Microsoft previews changes arriving with Shader Model 6.0

At GDC 2016, Microsoft spilled the beans (Google translation) on the still-in-development Shader Model 6.0. For those not in the know, shaders are the bit of graphics engine technology responsible for effects like rugged terrain, neatly curved models, or fancy post-processing. The new version is a long-awaited update. Shader Model 5 was released back in 2009, and graphics programmers will argue that it's getting a bit long in the tooth.

SM6 (the Shader Model, not a Shure microphone) aims to be as much a technological advance as a practical one. Microsoft is looking to support future GPU features like procedural textures, separation of per-pixel and per-sample code regions, and explicit VR viewports. The language itself also gets a bevy of improvements to more closely mimic how a modern GPU works, keeping with the theme of DirectX 12 as a whole.


On the ease-of-use front, Microsoft is ditching its fxc compiler in favor of a more standard toolset based on the open-source Clang front end and the LLVM compiler back end. The move to a standard, open-source toolchain should make developers' lives a lot easier. Shader code first goes through a Clang High-Level Shading Language front end. It's then optimized using a separate pass with LLVM. Standard LLVM tools like debuggers and rewriters should all work with this new approach, and coders can more easily integrate their own tools into the new process. This workflow will apply to Shader Model 5 code going forward, too.


Microsoft expects to finalize the Shader Model 6.0 spec late this year. says graphics card companies are already working hard to update their drivers to support the new model.

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