Khronos Group announces low-overhead Vulkan API

March 3, 2015 // 11:21 a.m.

Tags: #amd #api #directx-12 #glnext #khronos-group #mantle #nvidia #opengl #opengl-next-generation #valve #vulkan

The Khronos Group has unveiled its next-generation application programming interface (API), previously known as GLnext and now officially called Vulkan, with the promise of new efficiency gains.

According to announcements made by Khronos as part of the Game Developer Conference (GDC) this week, the Vulkan API - much like AMD's Mantle, and Microsoft's upcoming DirectX 12 - is claimed to reduce driver overhead and improve performance both on single- and multiple-GPU setups. Scaling, as does OpenGL and its embedded variant OpenGL ES, from mobile through to desktops, Vulkan has considerable integration with the OpenCL GPGPU offload language: both now use the Standard Portable Intermediate Representation (SPIR), with SPIR-V being used in both Vulkan and OpenCL for the first time - allowing programs to be created in an intermediate form that can be 'ingested' by either Vulkan or OpenCL drivers as required, while also boosting shader load times.

'Vulkan is a significant Khronos initiative to provide developers the choice of a state-of-the-art GPU API that is open and portable across multiple platforms, at a time where platform diversity is increasing,' claimed Neil Trevett, president of the Khronos Group and vice president at Nvidia, of the announcement. 'Khronos will be driving the Vulkan ecosystem with open source conformance test components and sample front-end compiler implementations that use SPIR-V to leverage the hardware community’s investment in optimised back-end drivers. Vulkan expands the family of Khronos 3D APIs, and complements OpenGL and OpenGL ES that between them, provide access to billions of GPUs today, and will continue to be evolved and maintained to meet industry needs.'

The high-efficiency Vulkan API is designed to complement, rather than replace OpenGL, and is already winning support in the industry despite being some months away from a finalised initial specification and reference implementation. 'Industry standard APIs like Vulkan are a critical part of enabling developers to bring the best possible experience to customers on multiple platforms,' claimed Gabe Newell of Khronos member Valve at the announcement. 'Valve and the other Khronos members are working hard to ensure that this high-performance graphics interface is made available as widely as possible and we view it as a critical component of SteamOS and future Valve games.'

'With direct influence on several generations of hardware and software architectures for milliwatt to kilowatt platforms, OpenGL is undeniably the industry's most successful 3D Graphics API, added Raja Koduri, corporate vice president of the Visual and Perceptual Computing group at AMD. 'Vulkan is a transformation to OpenGL that brings forth exciting low-overhead capabilities to enable compelling increases in performance and power efficiency while maintaining developer productivity.'

Both AMD and Nvidia are involved in the development of Vulkan and have pledged to implement the API on their respective graphics hardware, but the Khronos Group has yet to offer a firm timescale for a public release beyond promising a specification and reference implementation 'later this year.' More information is available on the official website.
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