The first DirectX 12 benchmark for Windows 10 has been released and it looks like AMD's stormy night may be coming to an end. Recently, AMD has had a number of issues as a company, from graphics card driver problems to simply providing a compelling product in the CPU market.
AMD's R9 200 and 300 series are good cards with great prices, but the driver support on recent titles has been less than adequate. Games released over the past year like Batman: Arkham Knight, The Witcher 3, and Project CARS have had significant issues with AMD cards in combination with DirectX 11. This means while AMD cards look great from a price/performance standpoint, they're harder to recommend.
Digital Foundry took a look at the first DirectX 12 benchmark, which involves scripted sequences from Stardock and Oxide Games' Ashes of the Singularity. They tested various combinations of a Core i7 4790K or Core i3 4130 with either a Radeon R9 390 or GTX 970. For the R9 390, they found that switching to DirectX 12 nearly doubled the framerate on either processor. Even more surprising is the framerate on the i3/R9/DX12 combo was actually better than the framerate for the i7/R9/DX11 build. That represents a solid gain for budget gaming builders, especially depending on how quick DirectX 12 adoption is.
In contrast, the Nvidia benchmarks are coming out very close and in some cases, Digital Foundry found that the DirectX 11 performance was better than DX12. These findings were also mirrored in other benchmarks, including these done by PC Perspective. Now, there's a couple of things that feed into those results. For one, Nvidia's DirectX 11 support has been absolutely stellar, so there's less room to grow, while AMD is jumping from poor DX11 support to great DX12 support.
Second, this is a single game with a single engine. There's a reason benchmarks are usually spread across multiple titles: some titles perform better on certain cards. Ashes of the Singularity is also from a studio that was previously working with AMD on its Mantle graphics API, causing some to say the game favors AMD drivers. That "some" includes Nvidia itself.
"The game looks intriguing, but this alpha benchmark is primarily useful to understand how your system runs a series of scenes from the alpha version of Ashes of Singularity," Nvidia said in a statement. "We believe there will be better examples of true DirectX 12 performance and we continue to work with Microsoft on their DX12 API, games and benchmarks. The GeForce architecture and drivers for DX12 performance is second to none – when accurate DX12 metrics arrive, the story will be the same as it was for DX11."
Oxides shot down some of those complaints in a lengthy blog post about the API and benchmark demo.
"Our goal is to make our game run as fast as possible on everyone's machine, regardless of what hardware our players have," wrote Oxide Games co-founder Dan Baker. "To this end, we have made our source code available to Microsoft, Nvidia, AMD and Intel for over a year. We have received a huge amount of feedback. For example, when Nvidia noticed that a specific shader was taking a particularly long time on their hardware, they offered an optimized shader that made things faster which we integrated into our code."
"It should not be considered that because the game is not yet publically out, it's not a legitimate test. While there are still optimizations to be had, Ashes of the Singularity in its pre-beta stage is as – or more – optimized as most released games."
It's still rather early for DirectX 12. The API launched with Windows 10 and Ashes is only the first benchmark we have. The next major DirectX 12 title on the horizon looks to be Microsoft's Fable Legends. The truth is we need more games and more time for hardware teams to optimize their drivers for the new API.
The larger point is that it looks like AMD is getting its head back into the game. DirectX 12 support is off to a great start on the graphics side and the company's upcoming Zen CPU microarchitecture means AMD might match Intel pound-for-pound on the CPU side of things as well. For too long, the Intel/Nvidia combination has been an easy recommendation for most builds. AMD providing some solid competition is the best thing that could happen to the PC market.