This week, Microsoft unveiled one of Windows 7’s new features, which will allow games and other DirectX 10 and 10.1-based applications to run fully accelerated on obsolete graphics hardware, and even on systems with no graphics acceleration at all.
Dubbed Windows Advanced Rasterization Platform or WARP, the new graphics layer for Windows 7 will utilize the system CPU as the graphics engine to assist old graphics cards, and take over completely in some cases. Microsoft indicates that WARP will be fully dependent on how powerful the CPU is in a system, but will require one that supports at least SSE2 extensions.
According to Microsoft, even the lowest-end discrete graphics solutions these days are typically 4 to 5X faster than a CPU-only WARP system. Although the performance differences between CPU-only WARP and discrete GPU accelerated graphics is large, WARP offers several advantages: users will still be able to run their 3D applications fully-accelerated when a video card driver is corrupted, missing, or improperly installed/configured. Systems built to take advantage of WARP from a hardware standpoint will be able to display graphics even when the video card is missing—or toasted. So if you’ve nuked your graphics card from a bad BIOS flash, fear not on a WARP-capable system. At least you will be able to boot back up until the video card is replaced.
WARP documentation indicates that the technology will take full advantage of multi-core CPUs and, given today’s technology, Intel’s Core i7 CPU tops the charts.
The following are benchmarks from Microsoft’s own test of Crysis (opens in new tab), running at 800x600 with the lowest quality settings:
|CPU||Time||Avg FPS||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|Core i7 8-Core @ 3.0GHz||271.75||7.36||3.45||15.01|
|Core 2 Quad (Penryn) @ 3.0GHz||351.35||5.69||2.49||10.95|
|Core 2 Duo (Penryn) @ 3.0GHz||573.98||3.48||1.35||6.61|
|Core 2 Duo @ 2.6GHz||707.19||2.83||0.81||5.18|
|Core 2 Duo @ 2.4GHz||763.25||2.62||0.76||4.70|
|Core 2 Duo @ 2.1GHz||908.87||2.20||0.64||3.72|
|Xeon 8 Core @ 2.0GHz||424.04||4.72||1.84||9.56|
|AMD FX74 4-Core @ 3.0GHz||583.12||3.43||1.41||5.78|
|Phenom X4 9550 Quad-Core @ 2.2GHz||664.69||3.01||0.53||5.46|
|Discrete GPU||Time||Avg FPS||Min FPS||Max FPS|
|NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS||23.58||84.80||60.78||130.83|
|NVIDIA GeForce 8500 GT||47.63||41.99||25.67||72.57|
|NVIDIA Quadro 290||67.16||29.78||18.19||79.87|
|NVIDIA GeForce 8400 GS||59.01||33.89||21.22||51.82|
|ATI Radeon HD 3400||53.79||37.18||22.97||59.77|
|ATI Radeon 3200||67.19||29.77||18.91||45.74|
|ATI Radeon 2400 PRO||67.04||29.83||17.97||45.91|
|Intel DX10 Integrated||386.97||5.17||1.74||16.22|
Notice that Intel’s Core i7 quad-core solution with Hyper-Threading, running at 3.0 GHz, outperforms Intel’s best integrated graphics solution.
According to Microsoft’s WARP documentation:
When WARP10 is running on the CPU, we are limited compared to a graphics card in a number of ways. The front side bus speed of a CPU is typically around or under 10 GB/s whereas a graphics card often has dedicated memory that is able to take advantage of 20-100 GB/s or more of graphics bandwidth. Graphics hardware also has fixed function units that can perform complex and expensive tasks like texture filtering, format decompression or conversions asynchronously with very little overhead or power cost. Performing these operations on a typical CPU is expensive in terms of both power consumption and performance cost in cycles.
* Fully supports all Direct3D 10 and 10.1 feature
o Fully supports all the precision requirements of the Direct3D 10 and 10.1 specification
o Supports Direct3D 11 when used with FeatureLevel 9_1, 9_2, 9_3, 10_0 and 10_1
o Supports all optional texture formats, such as multi-sample render targets and sampling from float surfaces.
o Supports anti-aliased, high quality rendering up to 8x MSAA.
o Supports anisotropic filtering
o Supports 32 and 64 bit applications as well as large address aware 32 bit applications.
* The minimum specification for WARP10 is the same as Windows Vista, specifically:
o Minimum 800MHz CPU.
o MMX, SSE or SSE2 is *not* required
o Minimum 512MB of RAM.
Clearly WARP won’t be the ideal way to run the latest games. Nor do we expect enthusiasts with Core i7s to also be replacing integrated graphics. Thus, it’ll be interesting to see where Microsoft goes with this feature. WARP will be compatible on both x86 and x64 systems.