Over the past several  years, a lot has been said about how graphics APIs, the underlying programming language used to render images on screen, can help or hinder performance. Perhaps the biggest impetus for this discussion was AMD's release of its Mantle API, which showed much promise in big titles like Battlefield 4 and Thief. It used a new "closer to the metal" approach, which allowed game developers to get more direct access to a machine's capabilities than what was possible under Microsoft's DX11 API. In particuilar, it allowed the CPU to do more with fewer resources, helping boost performance on lower-end CPUs in particular.

Well, Microsoft was listening, and as part of the Windows 10 launch, it quietly released DX12. Quietly, in part, because at the time of the Windows 10 release in July 2015, there were no games that could show the benefits of DX12. Well, as we head into Spring 2016, there in fact are a number of new games harnessing the power of DX12, and perhaps the biggest so far is Rise of the Tomb Raider, which launched in January 2017, but was patched on March 11, 2016 with a new DX12 renderer. We put together some preliminary benchmarks using five different video cards to show what DX12 may have in store for Nvidia, AMD, and the entire gaming industry.

Test Setup

The Hex Bench!

Our test system, pictured here, consisted of the following components:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i7-5820K (overclocked to 4.4GHz)
  2. Motherboard: Asus X99-Pro/USB3.1
  3. Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws4 4x8GB DDR4-2666
  4. SSD #1: Samsung SM951 M.2 256GB
  5. SSD #2: 2x Samsung 850 Evo 500GB in RAID0
  6. Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 1000 PS
  7. Case: Corsair Carbide 500R
  8. CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H100i v2
  9. Operating System: Windows 10
  10. Monitor: Acer XB270HU

And here are the five video cards we tested:

  1. Sapphire Radeon R9 290 Tri-X 4GB
  2. XFX Radeon R9 390X DD 8GB
  3. EVGA GeForce GTX 970 FTW 4GB
  4. EVGA GeForce GTX 980 SC 4GB
  5. EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti SC 6GB

While all of these cards have some form of factory overclock, we set them all to reference speeds. We also loaded them up with the latest drivers, which in the case of AMD was Crimson Edition 16.3 Hotfix, releasd March 8, 2016, and for Nvidia, it was GeForce Version 364.51, also released March 8, 2016. 

We ran all tests at a resolution of 2560 x 1440 using the "very high" preset, with a fixed refresh rate of 120Hz. The only thing we varied was whether we used the DX11 or DX12 code path. Note that for this change to take effect, the game must be restarted.

The results were a bit surprising, but not necessarily for the reasons you might imagine. Read on to find out what we learned!

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