AMD's Mantle and Why Valve Might Want to Worry

We take a quick look at the Mantle API which AMD announced today and what it might mean.

Article by Cassandra Khaw, .

With all the hullabaloo surrounding Valve's recent announcements, it's easy to forget that AMD had their GPU 14 Tech Day in Hawaii today. The no-frills event, heavy with technical specifications, even had trouble holding onto its livestream audience which slipped away as the jargon continued to pile. Obviously, a fair amount of data was released during the occasion but most of it was only parsable by and relevant to a certain subset of the tech-savvy demographic.


Meet Mantle.

Mantle is the low-level, high-performance graphics API that AMD announced today. According to Hardware Zone, it's part of an 'AMD initiative, which Stockholm-based DICE is assisting with, to create a new graphics programming model that fully exploits the capabilities of modern GPUs, allows game developers to speak the native language of the AMD Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture, providing a deeper level of hardware optimization no other graphics card manufacturer can match'. In simpler terms, it opens a more direct channel between programmer and hardware, making the development process more akin to traditional console programming.

What's even better, however, is that with Mantle, developers can enjoy that same efficiency across any AMD-powered machine, be it console or PC. To put it in another way, this means that Mantle can help increase overall performance and plain ol' make games faster.

Now, here's where it gets interesting.

Although Valve has yet to release any specifications in regards to their upcoming Steam Machine, many speculate that an NVIDIA card sits at the graphical heart of the device. Given NVIDIA's incredibly supportive note in regards to the SteamOS and this mention of how NVIDIA engineers collaborated with Valve to improve driver performance for OpenGL, optimize performance on NVIDIA GPUs, and port Valve's content library to SteamOS, it wouldn't be very surprising.

Like true gentlemen or shrewd business people, AMD is going to make Mantle 'open' . In theory, NVIDIA will be able to re-purpose this shiny, performance-enhancing API for their own uses. Unfortunately, cross-competition adoption has generally never been one of those things that occur in the real world. Though NVIDIA's products might be able to support Mantle, AMD would still hold the keys to the proverbial kingdom, leaving NVIDIA as the errant tourist, a position the company isn't likely to entertain, not when they have other options up their analogical sleeves. So, now the question becomes: what's going to happen next? If Mantle becomes the new standard, pretty much everyone is going to want to use to make use of it but will NVIDIA allow them?

More crucially, even if NVIDIA decides to be the better mega-corporation and submit to AMD possibly more superior API, will developers subject themselves to what may be poorer performance rates, anyway? Mantle is probably going to function better on native hardware, regardless. As a result, could this inadvertently lead to the Steam Machine losing some of its viability and nascent momentum? Why focus on one fledgling console, regardless of whether it's backed by a megalith like Valve, when you have the rest of them at your disposal? If forced to make a choice, will developers want to make games for the Steam Machine when they can make better, faster, stronger games for everywhere else instead?

Currently, the ball is in NVIDIA's court. How the other graphics giant chooses to respond is going to be instrumental in what's going to happen next. Will NVIDIA introduce their own state-of-the-art API? Will we see a return to the fragmented standards of the 90's? (Please no.) Or will NVIDIA simply shrug and pretend it never happened. And if they do, will this give Mantle, assuming that it functions as advertised, the ability to propagate through the industry? We'll see in the coming weeks.

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Comments 7

  • Avatar for baggingspam #1 baggingspam 4 years ago
    Considering both PS4 and Xbox One run with an AMD Jaguar-based CPU and a Southern-Island based GPU, this might be a really lopsided next few years...
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  • Avatar for d0x #2 d0x 4 years ago
    @baggingspam yea this is news nvidia doesn't want to hear and it could POTENTIALLY change how games are made. It will be quick adoption since all 3 consoles are running amd hardware.
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  • Avatar for pauld'elia77 #3 pauld'elia77 4 years ago
    At least leaving it open to be adopted by nVidia is better than what nVidia does, by locking up something like PhysX and not allowing it to run on anything but their hardware on PC, even when it easily functionally could.

    And nVidia may very well have to adopt it because of the link to games being made on consoles.Edited September 2013 by pauld'elia77
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  • Avatar for alexb #4 alexb 4 years ago
    Is fragmentation like this beneficial in the long term? It's the sort of problem Direct X was initially conceived to overcome.
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  • Avatar for Tybrus #5 Tybrus 4 years ago
    I think you will want to update the article. Mantle is an AMD only low level API since it specifically targets the GCN architecture. Nvidia will never be able to use this.

    During the presentation they stated that it is cross-platform, which probably refers to its use on Xbox One and PS4 platforms. It may come to Linux too, but we won't know that until AMD's developer conference in November.

    Essentially it will allow developers building games for next gen consoles to port across the low level optimizations to the PC for those users who have AMD GCN based GPUs.

    If this becomes popular amongst major developers there is little Nvidia could really do.

    Nvidia could offer a similar low level API for their GPU architecture aimed at SteamOS and Windows. Although this would require devs to optimize for Mantle (which they are already using for Xbox One, Ps4 and now PC), DirectX (for Windows to manage non-GCN based GPUs, including Intel and Nvidia etc), OpenGL (Linux/OSX/Windows etc) and then potentially for Nvidias..

    There is no advantage to devs if Nvidia provides a new competing low level API. All of Nvidia's use cases are covered by DirectX and OpenGL without extra cost. The only reason Mantle may see success is because its likely already in use on the next gen consoles, so the work will already be done.Edited September 2013 by Tybrus
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  • Avatar for stuartcounter89 #6 stuartcounter89 4 years ago
    IMO Mantle is not on console and it will probably never be on console. Nor IMO will it be tied to current hardware since AMD will be planning to take Mantle into it's long term plan, and as far as I am aware it can't predict it's future hardwares that accurately.

    However that said AMD is first with such an API this may be important.Edited January 2014 by stuartcounter89
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  • Avatar for muchvelociraptor #7 muchvelociraptor 3 years ago
    Mantle is cross platform meaning it will be easy to release games for Linux and possibly Mac. Steam Boxes are just regular PCs In a small form factor running SteamOS which is based on Debian Linux. Even if the official steam box is NVIDIA, you can custom build a PC and install SteamOS as you would with another operating system. Microsoft doesn't allow OpenGL on the xbox one even though the device supports it, and that's so they can charge developers licensing fees. I don't think Microsoft will ever allow Mantle or OpenGL as long as DirectX is a viable option. Microsoft should be the ones scared to lose their game demographic to SteamOS. Valve has nothing to worry about
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