Until recently, threading has been one of those ďMeh, whateverĒ features for game enthusiasts. And the prospect of losing precious megahertz due to yield considerations made the idea even less attractive, never mind the very real performance gains in optimized applications such as Microsoft Media Encoder 9. But according to AMD, gamers whoíre into todayís games wonít want to sacrifice frame rate for the possibility of better performance down the road, which is why its current flagship, the Athlon 64 FX-57, persists as a single-core powerhouse wielding plenty of clock speed.
Of course, now that multi-core hardware is both available and affordable, plenty of software will inevitably follow, right? Well, I still havenít seen any games written with threading in mind and I do know that the development costs of a multi-threaded game are substantially higher. Not promising.
Nevertheless, Iíve spent some time talking to representatives at Intel and theyíre fairly convinced that the games capable of exploiting dual-core hardware will emerge sooner than later. Intel isnít even looking to take all of the credit on this one. Instead, the idea is that a combination of PC infrastructure and a new generation of highly threaded console hardware (think Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 here, possibly Nintendo Revolution as well depending on what IBM does with the processor) will lead to accelerated emphasis on threaded game development.
By splitting workloads into graphics rendering, physics, AI, and so on, the developer community is expected to improve realism beyond the gorgeous graphics now common to first-person shooters.
Sounds great, but perhaps youíre rolling your eyes, wondering when any of this will actually happen. Itís happening now, believe it or not. Intel recently alerted us to a fresh patch for Quake 4 (1.0.5) that enables threading in the game. Single-core chips with Hyper-Threading are said to benefit, multi-socket machines should pick up performance, and naturally, dual-core configurations will too.
Full disclosure mode: id Software and Intel independently confirm that they worked together on this project. Intel is anxious to demonstrate the potential of its latest technologies and id has the talent to make such a vision reality in short order. It helps that id has experience with threading, given Quake IIIís once-functional SMP support. But thereís no mention of AMDís role here, so Iím certainly not going to make any claims about impartiality. And thatís why the forthcoming benchmarks are separated.
Interestingly, neither Intel nor id has said exactly how threading is being handled now in Quake 4. Iíd venture a guess that it has something to do with graphics, given the previous assertions regarding timedemo benchmarks and their failure to incorporate AI and physics calculations. In any case, the quoted gains can get as high as 87 percent, according to idís readme file. Crazy, huh? Letís see if there is any merit to those claims.