Bow Down to The King - NVIDIA's GTX 1080 Explodes Performance Expectations
Dreamhack Austin 2016 was the venue last night for one of the most gasp-inducing technology reveals of recent years. NVIDIA arrived to not just reveal a new high performance GPU, but also seemingly to throw down a gauntlet to the competition by hauling expected performance ahead beyond anyone's expectations. If the reactions on social media are any indicator, the debut of the GeForce GTX 1080 more than served its purpose.
Although more than just hardware was introduced at the event lets start with the most important news.
GeForce GTX 1080 - The New King
Sitting at the top of the GTX 10-series will be NVIDIA's all new GeForce GTX 1080, the first GPU in the world to be built with both the 16nm FinFET process and Micron GDDR5X VRAM. Due to launch on May 27th, the new GPU leverages their Pascal architecture and TSMC's smaller process node to hit new heights in the critical perf/watt measure. What no-one was expecting was the announcement that the card trounces the GTX Titan X, and even surpasses two GTX 980's in SLI, in terms of raw performance.
NVIDIA's high quality air-cooler is once again the order of the day, but despite this the GPU clocks in at over 2GHz, the fastest of any GPU not under extreme cooling. By moving to Micron's GDDR5X VRAM memory bandwidth is effectively doubled, making it far more viable as high resolution gaming GPU than even the accomplished GTX 980. On paper the card is capable of 9 TFLOPS of processing power, double that of the GTX 980 and 40% more than the 980 Ti. But that's not the end of the story.
The GTX 1080 has a reference TDP of just 180W, and is powered by a single 8-pin PCI-E powered connector. That's absurdly frugal, and as a result would be a simple in-place replacement for the GPU of any system.
GeForce GTX 1070 - Price/Perf Prince
NVIDIA's reveal of the GTX 1070 was almost an afterthought, but could turn out to be the biggest bombshell of the evening. Despite not being equipped with the newest VRAM standard, making do instead with only 8GB of vanilla GDDR5 memory, it was claimed that the card would still outperform a GTX Titan X in many applications. Despite that, it will be sold at an MSRP of $379.99, just $50 more than the current price of the GTX 970. If the claims turn out to be reality then high-resolution, highest-image-quality gaming just got a whole lot more affordable.
Although not mentioned, it's almost certain that the GTX 1070 will feature a slimmed down GPU compared to the GTX 1080. Exact numbers on this and the makeup of the GP104 GPU will likely be revealed closer to launch.
Integrated Hardware Features - Simultaneous Multi-Projection
Also presented last night was a feature called Simultaneous Multi-Projection. The idea is deceptively simple - rather than only being capable of rendering a single viewport of a scene at any one time, the GPU is instead capable of rendering multiple viewports simultaneously. This greatly increases performance where multiple viewports are necessary as they no longer need to be processed sequentially, a particular improvement for VR.
For now usage of the technology is rather specialist, although these situations are slowly becoming more common. Multi-monitor setups can now curve the outer screens inwards yet maintain proper perspective, something that previously was only really possible with multiple dedicated GPUs and supporting software. VR on the other hand benefits from both increased frame rates and better accuracy - rather than two viewports (one per eye), the hardware renders sixteen (eight per eye) to slightly curve the resulting image in a way that matches the dynamics of the headset lens. In this way performance isn't 'wasted' rendering pixels which won't be visible.
Simultaneous Multi-Projection is worth an article of its own, but suffice it to say that it might be a game-changer for VR.
Ansel - In-Game Photography for the Masses
In-game photography is a burgeoning field populated by a small number of highly skilled artists. Working with bespoke tools these photographers hunt out the perfect in-game scene, modify the camera position and angle to just the right view, and then grab the image at a resolution far higher than 'gameplay' standard. NVIDIA now want to bring that sort of past-time to the masses, without the need for bespoke tools and technical skill, and let their creative juices run wild. The result of their hard work is Ansel.
Operating as a small utility that requires in-game support, Ansel places you in the world of the game, but without dynamic elements. You're then free to modify the camera position, field of view, display and capture resolution, and a range of effects. The frame will than the captured, potentially in a mind-bogglingly high resolution.
And then there is Ansel's party-trick: the utility is capable of capturing scenes in stereoscopic 360-degree views, and exporting them to any mainstream VR devices including Google Cardboard and GearVR. Using just the utility you can capture the world as seen from a static position and take it with you, no portable gaming hardware required.
We should mention that the time taken to capture these images at the highest resolution wasn't stated, but 4K scene-shots seemed effectively instantaneous.
An Expansion of VRWorks
VRWorks will also be receiving a couple of major improvements in the coming months. PhysX will soon be integrated into the middleware, adding new levels of realism to physical simulations within VR games. As a result, and in combination with haptic control devices, PhysX in VRWorks will be able to perform collision detection and provide tactile feedback when 'touching' a virtual object.
Virtual reality audio will also be augmented in the near future through VRWorks Audio. Using techniques similar to Iray, VRWorks Audio implements physically modelled acoustics which create a more 'real' soundscape representative of a complex environment.
To showcase the new technologies NVIDIA have created the Funhouse VR demo, so expect that to feature prominently in NVIDIA events going forward.
So, that's the cliff notes on last night's Order Of 10 special event. The entire address, awkward interplay between Jen-Hsen and Tom Petersen included, is currently available from the Twitch VoDs at https://www.twitch.tv/nvidia/profile. More technical details on the new chip will be forthcoming in the coming weeks.