Microsoft is quietly developing a software rasterizer that allows x86 processors to render DirectX 10 graphics—and some early performance tests might surprise you. According to an article on MSDN, the Windows Advanced Rasterization Platform (WARP) will ship as part of Windows 7, and a beta version is already available in the November 2008 DirectX development toolkit.
WARP will come in handy in a number of cases, Microsoft writes, like when a user's graphics card is broken or the graphics driver malfunctions. The company is also targeting casual gamers who want prettier graphics than what their GPU (or integrated graphics hardware) might be able to deliver:
Games have simple rendering requirements but also want the ability to use impressive visual effects that can be hardware accelerated. The majority of the best selling game titles for Windows are either simulations or casual games, neither of which requires high performance graphics, but both styles of games greatly benefit from modern shader based graphics and the ability to scale on hardware if present.
Best of all, DirectX 10 applications designed "without any knowledge" of WARP will reportedly run well using the rasterizer. How well? According to Microsoft's performance numbers, one of Intel's new Core i7-965 processors can run Crysis at an average of 7.4 FPS at 800x600 with the detail level turned down. In the same test, Microsoft says Intel's DX10-capable integrated graphics hardware managed just 5.2 FPS. A GeForce 8400 GS (which is available for $30 these days) outdid both solutions, though, scoring 33.9 FPS.
Microsoft's work is particularly interesting in light of Larrabee, Intel's future graphics processor that will contain x86-derived processing cores. As an unrelated side note, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney commented earlier this year that a hypothetical resurgence of software rendering could counteract the prevalence of Intel integrated graphics that are "incapable of running any modern games." (Thanks to Custom PC for the link.)