3D CPUs vs 3D graphics?
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Dear CPU Scorekeeper

I would like to understand how 3D instructions on CPUs fit into everything. Are they a replacement for 3D accelerators, or is it to better use 3D accelerators?
- - Magdi, July 1999

See the questionCPU Scorekeeper Responds

3D instruction sets--known as 3DNow!™ in AMD CPUs; SSE™ (Streaming SIMD Extensions) in Pentium-III's--are meant to complement rather than replace the functions of separate 3D graphics accelerators. They are an attempt to enhance floating point operations used in games and multimedia applications, similar to how Intel's MMX™ instruction set first enhanced integer-based multimedia operations.

3DNow!™ and SSE™ also incorporate SIMD (Single Instruction-Multiple Data) functions, the ability to perform the same instruction on a array of data all at the same time. As graphics intensive applications involve the processing of multiple arrays of data, CPU-based SIMD provides a distinct performance boost.

3D graphics processing begins with 3D physical modelling and geometry transformations, lighting, and clipping, which are floating-point intensive. It ends with integer-intensive rendering, which is done primarily by 3D graphics accelerator cards. Today's graphics accelerators are now so fast that the CPU cannot always provide data fast enough to keep up. Overall 3D graphics performance is thus often limited by the floating-point calculation speed of the CPU at the beginning of the graphics pipeline. The 3DNow!™ and SSE™  instruction sets help relieve this bottleneck.

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