Vulkan is the low-overhead future of OpenGL

Another piece in the next-gen graphics API puzzle has fallen into place. The Khronos Group has formally announced Vulkan, the API formerly known as glNext. The open standards body revealed its intention to rebuild OpenGL as a low-overhead API in August, and Vulkan is the result. I'll let the press release fill in the details:

Vulkan is a unified specification that minimizes driver overhead and enables multi-threaded GPU command preparation for optimal graphics and compute performance on diverse mobile, desktop, console and embedded platforms. Vulkan also provides the direct GPU control demanded by sophisticated game engines, middleware and applications with the cross vendor performance and functional portability resulting from simpler, more predictable drivers. The layered design of Vulkan enables multiple IHVs to plug into a common, extensible architecture for code validation, debugging and profiling during development without impacting production performance; this layering flexibility is expected to catalyze strong innovation in cross-vendor GPU tools.
In another significant announcement today, Vulkan and OpenCL 2.1 are now sharing core intermediate language technologies resulting in SPIR-V; a revolution in the Khronos Standard Portable Intermediate Representation initially used by OpenCL™, now fully defined by Khronos with native support for shader and kernel features. SPIR-V splits the compiler chain, enabling high-level language front-ends to emit programs in a standardized intermediate form to be ingested by Vulkan or OpenCL drivers. Eliminating the need for a built-in high-level language source compiler significantly reduces GPU driver complexity and will enable a diversity of language front-ends. Additionally, a standardized IR provides a measure of shader IP protection, accelerated shader load times and enables developers to use a common language front-end, improving shader reliability and portability across multiple implementations.

More information on the API is available in this overview presentation (PDF). The Game Developers Conference is also hosting two sessions on Vulkan this Thursday. One will provide a technical preview of the API, while the other promises demos and interaction with the folks behind the standard. Scott is at GDC this week, and I expect he'll be attending at least one of those sessions.

Vulkan remains a work in progress, but the initial specification and first implementations are due later this year. The Khronos Group says it has made "rapid progress" since last summer, with "significant proposals and IP contributions received from members." Some of those contributions came from AMD, whose low-overhead Mantle API shares a similar focus. AMD Gaming Scientist Richard Huddy told us in August that the firm had done "a great deal of work" with the Khronos Group on the next-gen OpenGL spec. It's unclear how much of Vulkan is derived from a mind meld with Mantle, though.

AMD isn't the only hardware company with a hand in Vulkan development, of course. Intel, Nvidia, ARM, Qualcomm, and Imagination Technologies are all part of the group behind the standard. Interestingly, the Khronos Group says it also experienced an "unprecedented level of participation from game engine ISVs." Valve is even presenting one of the GDC sessions on Vulkan.

Comments closed
    • AJSB
    • 5 years ago

    Video of DOTA2 running in LINUX using a video driver for Vulkan.
    The video driver was made by VALVE for Intel iGPU and will be open-sourced.

    [url<]http://youtu.be/0Hth4u65zfc[/url<]

    • njoydesign
    • 5 years ago

    Live long and render!

    Just couldn’t resist =))

    • AJSB
    • 5 years ago

    We can expect a fast development of Vulkan…here some examples:

    1) Imagination already have a PowerVR driver in the works.
    2) Valve just announced Source 2 Engine that have already support
    for Vulkan.

    Source 2 Engine is cross-platform (i.e. Windows, generic Linux,SteamOS) and its FREE for content creators.

    Here is a PDF about Vulkan where at page 8 we can see already DOTA2 running on Source 2 Engine and Vulkan in debug mode:

    [url<]https://www.khronos.org/assets/uploads/developers/library/overview/2015_vulkan_v1_Overview.pdf[/url<]

    • joyzbuzz
    • 5 years ago

    From the Khronos website – “the new open standard API for high-efficiency access to graphics and compute on modern GPUs, are now sharing core intermediate language technologies resulting in SPIR-V;”

    Isn’t that what HSA/Hsail does?

    Be interesting if the core technologies of VULKAN included both Mantle and HSA/Hsail.

    Intensely curious to see what Nvidia has to say about VULKAN and the VR scene, particularly the Steam VR headset.

      • chuckula
      • 5 years ago

      1. Using an Intermediate Representation (the IR in SPIR) is nothing new but SPIR-V is moderately interesting since it will work with both Vulcan and OpenCL.

