell right now how this will affect gaming in the real-world, and if there will be differences between Windows 7 gaming and Windows 8.1 gaming on AMD GPUs. We will have to wait for game support.