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Windows 7: Play Crysis Without a GPU

By - Source: Tom's Hardware | B 8 comments
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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:

Crysis on Windows 7 WARP10: CPU Performance
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

Crysis on Windows 7 WARP10: GPU Performance
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.

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  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 2 December 2008 04:03
    "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."


    "o MMX, SSE or SSE2 is *not* required"

    anybody see a problem here ?
  • 1 Hide
    chrisk76 , 2 December 2008 05:37
    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.

    How exactly? Where does the monitor plug in? To a replacement or onboard GPU which according to the table is better than WARP anyway? You could of course remote desktop into it, but that is hardly dependent on WARP...
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 2 December 2008 06:07
    "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."
    This to me says that the monitor will plug directly into the motherboard if the system is built to take advantage of WARP. This would be like integrated graphics to the user, but would be cheaper to produce (and presumably not kick in until the booting has started)
  • Display all 8 comments.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 2 December 2008 19:38
    "How exactly? Where does the monitor plug in?"

    I fail to see the point of WARP.
    you cant boot a pc if it doesn't have a graphics card the BIOS wont let you.

    and I hardly doubt that windows 7 is going to run on a PC without some kind of graphics accelerator... those kind of PCs are pre pentium II and wouldn't even have enough RAM to run windows xp.

    almost all motherboards today that are sold with integrated graphics have some form of 3D acceleration this is why Intel has 50% of the GPU market... granted they may not support directx 10 but people who PLAY directX 10 games are not going to have a basic system with no 3D card. and if their fancy GPU does die they will probably have a spare old one in a drawer somewhere. they sure as hell wont suffer a drop in performance from 50fps down to 2.5fps..

  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 3 December 2008 02:23
    Dufus's. Read the first paragraph.

    It is to assist cards already installed to give them extra umpf.
    You also need a Processor that supports at least SSE.
    It does imply Onboard, but also uninstalled or corrupted driver graphics cards that can still display basic XVGA.

    I think this is a great Idea, and one step towards software support for parallelism across different items of hardware. I say utilise my unused cores.
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 3 December 2008 07:21
    spannerRack, I'm sure you have the ability to point out something without insulting people..
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 3 December 2008 07:44
    This article demonstrates how even a relatively poor integrated solution is streets ahead of almost every single x86 CPU on the market. The difference is simply staggering, despite the difficulties in programming.

    Future parallelism will therefore be based on using GPGPUs, either integrated into the CPU logic or even using a dedicated co-processor. In this respect I think that AMD already had the edge thanks to its use of Hyper-Transport technology, a high-speed, open communications system able to deliver superior bandwidth. I think AMD should really move on it as well, before it's too late.

    On the other side of the coin I really can't see much point in substituting a GPU with a CPU, not yet at least. Even a multi-core CPU will be running under heavy load (sucking the amps), and will still be so slow as to render the software unusable. Try running even old games like GTA San Andreas on Intel's integrated's like watching a slideshow most of the time.
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 3 December 2008 08:02
    It's also hard to believe that a similar solution was in use years ago, in the form of Commodore's 16-bit Amiga. The Amiga had a Motorola 68000 CPU, and made use of 'custom chips' to handle video, sound and I/O operations. The Amiga also had a multi-tasking operating system able to exploit this often wonders just how on earth they managed to do all this in the mid-80's. I owned several of these machines without which my projects would never have got off the ground.