Windows 7: Play Crysis Without a GPU

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, running at 800x600 with the lowest quality settings:

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Core i7 8-Core @ 3.0GHz271.757.363.4515.01
Core 2 Quad (Penryn) @ 3.0GHz351.355.692.4910.95
Core 2 Duo (Penryn) @ 3.0GHz573.983.481.356.61
Core 2 Duo @ 2.6GHz707.192.830.815.18
Core 2 Duo @ 2.4GHz763.252.620.764.70
Core 2 Duo @ 2.1GHz908.872.200.643.72
Xeon 8 Core @ 2.0GHz424.044.721.849.56
AMD FX74 4-Core @ 3.0GHz583.123.431.415.78
Phenom X4 9550 Quad-Core @ 2.2GHz664.693.010.535.46
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Discrete GPUTimeAvg FPSMin FPSMax FPS
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTS23.5884.8060.78130.83
NVIDIA GeForce 8500 GT47.6341.9925.6772.57
NVIDIA Quadro 29067.1629.7818.1979.87
NVIDIA GeForce 8400 GS59.0133.8921.2251.82
ATI Radeon HD 340053.7937.1822.9759.77
ATI Radeon 320067.1929.7718.9145.74
ATI Radeon 2400 PRO67.0429.8317.9745.91
Intel DX10 Integrated386.975.171.7416.22

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.

WARP Capabilities:

* 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.

  • afrobacon
    Now the real question; How many "service packs" will it take to get it to work properly?
  • Pei-chen
    The condition being you'll need an Intel Havendale CPU with integrated GPU. Ha Ha, joking.
  • tipoo
    its pretty sad that their CPU beat their graphics chips at what a GPU should do. and whats sadder is that a Geforce 8400 is 5x faster than their CPU which beat their IGP's at graphics. what does that say about their IGP's?
    (basing my reply on the numbers posted on the techreport article)
  • dechy
    "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."

    That, from a massive enterprise point of view (28000 users / 46000 desktops & laptops) is a very nice feature. We have to deal with blown video cards monthly, and when it happens we're either waiting for warranty vendor to come & replace (a few hours) or scrambling to find an older one from an old clunker... either scenarios mean the user isn't able to work.

    Definitely looking forward to WARP
  • DXRick
    DX has always had a hardware emulation mode (run in software on the CPU). It allows a programmer to test without concern of what DX capabilities the GPU he/she is testing with is capable of.

    So, MS is going to tout this as a feature of Windows 7, eh?
  • sparky2010
    wait a sec, basically, from i can see on that chart, getting a single, not so great (anymore), GPU like the 8800 GTS, and playing crysis using this warp thing, you get an average FPS higher than three 280 gtx's or 2 4870 x2's?

    i don't know or care about the running games using your cpu alone, but cranking up 3d performance this much? hmmmm.. first i hope it works cause high-end gaming can become so much cheaper, second, it'll be interesting to see where games can go from there because of this..since consumers will be able to buy mid-to-low end graphics cards and still be able to play games.. game creators can start cranking up the graphics alot.. also, the biggest problem with pc gaming is the price/performance ratio.. it's MUCH cheaper buying a ps3 to play games, so the pc game industry can get back on its feet again! AND, in 2-3 years, we'll start having photo realistic games!!! yummy!

    but that's if the crap microsoft just spouted up there is
  • radguy
    I would be excited if we could run this as for secondary graphics. My notebooks battery life would double if this would run the secondary graphics for surfing the net. When I play games my dedicated gpu would turn on. It was about the only I really did like on the new macbooks but it needs to be more seemless design. I'm hoping we get their larabee might be the frist step. Might being the key word
  • @sparky2010: that's FPS for 800x600 and lowest settings don't confuse yourselfurself
  • sparky2010
    ah... slight error on my part then.. but still a good idea nonetheless.. haha.. hmmm.
  • dechy
    DXRick, I've heard of such things from DX, but I've never seen it work as I've had to deal with two blown home video cards (X800XT & X1900XTX) and there was no such thing as booting Windows without anything in the AGP slot (no IGP).

    DX is theirs, so it doesn't matter how they spin it, wether they say "we're finally building an OS that can support the DX10-10.1 feature to boot up Windows without any gfx card" or "we're introducing a new feature in Windows 7" is basically the same thing.