We have written a lot about real time Ray-Tracing on this Intel blog, but so far it might have come across like this technology is out of reach of most consumers. That’s because until recently, we have demonstrated Ray-Tracing at high resolutions, using the most powerful consumer platforms available. These systems had 8 powerful cores worth of the most advanced PC architecture available, running at extreme speeds, and carrying some extreme power budgets.However, since Intel aims to meet the requirements of many diverse market – from Extreme Performance, all the way down to Extreme Mobility – the Intel research labs are now ready to show how Ray-Tracing can scale to the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Ultra mobile devices have become very popular in the last several years, and some of them such as the Nintendo DS and Playstation Portable have grown hugely popular in the gaming segment. Gaming on Ultra Mobile PCs (or UMPCs) is a newer concept, and Intel has been investing in technology that will allow the productivity and gaming capabilities of a PC to fit in the palm of your hand – or the pocket of your shirt. The Sony VAIO UX Micro PC is one such example, and at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Daniel Pohl is showing how Ray-Tracing can scale to even the smallest of personal computers. How is this possible, you might ask? It’s because Ray-Tracing draws a scene in 3D by tracing rays of light from the pixels on the screen, to the surfaces of objects in view. And in the case of a UMPC, when one is viewing 3D space from the viewable area of a 4.5” LCD screen, fewer rays are required, and hence, the CPU requirements are substantially less. For example, you might prefer viewing a high definition (1280×720 resolution) display on your PC, but with the much smaller viewable area on a Sony VAIO UX Micro PC, smaller resolutions may be quite acceptable (such as 480×272, for example). Using this lower resolution, it would only require 8% of the CPU requirements that had been needed to render in high definition. To put this into perspective, a 480×272 screen is two and a half times the resolution of the Nintendo DS (per display, at 256×192). But is scaling the CPU requirements down to 8% going to be enough to fit within the computational capabilities of an ultra-mobile CPU? Well, it just so happens that it is. At this year’s GDC, Daniel Pohl has shown that the Sony VAIO* UX Micro PC is capable of 25-45 frames per second of performance when rendering the same demo of Quake IV that he showed at last year’s Intel Developer’s Forum. Keep in mind that last year’s Quake IV demo ran on an 8-core PC, running at 3.0GHz, and delivering almost 100 frames per second. Now, this same technology can be delivered to a single core ultra-mobile CPU running at 1.2GHz, while still allowing playable frame rates. Now, keep in mind that this is just the graphics engine running, and the technology still needs to develop to the point where we can run multiple rays per pixel within a sensible compute budget, because that will allow us to add the kinds of lighting effects, per-pixel correct shadows and reflections, and complex geometry that gamers expect in leading edge games. But don’t worry, because thanks to Moore’s Law, as well as breakthroughs enabled by the Intel Research Labs, computational capabilities and software optimizations will allow both UMPCs and Extreme Gaming platforms to be better suited to real time Ray-Tracing over time. Moore’s Law working in our favor Moore’s Law works in favor of Ray-Tracing, because it assures us that computers will get faster – much faster – while monitor resolutions will grow at a much slower pace. As computational capabilities outgrow computational requirements, the quality of rendering Ray-Tracing in real time will improve, and developers will have an opportunity to do more than ever before. We believe that with Ray-Tracing, developers will have an opportunity to deliver more content in less time, because when you render things in a physically correct environment, you can achieve high levels of quality very quickly, and with an engine that is scalable from the Ultra-Mobile to the Ultra-Powerful, Ray-Tracing may become a very popular technology in the upcoming years.
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