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Nvidia confirmed that it is launching a new generation of consumer PC graphics cards based on its Pascal architecture.
The company unveiled the graphics processing units (GPUs) at a live event in Austin, Texas, this evening. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 and 1070 GPUs represent the newest generation of graphics for consumer computers, and they come at a time when 3D graphics is being pushed to its limit by virtual reality headsets.
The consumer GPUs come a month after Nvidia unveiled the very first Pascal-based GPU, the P100, which was targeted at deep learning neural networks. Pascal is a new master design, dubbed an architecture, for a whole generation of chips that also come with a new manufacturing process. The process, based on the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing’s 16 nanometer FinFET node technology, represents a new spin of Moore’s Law, or the prediction that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every couple of years. This process will enable chips that are faster, smaller, and cheaper than previous generations.
The previous generation of chips used the 28-nanometer TSMC process that has been available to Nvidia and rival Advanced Micro Devices since 2012. With the new process, Nvidia was able to create the P100 with 15 billion transistors on a single chip. The GTX 1080 and 1070 are expected to be slimmed-down versions of the P100. The GPUs are expected to have about 3,584 CUDA cores.
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The P100 can reportedly handle 10.6 teraflops of single precision floating point calculations. It has a bunch of streaming multiprocessors, and second-generation of High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2) with transfer speeds of up to 720 gigabytes per second. Nvidia is reportedly using 8 gigabytes of GDDR5X memory in the consumer versions. AMD is prepping its own 16-nanometer cards based on its new Polaris architecture.
“I can’t imagine a better place to hold this event than the premier DreamHack in North America,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia in the livestreamed event.
He said what makes the PC platform awesome is that it’s open. It’s evolving and thriving, he said.
“Gaming is more than gaming,” he said. “It’s a sport. A spectator sport. 300 million people around the world enjoy it as a esport.”
Several thousand engineers worked on the technology behind the chips.
“This is the largest chip processor endeavor in the history of humanity,” he said. “The R&D budget was several billion dollars. I’m pretty sure you can go to Mars” on that budget.
“It’s the most efficient, most advanced architecture we’ve ever created,” he said.
The GTX 1080 is faster than a previous generation GTX 980 with two graphics cards operating in SLi mode, or two in one PC. It is faster than Nvidia’s Titan X card, based on the previous-generation Maxwell architecture.
“It’s almost an irresponsible amount of power,” Huang said. “It’s better by a whole lot and so much less power. You’re going to have a dumb grin on your face all the time.”
Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, went on stage to join Huang as part of the chip introduction.
“The openness of the PC platform has made it the center of technology for so long,” Sweeney said to Huang. “It improves every year, thanks to you.”
And Huang said, if not for Epic’s Unreal Engine, game graphics wouldn’t be as advanced as it is. Sweeney said the technology bridges the gap between cinematic animation, created in non-real-time, and real-time game animations. That suggests that you’ll be able to do Pixar-like animations in real-time. Nvidia proceeded to show the cinematic characters from Epic’s Paragon running in real-time.
“Can we not have both?” Sweeney asked.
“Tim, let me tell you, that someday has arrived,” Huang said. “In the next couple of years, we can leap across the uncanny valley,” or animated human faces that truly look real.
Huang said the color depth, resolution, and curvature of displays is going through a huge amount of revolution now.
“What is in common with all of them is the ability to project a scene into all kinds of displays, and to project an object into multiple eyes at the same time,” Huang said. “This is not the way that 3D graphics was designed.”
In one pass, the Nvidia graphics chips can project images into 16 displays at once. Nvidia calls this “simultaneous multi-projection,” a new tech that compensates for all kinds of new display technologies. This gives you “surround graphics, surround view for free,” Huang said. “That’s one benefit of simultaneous multi-projection.”
When you look at an image that stretches across multiple monitors, the images are wrapped from screen to screen properly, Huang said.
“On the surface, it appears the GTX 1080 is a competitive graphics card at its price point, but the more important card is the 1070 from a unit and dollar revenue point of view,” said Patrick Moorhead, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “A big determinant in how well both cards do in VR will depend on how many [software vendors] and game engines use Nvidia’s SMP feature, which, according to Nvidia gives a 2X boost in VR performance. It’s not obvious which games take advantage of it yet, but Nvidia has been successful with this in the past. Outside of VR, if the 1070 is close to Titan X performance as Nvidia says, this is a very strong value proposition.”
“Video gaming technology has evolved immensely,” he said. “It’s an art form,” with in-game photographers producing amazing still art.
He said, “We decided we would make this technology possible for everybody to do. We are introducing the world’s first in-game photography system”
The camera is free to move where you want it to move in Ansel, the in-game photography system. You can render at 32 times higher resolution than exists on your monitor, and you can take the images in full 360-degree stereo, Huang said. In a demo, the company captured a single image with 60,000 pixels in one dimension. The image tools allow you to manipulate the captured image with ease and then save it. You can take a 2D image or a 3D image, simply by changing a slider.
You can view the 360-degree image on a head-mounted virtual reality display. You can also view the images on the Nvidia app on a smartphone, using tech such as Google Cardboard, based on a demo that Huang showed on stage. Ansel is coming to games like The Division, The Witness, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Paragon, No Man’s Sky, and Unreal Tournament.
“This is the world’s first in-game 3D stereo capture system,” he said. “We can sit there and fly around our virtual game all day long.”
Nvidia also unveiled Nvidia VRWorks Audio. This is a real-time, physically modeled, acoustic simulator. It enables you to hear sound in three dimensions, and it takes into account how sound bounces off of various objects in your environment.
“For the very first time, we can do this in real-time,” Huang said. “When you move into a hall in virtual reality, it sounds like a hall. The simulation model is all computed in real-time.”
Nvidia created the Nvidia VR Funhouse to show off the new VR technologies, so that “you can almost feel this world,” Huang said. You can do things in VR like throw basketballs at hoops using haptic controls such as the controllers for the HTC Vive VR headset.
Huang showed off cool 3D effects in existing games such as Tom Clancy’s The Division, Mirror’s Edge, and Tomb Raider. All of them ran at 60 frames a second on the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics chip.
“No sweat, nice and easy, silky smooth,” Huang said. “It brings me enormous amount of pride and joy. Look what my kid can do.”
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