VK_EXT_multi_draw released for Vulkan

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Filed under: igalia

The Khronos Group has released today a new version of the Vulkan specification that includes the VK_EXT_multi_draw extension. This new extension has been championed by Mike Blumenkrantz, contracted by Valve to work on Zink, an OpenGL implementation that’s part of Mesa and runs on top of Vulkan. Mike has been working very hard to make OpenGL-on-Vulkan performant and better, and came up with this extension to close an existing gap between the two APIs. As part of the ongoing collaboration between Igalia and Valve, I had the chance to participate in the release process by reviewing the specification text in depth, providing feedback and fixes, and writing a set of CTS tests to check conformance for drivers implementing the extension. As you can see in the contributors list, VK_EXT_multi_draw had input and feedback from more vendors. Special mention to Jason Ekstrand from Intel, who provided an initial review of the text, and Piers Daniell from NVIDIA, who was also involved since the early stages.

Thanks to VK_EXT_multi_draw, Vulkan will have equivalents to the glMultiDrawArrays and glMultiDrawElements functions from OpenGL. They’re called vkCmdDrawMultiEXT and vkCmdDrawMultiIndexedEXT. These two new functions allow recording a batch of draw commands in a command buffer using a single call, and they can be used in situations where an application would be recording a high number of draws without changing state. Although Vulkan already had mechanisms that allowed applications to record batches of draw commands in the form of indirect draws, these need the array of draw parameters to reside in a GPU-accessible buffer. VK_EXT_multi_draw, on the other hand, lets applications provide arrays of draw parameters using CPU memory.

vkCmdDrawMultiEXT is essentially equivalent to calling vkCmdDraw multiple times in a row, and vkCmdDrawMultiIndexedEXT does the same for vkCmdDrawIndexed. To improve application performance and reduce CPU overhead, Vulkan drivers are allowed and encouraged to omit checks for API function arguments provided by applications (these correctness checks are provided by the Vulkan Validation Layers mainly during application development), and thanks to mechanisms like primary and secondary command buffers, Vulkan makes it possible to prepare sequences of commands for the GPU to execute using multiple threads and CPU cores. In this situation, you may be wondering how much of an improvement the new functions provide apart from saving a few microseconds processing some function calls. In other words, what’s the practical difference between calling vkCmdDraw a thousand times and batching a thousand draws using vkCmdDrawMultiEXT?

The answer is that most of the overhead of recording a draw command doesn’t come from having to call a function, but in the checks the implementation has to run when recording the command. These checks may not be related to correctness, but to additional actions and options that may need to be taken depending on the state of the command buffer in the moment the draw command is recorded. For example, see the calls to radv_before_draw when RADV processes a draw command (note: RADV is Mesa’s super nice free software Vulkan driver for AMD cards). These checks only need to run once when using the new functions. In bechmark-like scenarios using real drivers, Mike has been able to verify that, while the overhead varies per driver and some of them are lightweight and have minimal overhead, some mainstream drivers can double their draw call processing rate when using VK_EXT_multi_draw.

Mike has work-in-progress implementations for Mesa’s ANV and RADV drivers (the Vulkan drivers for Intel and AMD GPUs, respectively) which pass conformance and will hopefully land soon in Mesa’s main branch, and more drivers are expected to ship support for the extension in the near future.

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