      2. Considering that Nvidia along with a bunch of other companies developed Vulkan I’d be interested to see their drivers later this year or early 2016.

    • brucethemoose
    • 5 years ago

    So apparently Vulkan IS based on Mantle.

    [url<]http://www.pcper.com/news/General-Tech/GDC-15-Khronos-Acknowledges-Mantles-Start-Vulkan[/url<] [url<]http://www.reddit.com/r/linux_gaming/comments/2xsd9k/vulkan_mantle/cp34kdf[/url<] And note post 3 here: [url<]http://www.overclock.net/t/1544424/pcper-gdc-15-khronos-acknowledges-mantles-start-of-vulkan#post_23618257[/url<]

    • UnfriendlyFire
    • 5 years ago

    I wonder how much similarities would Vulkan and DX12 share?

      • joyzbuzz
      • 5 years ago

      A lot.

    • fhohj
    • 5 years ago

    Fascinating.

    • Airmantharp
    • 5 years ago

    I can imagine AMD making a significant contribution to Vulcan, given their prominent position in Apple’s professional lineup, and how much OS X and compatible apps can make use of GPU acceleration.

      • Deanjo
      • 5 years ago

      [quote<]given their prominent position in Apple's professional lineup[/quote<] That's about to change again.

        • nanoflower
        • 5 years ago

        Apple is moving to Nvidia?

          • Deanjo
          • 5 years ago

          Apple swaps every few refreshes (in fact the only Apple device that currently uses AMD graphics is the MacPro). Maxwell offers Apple better performance in a far small can power and heat friendly than what AMD has to offer.

            • NTMBK
            • 5 years ago

            The Retina iMac also uses a Tonga GPU.

      • erwendigo
      • 5 years ago

      Yes, Apple and OS X is a very important point to AMD, so much that their graphic driver doesn’t support multigpu 3d acceleration (aka crossfire).

      You can buy a trashcan by apple with two firegl cards in there, but you can’t use both to 3D (only with gpgpu). Do you know that Vulkan is a 3D API? Well, you have your answer now.

    • chuckula
    • 5 years ago

    To those of you who were wondering… the Vulkan trademark was filed prior to the untimely transit to the Genesis planet of Mr. Spock.

    [url<]http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=86539994&caseType=SERIAL_NO&searchType=statusSearch[/url<]

      • Deanjo
      • 5 years ago

      I don’t know why everyone thinks it was named after Spocks species. It’s obviously named after Vulcan, AB

      [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulcan,_Alberta[/url<]

        • chuckula
        • 5 years ago

        That seems like a nice town. I see they even have a Vulcan airport.

          • Deanjo
          • 5 years ago

          Ya it is a nice little town, they had a few problems with the odd Romulan passing though but that’s about it.

        • anotherengineer
        • 5 years ago

        Hey I was there when I was a kid, and Drumheller, and the badlands (the place, have played the game also though)

          • Deanjo
          • 5 years ago

          Little bit of an article to tie Spock and the town together

          [url<]http://calgaryherald.com/entertainment/celebrity/the-day-mr-spock-called-the-calgary-herald-newsroom-to-go-to-bat-for-vulcan-alberta[/url<]

        • nanoflower
        • 5 years ago

        Or maybe Vulcan Materials Company. After all their construction aggregates form the building blocks of our society (literally) while Vulkan will form the building blocks of new games and other applications.

      • Hyp3rTech
      • 5 years ago

      I miss mr. Spock.

        • Goofus Maximus
        • 5 years ago

        R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy. He lived long and prospered.

    • chuckula
    • 5 years ago

    To those of you who were wondering… the Vulkan trademark was filed prior to the untimely transit to the Genesis planet of Mr. Spock.

    [url<]http://tsdr.uspto.gov/#caseNumber=86539994&caseType=SERIAL_NO&searchType=statusSearch[/url<] And before TR decided to clone my post..... THIS IS THE EVIL SPOCK POST! YOU CAN TELL BY THE BEARD AND EGREGIOUS CAPITALIZATION!

    • chuckula
    • 5 years ago

    It’s about Vulkan time for there to be a new cross-platform API!
    I’m expecting some Vulkan support from those Vulkan developers at AMD, Intel and Nvidia.

