Another big thing that got announced AMD’s even yesterday was Mantle, a new graphics API that AMD is putting together as a part of their driver package. To put it simply, Mantle will allow developers to program more ‘directly’ to the hardware; GPU, CPU, and Memory.
This low level type of programming is what allows consoles to get much more performance out of their hardware compared to a typical gaming PC. PS4 and Xbox One have graphics hardware that is approximately around the level of, say, a Radeon 7850. However, they will give much more performance out of that hardware than a PC could with a 7850. This is due to the advantage of low level programming, and this is what AMD Mantle will bring to the PC.
So what does this mean for PC gaming? And what about Steam Machines?
For PC gaming, if Mantle is as efficient as the PS4 or Xbox One’s API, that means you will be able to get similar performance out of the 7850, for instance. Obviously if you have a faster GPU, you will benefit even more.
And if Mantle is similar to the APIs on either console (and this has been speculated by folks at both Anandtech and Digital Foundry), this may also lead to better performing PC ports, or at the very least, more accurate ports.
As for Steam Machines, if you already thought they could lead to the end of console gaming as we know it, this makes it even moreso. If Valve sets a minimum specification for Steam Machines to be around the level of an Xbox One, and is able to provide low level programming, they could easily undercut the Xbox One and PS4 with standard PC hardware that performs close to what the dedicated consoles are capable of. And from there, they could offer upgrades for those who want even better performance and quality.
John Carmack had some interesting things to say about Mantle, in a conversation on Twitter after the announcement:
Considering the boost Mantle could give to a steambox, MS and Sony may wind up being downright hostile to it.
— John Carmack (@ID_AA_Carmack) September 26, 2013
However he admits that he doesn’t know the full details of Mantle, and is going by the same information we are.
Mantle will make its debut as a free addon for Battlefield 4 this December. By then, we’ll know a lot more about what to expect for the future of PC gaming, and perhaps a glimpse of what Steam Machines will mean for the industry.