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Civilization: Beyond Earth Mantle support makes perfect sense

by on14 April 2014

Cutting CPU overhead for would-be dictators

Civilization: Beyond Earth is the next instalment in the Civilization franchise, which has been going strong for more than two decades. Some Civ purists aren’t too keen space stuff, since they prefer to play on earth, but that is beside the point.

Alpha Centauri was a hit and Beyond Earth will probably do well, too. The really interesting bit is Firaxis’ decision to embrace Mantle, AMD’s proprietary API that enables developers to drastically reduce CPU overhead.


Mantle is not just for action packed games


Civilization is not exactly a very demanding game in the GPU department. Beyond Earth is still a turn-based strategy and of course it’s all about hexagons. So why bother with Mantle then?

Although Civilization doesn’t place too much strain on the GPU, Civilization V was rather slow on many systems. In many cases the game was bottlenecked by the CPU. Bear in mind that Civ V launched four years ago and the minimum hardware requirement was a dual-core CPU and 2GB of RAM and a mid-range graphics card, or even some types of anno 2010 iGPUs. The recommended config was a quad-core with high-end discrete graphics.

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However, with a lot of eye candy and a lot of units on a big map, the game could prove quite demanding on underpowered systems. The game could prove quite demanding in the CPU department – after all it simulates the whole world and there is always plenty of AI stuff running in the background.


Unloading the CPU


Civilization not a fast-paced, action-packed title like most Mantle titles announced so far. However, this does not mean that it can’t benefit from Mantle. On the contrary, we quite like the idea. 

Mantle is all about reducing CPU overhead, so it could free up CPU resources for AI. Since the game is supposed to launch this fall, it is too early to speculate about potential performance gains, but Firaxis clearly knows what it’s doing. Early Mantle testing reveals that the API delivers the biggest gains on awkward configurations, with a relatively weak CPU and fast GPU. However, Civilization is a different beast, since it is much more CPU intensive than you may expect.

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Can Mantle make Civilization: Beyon Earth playable on Kaveri APUs sans discrete graphics? Mind you, when we say playable we don't mean "it will run... somehow" - we are talking about a proper gaming experience. Delivering smooth 1080p performance with a reasonable amount of detail should be possible on some Kaveri parts. The only currently available Kaveri parts feature 384- and 512-core GPUs with relatively good performance, the sort you would get from an old mainstream card. 

Remember the the Civ V hardware requirements? It could work on most low-end GPUs, including some integrated solutions. Over the past four years on-die GPUs evolved to become a lot more potent than their 2010 vintage predecessors, so this time around Firaxis should have no trouble optimizing the new title for integrated GPUs.

In addition to Mantle, the game will also support Eyefinity and Crossfire. 

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