    I know that Valve is excited about finally releasing some Vulkan games! Believe me, a Vulkan version of Halflife 3 is way WAY overdue.

    In conclusion, I’m Vulkan excited to see this new API taking shape and I hope to have my Vulkan system working by next year.

      • digitalnut
      • 5 years ago

      Are you out of your Vulkan Mind!?

        • chuckula
        • 5 years ago

        I take Vulkan Halflife 3 very seriously.

      • Goofus Maximus
      • 5 years ago

      Well, Valve has just unveiled Source 2, which will be free to developers, including a special version which will have Vulkan support.

      Half Life 3 confirmed? (^_^)

    • Cyril
    • 5 years ago

    [quote<]It's unclear how much of Vulkan is derived from a mind meld with Mantle, though.[/quote<] Fascinating.

      • Hyp3rTech
      • 5 years ago

      He’s dead, Jim.

        • chµck
        • 5 years ago

        your response is illogical

          • Aerugo
          • 5 years ago
      • Goofus Maximus
      • 5 years ago

      There have been some news clips about some statements made by Neil Trevett, which state that Vulkan started from a Mantle base, according to PCPer…

      [url<]http://www.pcper.com/news/General-Tech/GDC-15-Khronos-Acknowledges-Mantles-Start-Vulkan[/url<]

      • BlackStar
      • 5 years ago

      PowerVR has published a tiny snippet of Vulkan code. The functions appear to be identical to Mantle, just with the “gr” prefix replaced by “vk”.

      Which makes sense, there are only so many ways to design a low-level graphics API for a current GPU.

      Edit: [url<]http://blog.imgtec.com/powervr/trying-out-the-new-vulkan-graphics-api-on-powervr-gpus[/url<]

    • brucethemoose
    • 5 years ago

    [quote<] unprecedented level of participation from game engine ISVs [/quote<] Will some major games actually use OpenGL instead of DirectX this time around? The last 2 big OpenGL games I can think of are Rage and Minecraft, and both had some major performance issues.

      • NTMBK
      • 5 years ago

      Minecraft’s performance problems had more to do with Minecraft than OpenGL.

      • Concupiscence
      • 5 years ago

      If they can create a decent SDK and support documentation, it has a better than zero chance. That likelihood increases substantially with SDL2’s inevitable Vulkan support.

      • Concupiscence
      • 5 years ago

      Isn’t Minecraft’s OpenGL implementation kinda… special? Like, “scales back to OpenGL 1.3-era hardware and could stand to be massively re-engineered” special? I’ve never played Minecraft but have heard people rumbling about that part of it for years.

      Wolfenstein: The New Order’s also OpenGL, and it shares a lot of performance issues with Rage due to the engine’s vast preference for low overhead access to streaming textures. Both would be ideal candidates for a Vulkan port (especially Wolfenstein, both because it’s more demanding and because it’s not hot garbage…).

        • brucethemoose
        • 5 years ago

        No, Minecraft’s renderer NEEDS to be massively re-engineered. FYI they just updated the renderer with 1.8, but some mod a fan wrote in his spare time awhile ago is STILL faster than Mojang’s… And not marginally faster, but nearly twice as fast on some hardware.
        /rant

        Anyway, I was just saying Minecraft doesn’t help OpenGL’s image, even if the API isn’t to blame.

        And I forgot about Wolfenstein.

        • tipoo
        • 5 years ago

        What are Wolfensteins performance issues? Seems alright to me, I’m playing on an Iris Pro 5200 which is far from high end, and it’s fairly constantly a smooth 45fps, high/ultra settings, with 1440×900.

          • Concupiscence
          • 5 years ago

          Most of the performance issues come down to driver problems. As one might expect the performance on Radeon cards was behind equivalent Nvidia hardware for months (as one data point, performance on a friend’s 7750 was about half what my old 550 Ti managed after release) and pre-Fermi Nvidia hardware seems to have a driver bug that keeps the game running at under one frame per second. Otherwise it’s just variations on what people complained about with RAGE: visible texture redraw time, CPU-hungry drawing in busy scenes, etc.

          As you said Intel’s drivers for their newer GPUs seem to tackle it pretty cheerfully. It’s nice to see.

          edit: What? Did I offend someone by saying AMD’s OpenGL implementation was a little rickety in handling Wolfenstein: TNO out of the gate? Given the company’s past history with GL driver wrinkles going all the way back to the Rage Pro, is this an honest surprise to anyone?

