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Mesh shaders can boost FPS on current graphics cards by up to a massive 1800%
By Chad Norton on February 12th, 2021 at 05:30pm - original article from game-debate

A while ago we ran an Up For Debate on what the next big tech craze would be after ray tracing, and after some discussion the majority of the Game Debate community decided it would be based on performance, not graphics.

Well, I guess the GD community was right once again, as the current graphics cards (that is, the RTX 30 series from Nvidia and the RX 6000 series from AMD) can seemingly get a massive FPS performance boost of up to 1500% thanks to Mesh Shaders, a rendering technique that may soon become more widely used.

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What are Mesh Shaders?

Nvidia has been touting Mesh Shaders ever since their launch for Turning-based GPUs (that’s the RTX 20 series and GTX 16 series). You can see the kind of implementation they demoed back then in the video below, which showed a scene with hundreds of asteroids on screen at any given moment with millions and billions of polygons, yet the FPS remained stable and smooth:

That’s Mesh Shading in action, which is a way to increase performance by only rendering exactly what is needed in a scene. Games already use similar techniques to this, but Mesh Shaders bring it to a whole other level.

By dynamically adjusting the LOD (Level of Detail) in a scene, players can not only benefit from much better performance, but also far more detailed objects and complex geometry. There’s a lot more to it than that, but think of this as the kind of Layman’s terms explanation: essentially, Mesh Shaders = Better Performance, without losing any detail whatsoever.

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Mesh Shaders performance boost

Up until now, Mesh Shaders haven’t really been used in games yet since it is limited to only certain graphics cards. It was also hard to quantify really how much this feature will improve performance and was only available through the new DirectX 12 Ultimate API.

Thankfully that may change very soon, as the 3DMark benchmarking software can now put some actual performance numbers to the technology. So far, 3DMark has only added 2 feature tests from the DirectX 12 Ultimate API: these included DX Ray Tracing and Variable Rate Shading. Now UL has added a new feature test to 3DMark and it has to do with - yep, you guessed it - Mesh Shaders.

So how much can Mesh Shaders improve performance? Well, early results are staggering to be honest, with a performance boost of up to 1800%. Yes that’s right, the number in the title of this article wasn’t a typo as you may have thought.

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Performance boosts seem to vary though, but on average you’re looking at anywhere from 500-1800% FPS increase on the new graphics cards like the RTX 30 series and RX 6000 series. Although Nvidia’s cards seem to get higher FPS numbers in general, it’s the AMD cards that see the biggest performance improvement.

A quick disclaimer though: although many graphics cards have been tested with the Mesh Shader feature test already including AMD’s RX 6000 GPUs, a recent driver for AMD significantly improved Mesh Shader performance for AMD cards. So unfortunately we only have one RX 6000 GPU tested compared to many other Nvidia cards. Still though, we can see the massive performance boost. (also if you want to test this yourself download the latest AMD driver for more accurate performance results).

So let’s see some actual numbers then shall we?

Well since we only have one AMD card (the ¬¬gc_id:5144[RX 6800 XT]¬¬ ) that has been tested on the Mesh Shader Feature Test, let’s see how well it stacks up against Nvidia’s own equivalent (the ¬¬gc_id:5003[RTX 3080]¬¬ ).

3DMark Mesh Shader Feature Test Mesh Shaders Off (FPS) Mesh Shaders On (FPS) % FPS increase
¬¬gc_id:5003[RTX 3080]¬¬ 65.93 567.59 860.95%
¬¬gc_id:5144[RX 6800 XT]¬¬ 27.51 496.19 1803.65%

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As you can see, the RTX 3080 gets much better overall FPS numbers at 65.93fps compared to AMD’s 27.51fps when the Mesh Shaders are turned off, then again when Mesh Shaders are turned on with Nvidia’s GPU reaching 567.59fps compared to AMD’s 496.19fps.

But it’s the percentage difference that really hammers home the performance boost, as the RTX 3080 had an increase of 860.95%, whilst the RX 6800 XT got a massive 1803.65% FPS boost. That’s, quite frankly, absolutely nuts.

Here’s even more benchmarks run on more graphics cards that we managed to collect from other users on the 3DMark database, including the above GPUs as well as the rest of the RTX 20 and 16 series.

Results seem to vary quite significantly between GPU and generation, so obviously more testing needs to be done to get the most accurate results. But quite frankly, what matters how much FPS it's off by when the %FPS increase results are in the hundreds.

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3DMark Mesh Shader Feature Test Mesh Shaders Off (FPS) Mesh Shaders On (FPS) % FPS increase
¬¬gc_id:5005[RTX 3090]¬¬ 67.15 648.15 865.52%
¬¬gc_id:5003[RTX 3080]¬¬ 65.93 567.59 860.95%
¬¬gc_id:5013[RTX 3070]¬¬ 67.09 498.83 643.6%
¬¬gc_id:5016[RTX 3060 Ti]¬¬ 64.71 382.99 491.9%
¬¬gc_id:4050[RTX 2080 Ti]¬¬ 80.93 531.67 556.9%
¬¬gc_id:4552[RTX 2080 Super]¬¬ 81.68 443.72 460%
¬¬gc_id:4022[RTX 2080]¬¬ 80.99 440.58 444%
¬¬gc_id:4551[RTX 2070 Super]¬¬ 79.37 391.06 392.7%
¬¬gc_id:4023[RTX 2070]¬¬ 75.46 381.68 398%
¬¬gc_id:4550[RTX 2060 Super]¬¬ 76.07 323.97 325.9%
¬¬gc_id:4051[RTX 2060]¬¬ 72.29 279.90 287.2%
¬¬gc_id:4722[GTX 1660 Super]¬¬ 71.43 197.94 177.1%
¬¬gc_id:4093[GTX 1660 Ti]¬¬ 68.36 201.55 194.8%
¬¬gc_id:4095[GTX 1660]¬¬ 65.86 181.14 175.1%
¬¬gc_id:4832[GTX 1650 Super]¬¬ 29.98 159.17 430.9%
¬¬gc_id:5144[RX 6800 XT]¬¬ 27.51 496.19 1803.65%

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Why aren’t Mesh Shaders used in games more often?

Honestly? I’m not quite sure. I’ve done some digging but so far can’t find a concrete answer yet. Maybe some of the more tech savvy among you can tell us exactly why games aren’t using it to this extent right now.

It might be partly due to the fact that Mesh Shaders are much harder to explain than, say, ray tracing or even DLSS, and so it doesn’t get as much coverage as those other graphics techniques.

There’s also the fact that it is only limited to certain graphics cards and API, and so there is less incentive for developers to use this technique. But even DLSS 1.0 was only on specific hardware and still got implemented into games, though granted only in a handful of titles.

So maybe there’s a lot more to it than that, but it is certainly exciting nonetheless for future games, as Mesh Shaders have the potential to allow developers to create super complex scenes without too much of a hit to performance (I'm particularly looking at you, ¬¬g_id:5490[Star Citizen]¬¬). Plus, the fact that it doesn’t have any visual quality loss means DLSS may be a thing of the past soon - which despite working really well already, has some small limitations when it comes to graphical quality reduction.

What do you think? Is this future of gaming performance? Will this be the next big tech craze after ray tracing like we talked about before? And why are no developers using it right now? Let us know!