AMD’s Mantle Technology

Sometimes when you buy hardware there are advertised features that it’s hard to make sense of. Most tech-savvy gamers can understand clock speeds, how much graphics memory a card has and even numbers like ‘stream processing units’ because you understand that more is going to be better. But with some of the latest AMD cards there is a feature called ‘Mantle’ that has been acclaimed by a number of high-profile developers including DICE, but what does it actually do?

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Put as simply as we can, Mantle is a kind of language used within game design that allows the developers to send commands directly to the GPU. With other Mantle-less games the application sends instructions to the CPU on your motherboard which then translates the necessary instructions to send to your GPU. This is an unnecessary extra step and means that some of the CPU cycles are spent decoding those instructions. With Mantle that step is eliminated and the CPU is freed up to perform other functions.

While this might not have much of an effect if you’re running some kind of X99 Motherboard with DDR4 RAM and and a £400 i7 processor, the rest of us mortals are likely to see a considerable boost if you’re running a high end GPU. Intel’s processors (the most common in gaming PCs) are generally very capable but cards like the 290 are going to make the lower end of the i5 range a new bottleneck for your PC and Mantle can alleviate that, allowing you to get more out of your CPU. With AMD’s own processors lacking the single-thread performance of Intel’s chips they are likely to see an even bigger boost so if you’re currently running an AMD system, Mantle will be a big deal for you.

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In real game terms it’s very hard to appreciate the difference Mantle makes because when you’ve upgraded your GPU anyway you won’t know which gains are due to the card’s power and which are due to Mantle. That being said, if you load up any of the following games, you’re going to see some impressive performance, particularly when they use things like Physics engines to tax the CPU (I’m looking at you BF4).

Games that are supported by Mantle currently:

  • Battlefield 4/Battlefield Hardline
  • Dragon Age Inquisition
  • Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare
  • Civilisation: Beyond Earth (Not a GPU intensive game, but definitely CPU intensive as it goes on, so this will help considerably with turn times)
  • Crysis 3
  • Thief
  • Star Citizen
  • Sniper Elite 3

While we’ve been testing the AMD R9 290 we’ve noticed huge gains in Battlefield 4, Crysis 3, Plants Vs Zombies, Thief and Sniper Elite 3. In each of them we can turn up nearly everything to full on our lowly i5 2310 and hit a near-constant 60fps. With other similarly taxing games that do not feature Mantle, this is usually not possible.

 

So is Mantle something you should care about? Definitely if you’re not running a top-end processor. If you are then chances are you’re not going to be maxing it out anyway, but anything that makes your system more efficient is always going to be an advantage, especially in the long run when you start pushing 4K. Mantle can be found on many of the latest AMD cards such as the R9 series.

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