Is AMD's Mantle a Game Changer?

AMD's new graphics API, Mantle, is finally supported in Battlefield 4, and the first benchmarks show that, while impressive, the technology is no game changer for AMD. Intel's CPUs are fast enough that most of Mantle's optimizations don't have much of an effect, and convincing developers to support the API will be difficult.

Feb 12, 2014 at 10:30AM

Last year, AMD (NASDAQ:AMD) announced that it would be releasing a new graphics API called Mantle as an alternative to Microsoft's DirectX. Most PC games are built using DirectX, which is Windows-only, but AMD promised that Mantle would introduce substantial performance gains by removing overhead inherent in Microsoft's API. The first game to support Mantle is Electronic Arts' Battlefield 4, and after some delays, the first benchmarks are finally available. Does Mantle live up to the hype? More important, what does it mean for investors in AMD and its competitors, like Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) and NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA)?

A performance rundown
Without getting too technical, a modern PC game works in two steps. First, the CPU updates the game state, dealing with user input, determining where objects in the game world need to be, etc. Then, the GPU takes that information and draws it on the screen. But the CPU needs to tell the GPU what to draw, and this process involves a significant amount of overhead. One of Mantle's biggest selling points is making this process more efficient, freeing the CPU from much of this burden.

Mantle also includes other optimizations on the GPU side, allowing for performance gains there, as well. The initial benchmarks from AnandTech, which are based on beta software and are not final, show that Mantle provides big performance gains in certain situations, with small performance gains otherwise.

In a nutshell, when a high-end GPU like AMD's Radeon R290X is paired with a powerful processor, like Intel's high-end offerings, the performance gains of Mantle compared to DirectX are minimal, between 7%-10%. In this case, the CPU is fast enough that the bulk of Mantle's optimizations don't matter much in the grand scheme of things. When a slower processor is used with the same high-end GPU, the performance gains are much larger, around 30% or so. In this case, the CPU is the bottleneck, and Mantle's optimizations are more meaningful.

What this means for AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA
The largest performance gains for Mantle came from the most unlikely scenario -- a high-end GPU combined with a low-end CPU. Pairing a $500-plus GPU with a cheap CPU doesn't make much since, since the CPU would prevent the full potential of the GPU from being realized, and using a higher-end CPU eliminates much of Mantle's performance gain.

The conclusion here is that Mantle won't have too much of an impact on the high-end GPU market. The 7%-10% boost that Mantle gives AMD's highest-end GPUs is nice, but it's not enough of an improvement to give NVIDIA a reason to worry. And since support for Mantle has to be built into each game in order to take advantage of these improvements, a single-digit performance boost may not be enough to convince developers to support the API.

NVIDIA is expected to release GPUs built on a new graphics architecture Maxwell sometime this month, and significant performance improvements over the previous architecture are likely. NVIDIA has been one step ahead of AMD in terms of performance for quite some time, with its nearly year-old GTX Titan claiming the top-performing GPU crown for the better part of a year before AMD released new GPUs. Maxwell should give NVIDIA a big lead in terms of performance, and Mantle doesn't seem to be able to close that gap.

Mantle may help AMD sell more CPUs, though, assuming developers support the API. If the trends from these benchmarks hold for lower-end GPUs, an AMD CPU paired with a mid-range or low-end GPU could potentially achieve a significant performance boost using Mantle. From a performance-per-dollar perspective, this setup may have a big advantage over a similarly priced Intel-NVIDIA gaming PC. The high-end CPU market should be unaffected, though, since Intel's i7 processors are fast enough, based on the benchmarks, that most of Mantle's optimizations don't increase performance by very much at all.

The bottom line
Although these benchmarks are very early, Mantle doesn't look like a game changer for AMD. The improvements over DirectX are impressive, but Mantle seems to disproportionally benefit lower-end PCs. For serious gaming PCs with high-end parts, the small improvements brought by Mantle likely aren't enough to pull customers away from NVIDIA. Cnvincing developers to support the API will prove difficult, at best. There's still room for these numbers to improve as AMD's Mantle drivers are refined, but it's unlikely that Mantle will ultimately live up to its promise.

The next big trend in tech is here, and you can profit
If you thought the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were amazing, just wait until you see this. One hundred of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now... for just a fraction of the price of AAPL stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.

Timothy Green owns shares of Nvidia. The Motley Fool recommends Intel and Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.


Compare Brokers