Software & Web Development

A DirectX 12 rival emerges: Khronos Group releases Vulkan 1.0 graphics API specification

A new era of PC gaming kicked off on Tuesday as the next-generation of open graphics technology arrived with a bang—including graphics drivers and a game you can play today.

This morning, the Khronos Group launched of the Vulkan 1.0 specification, the new open standard graphics API designed as a cross-platform rival to Microsoft’s Windows-only DirectX 12. The public introduction comes about two months after the Khronos Vulcan Working Group said it would not meet its goal of releasing Vulkan 1.0 by late 2015.

Vulkan emerges from the ashes of Mantle, an AMD-created graphics API that made some headway but ultimately failed to gain much traction. Now with the support of the gaming industry behind it, including notable names such as AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Valve, and Electronic Arts, the new API is finally here.

Why this matters: One key advance that Vulkan could bring is a dramatic improvement in Linux-based gaming—something Valve is keenly interested in with its Linux-powered Steam machines. DirectX, the de facto graphics API for PC gaming, only works on Windows. That has successfully kept most PC gamers and AAA PC titles—though not all—tied to Microsoft’s platform. While that situation has worked out for the most part, many gamers complain that Microsoft doesn’t do enough to support advances in gaming. There was little mention of a badly needed successor to DirectX 11, for example, until AMD revealed Mantle.

What Vulkan does

Vulkan is a low-level API that promises to make graphics processing far more efficient on a PC or mobile device. It is designed to use fewer system resources for graphics tasks and even improve battery life thanks to the lower processing overhead.

Vulkan isn’t just for PCs. It will support Android gaming, in addition to Windows 7, 8.1, and 10, and Linux.

Anyone who wants to try out Vulkan can already download beta graphics drivers from AMD and Nvidia, as long as you have a compatible graphics card. For AMD that means APUs and Radeon GPUs based on the Graphics Core Next architecture (Radeon 7000-series and up), while Nvidia owners will need a Kepler- or Maxwell-based card (GeForce GTX 600-series and up). 

Keep in mind these drivers are primarily for developers to test out at this point. There isn’t a whole lot you can do with them, though Croteam's already released a patch adding beta Vulkan support to the superb Talos Principle, if you want to take the new API for a whirl today. Don’t go blowing out your DirectX drivers just yet, though.

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