Windows 7 Brings Software Based Graphics

Windows 7 Brings Software Based Graphics
Microsoft’s Windows 7 promises to take graphics technology to the next level, by allowing users to experience Direct3D 10 graphics on Direct3D 9 hardware and even process Direct3D 9-level graphics with no special hardware at all. These new features are made possible due to the new “Direct3D 10 Level 9” software, and the Direct3D Windows Advanced Rasterization Platform (WARP10), which provides a high-speed, fully compatible software rasterizer – this component has just become available in its beta release with DirectX SDK.
WARP10 - Software Based Crysis on Windows 7? (Credit: Electronic Arts) 
WARP10 – Software Based Crysis
on Windows 7? (Credit: Electronic Arts)

While Direct3D 10 Level 9 software will allow users to run Direct3D 10 applications on Direct3D 9 hardware with equal visual quality, it will still result in some decreased performance. The WARP10 will enable users to effectively utilize the new Intel Core i7 CPUs, providing performance equal to that of a native Direct3D 10-level graphics processor. This platform is, in essence, a complete software implementation of Direct3D 10, being additionally capable of anti-aliasing up to 8xMSAA and anisotropic filtering – using nothing but the CPU. Experts say this approach boosts graphics performance, especially when using programs that involve 3D CAD design work, debugging 3D applications, running medical applications or playing First-Person Shooter (FPS) games.

According to Microsoft’s Developer Network website, “the majority of the images appear almost identical between hardware and WARP10, where small differences sometimes occur we find they are within the tolerances defined by the Direct3D 10 specification.” The website also provides detailed benchmarks results of WARP10, paired with nine different CPU’s, running the popular Direct3D 10 FPS game “Crysis”. The feature overview also includes a performance comparison of the component when running on eight distinct graphics cards. Best grades were achieved with Core i7 8 Core 3.0GHz CPU and NVIDIA’s 8800 GTS graphics card.
Do we really need software based DX10? (Credit: Electronic Arts) 
Do we really need software
based DX10? (Credit: Electronic Arts)

Microsoft recommends lowering the quality settings and resolution as much as possible to achieve usable frame rates when using WARP10 on applications originally built to run on Direct3D 10 hardware, adding that if developers are aware of the capabilities and performance of WARP10, it’s possible to develop and tune applications that should run “extremely well” on both hardware and software. According to the company, WARP10 achieves best results on modern quad core CPUs and runs significantly faster on machines with SSE4.1 extensions – the company has tested the device on machines with eight or more cores and SSE4.1, saying “we believe these high end machines will be more and more common during the lifetime of Windows 7.”

Some have criticized Microsoft, saying that the published benchmark results of WARP10 appear to be considerably weak when no graphics hardware is present, and that the component is clearly not fit for gamers. Microsoft has responded to the criticism, stating that the additional overhead is unavoidable, since performing originally inherent graphics card operations such as texture filtering, format decompression or conversions on a typical CPU is expensive in terms of both power consumption and performance cost in cycles. The company acknowledges that low end discrete graphics hardware is still typically 4-5 times faster than WARP10 at running the benchmarks, but also points out that “the typical performance numbers we are seeing on an Intel Penryn based 3.0GHz Quad Core machine show that WARP10 can in some cases even outperform low end integrated Direct3D 10 graphics GPU’s on a number of benchmarks!”.

With that said, Microsoft adds “We don’t see WARP10 as a replacement for graphics hardware, particularly as reasonably performing low end Direct3D 10 discrete hardware is now available for under $25. The goal of WARP10 was to allow applications to target Direct3D 10 level hardware without having significantly different code paths or testing requirements when running on hardware or when running in software.”

TFOT has previously covered a number of innovative gaming technologies, such as COGAIN, which allows people with severe motor disabilities to play 3D computer games using only their eyes. You can also check out our coverage of “Pandora” – a device which combines ultra mobile personal computer (UMPC) and a full portable gaming console.

More information on the WARP10 can be found here.
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About the author

Sarah Gingichashvili

Sarah is a Computer Science and Business Management student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Currently she is spending most of her time either at the university laboratories or tutoring at MEET - Middle East Education through Technology project, where she works as a programming instructor

View all articles by Sarah Gingichashvili