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Intel Haswell 4th Generation Core processors gain GPU optimisations

Tom Morgan
28 Mar 2013
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Intel has revealed two key new technologies that will set the graphics in its 4th Generation Core processors apart from the competition

Intel has used the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco to debut two new graphics technologies that will be exclusive to the company’s 4th Generation Core processors, previously known as Haswell.

Richard Huddy, Intel's European Games Enabling Manager , told us that Intel was now working closely with top-tier game development studios in ways it had never tried before - whereas previously the company used to test out-of-box performance on its own hardware, it is now helping optimise settings and resolutions - as well as developing its own unique technologies.

Intel Haswell proocessor

Intel's 4th Generation Core processors are getting closer - and gaining reasons to pick one up

Building on top of the existing DirectX 11.1 development language, Intel has created two driver extensions that are designed specifically to take advantage of the GPU found inside 4th Generation Core processors. The first, PixelSync, allows game creators to create effects using Order Independent Transparency - one of the "Holy Grails of real time graphics" according to Huddy.

By sending data through the pixel pipeline in a specific order, rather than randomly, it's possible to render more realistic smoke, hair, windows, foliage, fences and other complex geometry without the huge computational overheads needed to do so using random data. According to Intel, enabling OIT results in a 10% performance hit, versus 80% on traditional graphics cards.

The first developer to take advantage of PixelSync is Codemasters, adding OIT effects to racing simulation Grid2. Apparently, having accurately lit glass, smoke and dust is a feature that was high on the wish list for the company, but until now had proved impossible.

Grid2 illuminated volumetric shadows

Unlit volumetric shadows

Grid2 illuminated volumetric shadows

illuminated volumetric shadows using Intel's PixelSync technology

“The artists working on Grid2 have been requesting this type of effect for years, and prior to this, it wasn’t possible to achieve it at a reasonable cost,” Clive Moody, senior executive producer at Codemasters Racing, said of PixelSync. “The fact that this capability will be available to millions of consumers on forthcoming 4th generation Intel® Core™ processors is very exciting to us.”

Creative Assembly, developer of Total War: Rome 2, have also committed to using PixelSync in its games, alonhg with the second Intel-exclusive technology; InstantAccess. This driver extension lets the CPU and GPU access the same shared memory without having to go through the DirectX API. By avoiding comparatively slower PCI-Express bus, games played using the integrated GPU should see less texture stuttering when loading levels, along with a smoother overall experience and less micro-stutter during gameplay.

Total War: Rome 2

Total War: Rome 2 will be seriously taxing on any hardware, but will be optimised for Intel

Of course, to use either one of these new technologies will require a PC running a 4th Generation Core processor. It also won't be able to use a dedicated graphics card, as the optimisations are tied to Intel's graphics driver. Huddy assured us that Grid2 was running at between 40-50fps on Intel hardware, although he made no mention of resolution or detail settings. We'll have to wait until later in the year, when Haswell officially launches, to put the new GPU through its paces.

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