AMD hopes to put a little Mantle in OpenGL Next

At Siggraph yesterday, we met with Richard Huddy, AMD's newly appointed Gaming Scientist. Huddy gave us some dirt on the incoming wave of FreeSync monitors, but that wasn't all. He also provided an update on Mantle, and he revealed some interesting details about AMD's role in the development of the next-gen OpenGL API.

Announced earlier this week, the next-gen version of OpenGL is a complete, from-the-ground-up rewrite aimed at slashing overhead and giving developers more control over the hardware. In that sense, the upcoming API, which Huddy calls "OpenGL Next," will follow in the footsteps of Mantle and DirectX 12.

Huddy told us AMD has done a "great deal of work" with the Khronos Group, the stewards of the OpenGL spec, on OpenGL Next. AMD has given the organization unfettered access to Mantle and told them, in so many words, "This is how we do it. If you want to take the same approach, go ahead." Khronos is free to take as many pages as it wants out of the Mantle playbook, and AMD will impose no restrictions, nor will it charge any licensing fees.

While Huddy didn't say how closely OpenGL Next might mirror Mantle, he repeated the contention that Mantle shaped DirectX 12's development. We expressed some doubts about that contention when we addressed it earlier this year, but Huddy was adamant. Development on DirectX 12's new features may have begun before Mantle, he said, but the "real impetus" for DX12's high-throughput layer came from the AMD API.

Speaking of which, Huddy told us 75 developers are now working on Mantle titles in the consumer realm. Enthusiasm, he added, "seems unbridled." Some of those developers see Mantle as a stepping stone to DirectX 12, while others view the API as an "opportunity to differentiate themselves."

Huddy expects developers to keep using Mantle after DX12 arrives, too, for two reasons. First, AMD can add support for new GPU features very quickly—much quicker than Microsoft, which rolls out major DirectX updates only every 4-5 years. Second, Mantle has full support for Windows 7, which DX12 may not. This second point is somewhat at odds with what Microsoft hinted at GDC, but we're still awaiting an official statement about DX12 backward-compatibility. The API is expected to ship with the next Windows release, according to Huddy.

Finally, Mantle is heading to the workstation space. AMD hasn't released a public Mantle driver for its FirePro graphics cards yet, but a beta program is underway. A number of software vendors, some of which are "not small," are already on board. Huddy was reluctant to name names, but he sounded very pleased. Enthusiasm about Mantle among workstation software vendors, he said, is "very high." But because things move slower in the workstation space, he doesn't expect the first Mantle-enabled workstation apps to come out until next year.

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