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What is Vulkan? All the facts on the Direct X alternative

Just picked up a shiny new PC game and confused whether you should pick the Direct X 11/12 or Vulkan option on the launch screen?

You’re not alone as unless you’re a serious techie you’re probably not completely up to date on the latest developments in the world of APIs and how they’re changing the world of gaming. Lucky for you, Trusted’s here to help.

Here’s everything you need to know about Vulkan.

Vulkan: What’s an API?

Vulkan is a games-focused application program interface (API) specification based on AMD’s Mantle tech. It’s been developed by the Khronos Group – a do-gooder not for profit that’s determined to help developers make better games – and is designed to replace the more commonly used OpenGL and OpenGL ES standards.

For those that don’t know, APIs are the backbone of any big technology. They provide a framework of protocols, tools and routines that can be used by developers to create applications. An API also controls and decides how software and hardware communicate with each other.

Vulkan: Why should I care?

Right now you’re probably wondering why you should care about something as obscure as an API specification, after all that’s a developer problem right? Normally I’d say you’re right, but in Vulkan’s case things are a little more complex.

Vulkan’s actually a key step for the games industry, and development as a whole, and has the potential to solve a bunch of problems for general consumers as well as developers.

For starters, let’s talk about OpenGL and OpenGL ES. These two APIs have been a headache for developers over the years. OpenGL is Khronos’ previous desktop API, while OpenGL ES was the group’s mobile offering.

The separation between the mobile and desktop API made sense a few years ago, but in today’s interconnected world, where the worlds of mobile and desktop are increasingly intermingling, it’s been a hassle for developers.

The schism meant developers had to adopt hybrid, or even separate development procedures when trying to create cross platform titles — an issue that made coding for desktop and mobile environments a costly and time consuming experience.

Vulkan aims to change this by offering developers a suite of open-source, cross platform development materials that in theory work across multiple operating systems, including Windows 7 through 10, Linux, SteamOS, Tizen, and Android.

In theory, this will make it easier for developers to launch their wares across multiple platforms and create cross-ecosystem services. In short this means, with Vulkan, you could see more games appearing in more places in the very near future.

Vulkan: It’s not just about mobile

Mobile’s not the only area Vulkan’s set to help. The API is also being used by a number of developers to create full fat triple A titles. Doom Eternal makes you use Vulkan and its cropping up as an option in the start menu of numerous games other, like Strange Brigade.

This is because the simplification of coding on Vulkan ca improve games’ performance by reducing bulky driver overheads that have hampered game performance. The fact the API offers developers more granular control over components is another factor that could help boost gaming performance.

Unlike many competing APIs, Vulkan lets developers take more control managing key things like memory allocation and generating GPU workloads in parallel – a feature that will let them get more power out of multithreaded systems.

The end result will be more power efficient and better looking games on everything from smartphones and tablets, to desktops and laptops and dedicated games consoles.

Related: Best PC games

Vulkan: Show me the games!

All this sounds great, but will ultimately mean nothing unless the developer community gets behind Vulkan and starts using it. Fortunately that seems to have already happened.

Since launching every tech company you can think of has started pushing developers to support Vulkan. Qualcomm announced it will make Vulkan support a key part of all its future mobile chips, and has even listed it as a key selling point for its latest Snapdragon CPUs at MWC.

AMD also supports Vulkan in its CPUs and GPU’s. Nvidia’s also shown willing, having organised a “Vulkan Developer Day” to help gather support for the API earlier this year. Valve’s also unsurprisingly on board, having been a proponent since Vulkan’s early days. Which means we’ll likely see more games pushing Vulkan alongside Direct X for the foreseeable future.

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