Microsoft to add software DirectX rendering to Windows 7

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Microsoft is calling the new platform WARP10, for Windows Advanced Rasterization Platform.  The new system is meant to ease strain on software developers by allowing them to take advantage of DirectX 10 and 10.1 properties without having to worry about whether end users have sufficiently advanced graphics hardware.  Developers also can avoid having to write custom rasterizers since an application will run well in WARP if it runs well on hardware.

(Not the actual logo).

While WARP10 will make things easier for the people who write software, it should also enable a number of benefits to end users.  First of all, programs that require Direct3D hardware can be run using the software renderer if no capable hardware is available.  Microsoft was badly burned with the Windows Vista capable issue when they downgraded the requirements to run Vista’s Aero.  Intel’s integrated graphics were simply not up to the task, and it looks like they’re making sure they won’t have to worry about this again.  The requirements to run WARP are the same as those to run Vista: 800MHz CPU and 512MB RAM.  Even advanced instruction sets like MMX, SSE and SSE2 aren’t required, though WARP will obviously take advantage of beefy new multi-core processors and run significantly faster.  While WARP doesn’t really compare to high-end graphics solutions, it can sometimes best the low-end of the market.  An 8-threaded Core i7 processor, for example, was able to produce an average of 7.36 FPS running Crysis at 800×600, while Intel’s integrated DX10 solution managed 5.17 on the same tests. 

Tests like that show that WARP will likely never be a viable replacement for traditional graphics cards, but it has the potential to step in where the requirements are much less strenuous.  Low-end games that don’t necessarily need hardware acceleration, but could still greatly benefit from it, are one area that Microsoft is suggesting WARP could be used in.  WARP has a lot more potential than just low-end gaming, though.  There are instances where 3D acceleration would be useful but suffer from problematic implementation.  One such that jumps to mind are virtualized environments; enabling hardware access to virtual machines is often a tricky business, and being able to reliably and even respectably run 3D applications in software enables extra functionality.

It was mentioned earlier that WARP10 resembles (at least in function) a similar effort put forth by Intel.  This is an interesting fact, since Intel is working on a discrete graphics card solution code-named Larrabee.  Larrabee is essentially a large number (rumored to be around 36 to start) of basic X86 cores that process graphics information.  As a result, Larrabee will be able to run standard X86 applications with some modifications.  With the advent of software renderers like WARP, it raises the possibility that perhaps Intel will have some aid in getting Larrabee up and going — rather than force developers to confront a new and unknown graphics architecture, let them program in one they already know and simply run it on the compatible hardware.  Only time will tell if this possibility has merit.

Further reading:

MSDN paper on WARP

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