            • tipoo
            • 5 years ago

            Interesting. I’m not sure if I should feel happy or sad that Intel is the one who nailed the drivers, lol. How the tables have turned.
            Pop-in is there but not too bad, I’m even playing it over an external USB spinny hard drive and it’s not terrible, just a fraction of a second in a fast changing scene.

            • Concupiscence
            • 5 years ago

            It’s heartening. Not that I’d call Intel’s OpenGL driver a revelation or anything (that article about the state of OpenGL written by an ex-Valve employee last year threw some serious shade on the Windows OpenGL driver, but at least it doesn’t seem to disable swathes of the driver on a per-application basis to avoid incurring driver glitches like AMD’s…). I say all of this as someone who owns a Radeon 7850 and is generally pretty happy with it.

      • blastdoor
      • 5 years ago

      I sure hope so. I’d like better gaming options, but I don’t want to use Windows.

      • the
      • 5 years ago

      MineCraft’s performance issues have been historically CPU bound. Thankfully they’ve effectively rewritten the game over the years and have optimized it. It is far faster today than older versions on the same hardware.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 5 years ago

      Every PS3 game runs OpenGL ES.

    • NTMBK
    • 5 years ago

    Seems like AMD’s contributions to Vulkan were pretty significant. They gave Khronos full access to Mantle, who used it as the basis of Vulkan. More details at Anandtech:

    [quote<]In fact Khronos has confirmed that AMD has contributed Mantle towards the development of Vulkan, and though we need to be clear that Vulkan is not Mantle, Mantle was used to bootstrap the process and speed its development, making Vulkan a derivation of sorts of Mantle (think Unix family tree). What has changed from Mantle is that Khronos has gone through a period of refinement, keeping what worked in Vulcan and throwing out portions of Mantle that didn’t work well – particularly HLSL and anything that would prevent the API from being cross-vendor – replacing it with the other necessary/better functionality.[/quote<] [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/9038/next-generation-opengl-becomes-vulkan-additional-details-released[/url<]

      • chuckula
      • 5 years ago

      Yes, you copy & pasted that on the other thread and it was overdone there too.

      You might as well say that Nvidia’s contribution to Mantle was pretty significant since the HLSL shader language that does 95% of the real work in Mantle was taken from D3D and D3D adopted it from Nvidia’s CG.

        • NTMBK
        • 5 years ago

        Hey it was original when I wrote it in the other thread, this one is the copy & paste job!

        As someone pointed out in the Anandtech forums, it looks like Vulkan literally has all the same API calls as Mantle, just with a “vk” prefix: [url<]http://forums.anandtech.com/showpost.php?p=37218419&postcount=48[/url<] Khronos took it as a foundation and built off it.

          • chuckula
          • 5 years ago

          So you are claiming that AMD was doing all the Vulkan work then?

            • NTMBK
            • 5 years ago

            Hah, no, certainly not. I don’t think AMD even did all of the Mantle work- DICE seemed to be awfully involved from the beginning, coming up with some of the big ideas in the first place, I wouldn’t be surprised if they helped develop the API.

            What I am claiming is that AMD gave Khronos Mantle, and Khronos collectively then did further development work (making it portable to other GPU architectures, replacing HLSL with GLSL, whatever). Mantle is Vulkan version 0.5, basically. Obviously a lot of work has been done on top of it, but it formed the original basis of it.

    • superjawes
    • 5 years ago

    May OpenGL Live Long and Prosper…

    • blastdoor
    • 5 years ago

    Help me, Spock!

    • anotherengineer
    • 5 years ago

    BUT…………..will it give me 144 fps in cad??

      • Concupiscence
      • 5 years ago

      “Sir, I can assure you: this Ferrari will DEFINITELY get you and your kids to school and back safely every day of the year.”

      edit: Not that I expect Vulkan to become a premiere CAD API for a while yet. Heck, if I remember right the CAD guys were a big part of why OpenGL 3’s release was such a timidly progressive fiasco.

        • anotherengineer
        • 5 years ago

        But my kids take the school bus though………………..

          • tipoo
          • 5 years ago

          The Ferrari bus.

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