AMD's Mantle May Already Be Irrelevant

While AMD's Mantle graphics API delivers some performance gains, Microsoft is planning to introduce similar optimizations in the next version of DirectX, and the cross-platform OpenGL is apparently already capable of the same performance gains. This leaves developers with little reason to adopt Mantle.

Mar 5, 2014 at 8:00PM

When AMD (NASDAQ:AMD) first announced its Mantle graphics API, the promise of radically improved performance over Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) DirectX -- the de facto standard in the PC gaming industry -- seemed almost too good to be true. With the first games to support Mantle now available, the API provides large performance gains for certain configurations, but more modest gains otherwise. While Mantle is impressive, it's likely no game changer for AMD.


Source: AMD

The biggest problem with Mantle is that game developers need to add support for the API, a task which adds both cost and time to the development process. Given that Mantle is only supported on AMD GPUs -- not those from rival NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) -- the return on investment for game developers is questionable at best.

Microsoft isn't taking Mantle lying down, with the dominance of DirectX critical to the success of the Windows platform. At the upcoming Game Developers Conference, Microsoft is set to host two presentations that promise to unveil plans to make future versions of DirectX more efficient by reducing overhead, the same feat that AMD has accomplished with Mantle. In addition, a presentation about OpenGL, the other major graphics API, promises to show how the existing implementation can reduce overhead by a factor of 10 or more. With DirectX already widely used by game developers, and OpenGL apparently able to match Mantle's performance gains today, Mantle doesn't seem to have much of a chance of gaining wide acceptance.

A two-horse race
Both DirectX and OpenGL have been around for a long time, and both are very mature graphics APIs. Almost all triple-A PC games use DirectX, and the Xbox One uses a modified version of DirectX that allows for more direct hardware access. OpenGL, on the other hand, is cross-platform, and the embedded version has become the standard on mobile devices. Some high-profile PC games use OpenGL, like the phenomenally successful Minecraft, but DirectX has largely remained the standard in the world of PC gaming.

Where does Mantle fit in? If the performance gains are indeed short-lived, then it doesn't fit in at all. DirectX will take some time to catch up, but OpenGL, at least according to the GDC presentation, is already capable of matching Mantle's performance improvements. And with OpenGL supported by all major graphics hardware vendors and functional on all major platforms, supporting Mantle doesn't make much sense.

What this means for AMD and NVIDIA
Mantle was supposed to provide AMD with a big advantage over NVIDIA's hardware, and while the performance gains are real, they will likely be short-lived. AMD certainly deserves credit for pushing the graphics industry forward, lighting a fire under Microsoft to improve DirectX, but Mantle is extremely unlikely to supplant either DirectX or OpenGL.

This leaves AMD in the same position that it was in before Mantle, spreading itself too thin across multiple businesses and falling behind in all of them. NVIDIA's recently announced GPUs based on the new Maxwell architecture provide massive gains in power efficiency compared to AMD's products, and at the high end of the market, NVIDIA's products offer the best performance per dollar, according to Tom's Hardware.

While Mantle has certainly compelled Microsoft to improve DirectX, I doubt the API will be around five years from now. OpenGL already provides a cross-platform alternative to DirectX while being supported by all graphics vendors, not just AMD, and any performance advantage that Mantle has will be short-lived. If the goal of Mantle was to push the graphics industry forward, then AMD succeeded. But Mantle doesn't give AMD an advantage against NVIDIA, and the latter will likely keep its market-leading position.

Looking for stocks you can buy to hold?
As every savvy investor knows, Warren Buffett didn't make billions by betting on half-baked stocks. He isolated his best few ideas, bet big, and rode them to riches, hardly ever selling. You deserve the same. That's why our CEO, legendary investor Tom Gardner, has permitted us to reveal The Motley Fool's 3 Stocks to Own Forever. These picks are free today! Just click here now to uncover the three companies we love. 

Timothy Green owns shares of Microsoft and Nvidia. The Motley Fool recommends Nvidia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. 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.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

Click here to learn about this incredible technology before Buffett stops being scared and starts buying!

David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't 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.

©1995-2014 The Motley Fool. All rights reserved. | Privacy/Legal Information