After missing its planned release date last year, the Khronos Group has released version 1.0 of the Vulkan API specification, the next-generation version of OpenGL. Based on AMD’s proprietary Mantle API, Vulkan (previously known as GLNext) is an open-source, low-overhead API that promises huge performance gains in 3D applications by giving developers low-level control of graphics and CPU hardware, much in the same way that games consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One do.
To accompany the launch of Vulkan, AMD is releasing a beta driver for its Radeon graphics cards, which enables the use of the new API on PC. Rival Nvidia has also promised to support Vulkan with a driver update, although the company hasn’t yet announced when it will be released. Both companies have pledged to support Vulkan’s predecessor OpenGL for the foreseeable future too, which—given that OpenGL has been used in a huge amount of games and 3D applications since its release in 1992—should come as a relief to developers and consumers alike.
Update: Nvidia has now released its Vulkan beta driver for download.
Vulkan is the latest in a number of modern graphics APIs that promise improved performance on modern multicore systems and graphics cards. They allow developers to manage memory and commands themselves, rather than leave it up to the driver, as well as allow the GPU to process commands in parallel, amongst other improvements. Microsoft released DirectX 12 as part of Windows 10 last year, with early tests showing huge frame rate improvements for AMD. No DX12-compatible games have yet been released, however.
Apple introduced its Metal API with iOS 8, which again focused on reduced API overhead. Notably, unlike both of those APIs, Vulkan is essentially platform agnostic, supporting Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, and Linux. Valve has been a firm supporter of the API since its inception, even going as far as to recommend developers choose Vulkan over DirectX 12 thanks to its cross-platform capabilities. Google also announced support for the API in Android at the tail end of last year, while Nintendo joined the Kronos group as a contributing member.
Unity, Epic (Unreal Engine), Valve (Source 2), and Dice (Frostbite), and others have all pledged to support and have been involved in some way with the creation of Vulkan, but currently none have games that make use of the API. Croteam has promised that its game The Talos Principle will support Vulkan at launch, although the update has not yet gone live.
This post originated on Ars Technica UK