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Khronos Group Unveils the Vulkan Graphics API

Category: Gaming
Posted: 04:55PM

The Khronos Group has taken the wraps off its next-generation OpenGL API and have given it a name: Vulkan. Vulkan, previously known as glNext, is a low-overhead API to enhance multi-threaded 3D development, so different threads can prepare batches to send to the GPU at the same time. Developers will now have more control over creating commands, with things like memory and thread management handled by the developer instead of the video driver. This will let the driver do less work than it does now, which could help overall performance. Vulkan is made with modern hardware in mind, with complex GPUs and CPUs that have multiple threads to handle more load.

Vulkan, like OpenGL, will work across operating systems and hardware vendors, so everyone can benefit from what it offers, including mobile users. One thing different between OpenGL and Vulkan is how the latter handles shader programs. OpenGL would require every driver to have a full shader compiler for things written in the GLSL shader language. However, Vulkan takes a page from Direct3D, and has the shaders compiled into SPIR-V, which is then what the drivers will use for shaders. SPIR-V is an update to SPIR 2.0 and has been developed alongisde Vulkan. SPIR-V combines graphics and computation; so regardless if its a graphical shader written using GLSL, a computational shader using OpenCL C, or any other language, SPIR-V compiles them all and is the only thing the video driver has to use.

Valve and other developers will show off early engines built using Vulkan during GDC 2015 this week. The final specification and drivers for Vulkan won't appear until later this year. Even with the advent of Vulkan, OpenGL isn't going away, as Vulkan is a lower level control that may not be a good fit for everything used by OpenGL. It's kind of like DirectX 11 and 12, where both will exist at the same time based on which developers need what aspects. However, as seen yesterday, AMD's Mantle is effectively going away, since both DirectX 12 and Vulkan do what Mantle did, just not restriced to only AMD GPUs.

Sources: Khronos Group and Ars Technica

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