What Is AMD's Mantle, And How Will It Impact Gaming?

A few months ago, AMD unveiled a technology it claimed would more or less revolutionize game development. It's called Mantle. According to AMD, this Application Programming Interface - which has already been adopted by Crytek, Eidos Montreal, and Oxide Games - is designed to introduce a new level of efficiency into the game development space. In the process, it may well change the face of video games.

Alright, let's not get too ahead of ourselves. What exactly is Mantle, and what makes it such an exciting piece of technology?

Mantle consists of three primary components, which together are designed to address one of the most serious bottlenecks in PC gaming:

  1. A driver within the AMD CatalystTM software suite that lets applications speak directly to the Graphics Core Next architecture;
  2. A GPU or APU enabled with the Graphics Core Next architecture;
  3. An application or game written to take advantage of Mantle.

Creating games for the PC is a horrendously inefficient process. There are so many different combinations of hardware available that it's more or less guaranteed you're going to run into at least one configuration with which a game simply won't be compatible. As such, it simply isn't practical to develop specialized programming for every possible set of hardware. Instead, how developers have tackled this problem is through writing simplified code which is translated on-the-fly into something a computer can work with. 

That's not exactly an efficient system; this is exactly the problem that Mantle aims to address. Created at the request of developers (who wanted a programming system as efficient as those on consoles, Mantle is deceptively simple: it merely transfers many of the core computing tasks necessary to run a game from a system's processor to its graphics card. Not only does this reduce the computing load of the CPU, it also allows developers to write code specifically for a particular graphics card or line of cards. 

This also has the added effect of reducing the performance bottleneck in older systems, where the CPU might not necessarily be up to par. With the GPU as a more critical component of a gaming system, the CPU becomes less integral to a game's performance. Upgrades to a computer's graphics card will have a greater impact than ever before, and developers will start being able to do more with less, so to speak. 

End result? Games get better and more accessible across the board. 

"AMD's Mantle will allow us to extract more performance from an AMD Radeon GPU than any other graphics API," explained Imperium Games CEO Chris Roberts in a press release. "Mantle is vitally important for a game like Star Citizen, which is being designed with the need for massive GPU horsepower. With Mantle, our team can spend more time achieving our perfect artistic vision, and less time worrying about whether or not today's gaming hardware will be ready to deliver it."

"AMD's Mantle technology lets us get more out of the hardware than any other solution available," added Oxide Games co-founder Dan Baker. "Adding Mantle support to our multi-platform, 64-bit Nitrous engine realizes significant gains in performance on Mantle-enabled hardware without adding enormous development overhead." 

Already, we've seen evidence of what Mantle - which is compatible with DirectX, one of the most widely-used high-level shader languages in development -  can do. The new Thief game looks absolutely fantastic, while the upcoming real-time strategy game Nitrous will allow up to 5,000 units on screen at once. That's more than any strategy game ever developed. 

Mantle is still in its infancy as a technology, but already it's shown incredible promise. Keep a close eye on AMD in the coming months, folks. They may well have just changed how games are developed on the PC.