We don’t often cover things like benchmarks or new APIs, but DirectX 12 is an exception. DirectX is a piece of software that enables programs to give instructions to your graphics card(s) and then read the results. We’ve been using DirectX 11 since 2009 and it’s not just on PCs, DirectX has become an industry standard and is used in the consoles too. So now DirectX 12 is coming out with Ashes of the Singularity looking to be the first game that uses it, we can start to see how much more performance developers can get out your GPUs, and it’s very good news for AMD fans.
Ashes of the Singularity is an upcoming RTS game in the vein of Total Annihilation or Supreme Commander. As opposed to more micro-heavy games like Starcraft, AotS is all about the macro, with huge armies clashing around the map in wars of attrition. Units are tough and hard to wear down, so the focus is on producing more than your opponent and picking the right times and places to attack. At this point the game is still a way away from being finished, but the engine is mostly complete and so the developers have kindly made their benchmark available for testing to those who want to see what the next few years is going to hold for us.
Individual units don’t look particularly impressive, but once the benchmark scales out and you can see thousands clashing, with smoke plumes from rockets streaking across the sky, lasers seeking out fighters and bombers dropping electric blue payloads on ranks of armoured vehicles, you suddenly start to understand what the developers are going for. This is about scale and it serves as a brilliant way to test CPUs and GPUs. They even included a DirectX 11 mode so you can see the difference.
Right now we have two AMD cards – the MSI R7 370 2GB that we tested the other day, and our Powercolor R9 290 that hasn’t been particularly stable lately, but it still a real powerhouse with 4GB of VRAM. We’ve tested both in DirectX 11 and 12 modes and the results are below.
R7 370 2GB
The R7 370 is a card designed for 1080p. It’s surprisingly capable in actual games as seen in our review, but doesn’t hold up too well in benchmarks and the 2GB of memory is really beginning to hold it back (a 4GB version is available, we just don’t have it).
While 19.2fps might not be anything to write home about, what is worth noting is that this is a massive 22% increase in framerate with no settings change, no new hardware, nothing but a new version of DirectX. That’s the sort of gain in framerates that lots of people buy whole new cards for, but here you’re getting it for free.
R9 290 4GB
Our 290 reminds us of the Russian military in the old Red Alert games. They’re big, powerful and noisy, and had a tendency to explode, but they were cheaper than the opponents. Our 290 has developed some interesting rattles over the years and likes to crash to a black screen whenever we have two monitors running, but it’s still pretty great at benchmarks and performance in games is usually very good, with the overheating only occasionally getting in the way. This card is from the last generation of AMD cards, the 200 series, but these are still going to benefit from DirectX12 as we saw.
So here we’re going from ‘unplayable at these settings’ to ‘completely playable’ and in most of the benchmark this score was much higher, hovering around 48fps, just the heavier scenes brought it crashing down. This is a 68% increase in framerate, using just the standard drivers, with no other changes. That is quite frankly ridiculous, but a very good sign for those of us with more powerful AMD cards. We’d be keen to see the difference in their top end cards like the Fury X and also to compare these results to NVidia boards.
So overall Ashes of the Singularity is a very good sign of things to come. With huge increases in framerates from just using a new version of DirectX, it’ll be interesting to see how this changes the GPU market. All the reports we’ve heard so far have suggested that AMD are seeing the biggest gains, so if you’re in the market for a new GPU and leaning towards NVidia, it might be worth waiting a few weeks to see if this results is replicated in other benchmarks.