Dedicated video card won't be needed for graphics on Windows 7

Intel and AMD are hard at work to develop CPUs that also integrate graphics processing. If Microsoft has its way, any CPU will be able to render Direct3D 10 and Direct3D 10.1 graphics as long as it is running Windows 7.

Microsoft calls the portion of Windows 7 that will enable these graphics on the CPU WARP. The goals of WARP include replacing the need for customized rasterizers, enabling rendering when no Direct3D hardware is available or when no video card is installed among others.

By using WARP, if the video card fails Windows will be able to continue rendering graphics and will kick in when the video card runs out of memory or hangs. WARP supports all Direct3D 10 and 10.1 features along with all the precision requirements for both specifications. Direct3D 11 is also supported. Optional texture formats are supported like multi-sample render targets and sampling from float surfaces. Anti-aliasing up to 8x MSAA is supported, as is anisotropic filtering.

Minimum specifications for WARP10 are the same as minimum specs for Windows Vista including an 800MHz CPU and 512MB of RAM. Microsoft is targeting WARP at casual gamers, existing non-gaming applications, and advanced rendering games. The software evenly distributes rendering duties across all available CPU cores.

Graphics performance is nowhere near the level of a discrete video card. However, Microsoft says that typical performance on Penryn-based 3GHz quad core processors outperforms Intel integrated graphics in many benchmarks.

Microsoft says that on a Penryn quad-core CPU running Crysis at a screen resolution of 800 x 600 with all quality settings at the lowest level gave an average frame rate of 5.69 fps. Intel's integrated graphics at the same settings gave an average frame rate of 5.17 fps. A low-end NVIDIA 8500 GT gave an average frame rate of 41.99 fps at the same settings.

Intel's Larrabee will feature integrated graphics processing similar to what WARP promises.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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