AMD Wants to Improve Gaming in Linux and Steam Boxes with its Mantle Tools

AMD is getting requests from game developers to port its Mantle API to Linux

Advanced Micro Devices wants to bring console-quality gaming to Linux users by porting its Mantle gaming tools to the OS.

Mantle is a set of software development tools to make video games performance smoother and more realistic. It was introduced by AMD last year as the company's answer to Microsoft's DirectX. However, Mantle currently works only with x86 processors, the Windows OS and the company's graphics cards.

Around 50 games have been developed or will be released soon using Mantle tools, with more in the works. Beyond Windows, AMD sees a vast opportunity to "reveal the goodness of gaming" in Linux, said Richard Huddy, gaming scientist at AMD.

The company has received requests from developers to port Mantle to Linux, Huddy said. AMD over time will dedicate resources to the task, Huddy said. AMD hasn't provided a time frame for when Mantle-based games for Linux will become available

Mantle could also come to Steam boxes, which are gaming consoles with PC hardware and Linux-based SteamOS. The highly anticipated Steam boxes were conceptualized by Valve, one of the world's largest game sellers.

"It could provide some advantages on Steam boxes," Huddy said. "We are getting requests to deliver this high-performance layer."

With the help of Mantle, games on Steam consoles could take full advantage of hardware features on graphics cards. Windows currently offers a better gaming experience than Linux, but Steam could change that.

AMD will work to create a Mantle driver and expose the API (application programming interface) for Steam and Linux game developers. Steam consoles will compete with Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles. The first Steam consoles are expected to ship later this year or early next year.

If AMD brings Mantle support to Linux, the company will be able to sell more of its graphics chips into Linux PCs and Steam boxes.

Mantle is already bringing big performance gains to games like Battlefield 4 and Thief, and the graphics will get even better over time, Huddy said.

The open-source and Linux community have historically not been kind to AMD and rival Nvidia, particularly criticizing slow progress by the companies to bring graphics cards drivers to Linux. Linus Torvalds famously showed the middle finger to Nvidia in 2012, saying it was the "single worst company we've ever dealt with."

Huddy said that Mantle is an open-source API. But the Mantle tools have largely been shared with game makers, and the company has not said when they will be opened up to the wider development community.

Most games today are being written for Windows using DirectX 11, and the games are then ported to OpenGL for Linux and other operating systems. The port from DirectX 11 to OpenGL takes about four-to-six weeks, and it'll take about that long to port games to Mantle, Huddy said.

Mantle improves the gaming experience by allowing the graphics computing units to execute tasks quicker. The primary advantage for now is preventing the CPU from becoming a bottleneck by queueing up execution of tasks within the graphics processor. AMD continually adds hardware features to its graphics cards for better video effects, and Mantle will consistently provide game developers with tools to take advantage of those features, Huddy said.

"Expect more. This is only the first iteration" of Mantle, Huddy said.

Mantle only works with AMD's graphics processors. However, both AMD and Nvidia support DirectX, which is expected to remain the dominant set of tools to write games. Microsoft has already announced DirectX 12, and games based on the APIs are due by the end of next year.

Huddy claims Mantle has advantages over DirectX, including the ability to expose new hardware features faster with consistent updates. But DirectX has one big advantage: it will also improve gaming on smartphones running the Windows Phone OS. AMD does not sell chips for smartphones, and that handicaps the company's ability to bring Mantle to handsets.

"We're not targeting smartphones at the moment," Huddy said. "It's not the primary focus of AMD."

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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