When Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD) launched its Hawaii-Series Radeon graphics cards last year, it included exclusive support for a new AMD developed Application Programming Interface (NYSEMKT:API) called Mantle. With its recent debut in a Battlefield 4 update, gamers with the new architecture, which includes the latest Kaveri APU, were greeted with performance gains by as much as 25% depending on their hardware, for free. In what seems like a response, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has recently hinted incoming low-level APIs and will be unloading the details at a developer conference next month. While many have acknowledged this as Mantle's end, AMD disagrees and even if so, it's likely that these new APIs would have never surfaced anytime soon without Mantle.
A Review of Mantle
As described on Guru3D's FAQ page for Mantle, the new API "is an AMD initiative to create a new programming model that fully exploits the capabilities of modern GPUs, like AMD Radeon products, to improve graphics performance." In other words, it allows developers to work closer to the graphics hardware than ever before. Prior to Mantle, APIs like DirectX have caused frustrating overheads that have limited the capabilities of the hardware resulting in wasted time, money and effort. Mantle's abilities have drastically reduced the loads that CPUs suffer from traditional APIs and takes advantage of the extra power by using it to improve performance.
Developers that have turned to Mantle are doing so because they are tired of the lack of development for DirectX and other APIs available on the market. To understand how important DirectX development has been, take a look at the image below that expresses the improvements from DirectX 10 to 11. Microsoft's previous and rapid improvements on the API were incredible, and as a result pushed developers and hardware makers like Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) and AMD to keep improving, driving the sales of graphics cards. In the end, the importance of the new APIs serves as a driving force to push and improve video game development, ultimately improving hardware sales. Not only is this a very appealing approach from AMD to improve future revenues, but this also does the entire community a long needed favor.
(Image Source: allpcgame.net)
Microsoft teases of new low level APIs
For a future conference targeted to game developers next month, the following is served as a preview:
"For nearly 20 years, DirectX has been the platform used by game developers to create the fastest, most visually impressive games on the planet. However, you asked us to do more. You asked us to bring you even closer to the metal. Come learn our plans to deliver."
In addition, the previews for the Direct3D and OpenCL talks are suggesting something similar. Using words like "getting closer to the metal" is a very clear response to what AMD has provided with Mantle. As OpenCL, Direct3D and DirectX aren't hardware specific and open to any graphics card, this gives developers and gamers many reasons to rejoice. Over the years, game developers consistently outpaced the development of the new APIs and are at levels where the current APIs restrict what developers can do.
So What About AMD's Efforts?
A lot of people have been suggesting that this may make Mantle completely pointless and AMD responded with the following:
"Yesterday several articles were published that reported that DirectX and OpenGL are being extended to include closer-to-metal functionality and reduced CPU overhead. AMD supports and celebrates a direction for game development that is aligned with AMD's vision of lower-level, 'closer to the metal' graphics APIs for PC gaming. While industry experts expect this to take some time, developers can immediately leverage efficient API design using Mantle, and AMD is very excited to share the future of our own API with developers at this year's Game Developers Conference."
Mantle is currently in the beginning of its development stages and still has room to improve. Since it is likely that these new APIs will take time as mentioned above and possibly over a year as mentioned by ExtremeTech, AMD still has time to make it work. There are plans of making Mantle an open product by as soon as the end of the year, removing their exclusive touch. If so, this would dramatically improve adoption rates and position Mantle to compete with the upcoming APIs.
In the end, what's important is that a very favorable movement has begun thanks to Mantle and whether or not the new API becomes a standard, it will provide long-term benefits for developers, gamers and leading graphics designers like Nvidia and AMD - which was the whole point of it in the first place.
Disclosure: I am long AMD. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.