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Intel debuts Haswell-related tools at 2013 Game Developers conference

New rendering extensions are designed for the graphics core in Intel's next-generation CPU, code-named Haswell.

Intel CPUs have long been popular with PC gamers, but their enthusiasm for the platform has had little to do with the processors' relatively weak integrated-graphics cores. Intel hopes to change that perception with its fourth-generation Core family, code-named Haswell.

At the 2013 Game Developer's Conference, Intel unveiled two new DirectX extensions that give developers access to Haswell's underlying hardware. One extension, dubbed PixelSync, will enable game programmers to create more-realistic smoke, hair, windows, foliage, and other forms that involve complex geometry, according to Intel, by properly compositing partially transparent pixels without bogging the processor down with sorting operations.

Game developer Creative Assembly has been working with Intel to use this new feature in its upcoming title Total War: Rome II.

"We've shifted our focus toward ensuring that the game looks great whether you're running it on a slim and sexy Ultrabook or a monster desktop," says Mike Simpson, creative director at Creative Assembly. "The new rendering extensions [Intel] provides have been an enormous help in making that dream a reality."

An Intel spokesperson says that the company is releasing the real-time rendering extensions prior to Haswell's launch to give developers time to incorporate them into their products. The second new extension, called Instant Access, allows either the CPU or the GPU integrated into the CPU core to write and read directly to and from system memory, so that the GPU behaves more like a discrete video card.

HandBrake optimizations, too

Intel also revealed that it has been working with the team behind the popular open-source video-transcoding program HandBrake to enable hardware acceleration on its latest Core processors. Handbrake team member Tim Walker says that using Quick Sync Video technology, which debuted with the third-generation Core family, has yielded initial results that "show promise in terms of performance and significantly reduced CPU usage during the decode/encode process, especially for mobile and low-power CPU parts."

Besides introducing the DirectX extensions and HandBrake optimization, Intel announced that the production release of its Perceptual Computing Software Development Kit (SDK) is now available. When game developers use it with Intel's Creative Interactive Gesture Camera, according to Intel, they will be able to "add human-like interaction to computers in the form of close-range finger or hand-tracking, speech recognition, facial analysis, and augmented reality." Earlier versions of the SDK have been available since November 2012, but developers who used it were not allowed to make the applications they created with it commercially available. Intel has now lifted that restriction.


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