Vulkan is a low-overhead, cross-platform 3D graphics and compute API. Like OpenGL, Vulkan targets high-performance realtime 3D graphics applications such as video games and interactive media across all platforms, and can offer higher performance and more balanced CPU/GPU usage, much like Direct3D 12 and Mantle. Other major differences from Direct3D (prior to version 12) and OpenGL are Vulkan being a considerably lower level API and offering parallel tasking. Vulkan also has the ability to render 2D graphics applications, however it is generally suited for 3D. In addition to its lower CPU usage, Vulkan is also able to better distribute work amongst multiple CPU cores.
|Developer(s)||Khronos Group, developed from AMD's Mantle|
|Initial release||16 February 2016|
|Stable release||1.0.49 (12 May 2017) [±]|
|Operating system||Android, Linux, Tizen, Microsoft Windows|
|Type||3D graphics and compute API|
Vulkan was first announced by the Khronos Group at GDC 2015. The Vulkan API was initially referred to as the "next generation OpenGL initiative," or "OpenGL next" by Khronos, but use of those names was discontinued once the Vulkan name was announced. Vulkan is derived from and built upon components of AMD's Mantle API, which was donated by AMD to Khronos with the intent of giving Khronos a foundation on which to begin developing a low-level API that they could standardize across the industry, much like OpenGL.
Vulkan is intended to provide a variety of advantages over other APIs as well as its spiritual predecessor, OpenGL. Vulkan offers lower overhead, more direct control over the GPU, and lower CPU usage. The overall concept and feature set of Vulkan is similar to Direct3D 12 and Mantle.
Intended advantages of Vulkan over previous-generation APIs include:
- Vulkan API is well suited for high-end graphics cards as well as for graphics hardware on mobile devices (OpenGL has a specific subset for mobile devices called OpenGL ES; it's still an alternative API in Vulkan supporting devices).
- In contrast to Direct3D 12, Vulkan is available on multiple modern operating systems; like OpenGL, the Vulkan API is not locked to a single OS or device form factor. As of release, Vulkan runs on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10, Tizen, Linux, and Android (third party support for iOS and macOS is also available)
- Reduced driver overhead, reducing CPU workloads.
- Reduced load on CPUs through the use of batching, leaving the CPU free to do more computation or rendering than otherwise.
- Better scaling on multi-core CPUs. Direct3D 11 and OpenGL 4 were initially designed for use with single-core CPUs and only received augmentation to be executed on multi-cores. Even when application developers use the augmentations, the API regularly does not scale well on multi-cores.
- OpenGL uses the high-level language GLSL for writing shaders which forces each OpenGL driver to implement its own compiler for GLSL that executes at application runtime to translate the program's shaders into the GPU's machine code. Vulkan drivers are supposed to ingest instead shaders already translated into an intermediate binary format called SPIR-V (Standard Portable Intermediate Representation), analogous to the binary format that HLSL shaders are compiled into in Direct3D. By allowing shader pre-compilation, application initialization speed is improved and a larger variety of shaders can be used per scene. A Vulkan driver only needs to do GPU specific optimization and code generation, resulting in easier driver maintenance, and eventually smaller driver packages (currently GPU vendors still have to include OpenGL/CL).
- Unified management of compute kernels and graphical shaders, eliminating the need to use a separate compute API in conjunction with a graphics API.
|One single global state machine||Object-based with no global state|
|State is tied to a single context||All state concepts are localized to a command buffer|
|Operations can only be executed sequentially||Multi-threaded programming is possible|
|GPU memory and synchronization are usually hidden||Explicit control over memory management and synchronization|
|Extensive error checking||Vulkan drivers do no error checking at runtime;
there is a validation layer for developers
NVIDIA notes that OpenGL is still a great option for a lot of use-cases, as it does come at a much lower complexity and maintenance burden than Vulkan, while in many cases still providing great overall performance.
At SIGGRAPH 2016, Khronos announced that Vulkan would be getting support for automatic multi-GPU features, similar to what is offered by Direct3D 12. Multi-GPU support included in-API removes the need for SLI or Crossfire which requires graphics cards to be of the same model. API multi-GPU instead allows the API to intelligently split the workload among two or more completely different GPUs. For example, integrated GPUs included on the CPU can be used in conjunction with a high-end dedicated GPU for a slight performance boost.
The Khronos Group began a project to create a next generation graphics API in July 2014 with a kickoff meeting at Valve Corporation. At SIGGRAPH 2014, the project was publicly announced with a call for participants.
According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the trademark for Vulkan was filed on February 19, 2015.
In early 2015, LunarG (funded by Valve) developed and showcased a Linux driver for Intel which enabled Vulkan compatibility on the HD 4000 series integrated graphics, despite the open source Mesa drivers not being fully compatible with OpenGL 4.0 until later that year. There is still the possibility of Sandy Bridge support, since it supports compute through Direct3D11.
On December 18, 2015, the Khronos Group announced that the 1.0 version of the Vulkan specification was nearly complete and would be released when conforming drivers were available. The specification and the open-source Vulkan SDK were released on February 16, 2016.
In December of 2016, Unity Technologies announced that version 5.6 of their game engine, Unity, would support the Vulkan API.
In February of 2017, Croteam announced that it would be adopting the Vulkan API in its games and leveraging it to make their games more cross-platform friendly. In March of 2017, Cloud Imperium Games announced Star Citizen would be using Vulkan API instead of DirectX.
Software that supports VulkanEdit
- The Talos Principle – The first game with Vulkan rendering support.
- Dota 2 – Vulkan support released in May 2016.
- Doom – Vulkan support released in July 2016.
- vkQuake – A Vulkan Quake port was released in July 2016.
- Roblox – As of March 2017, Roblox now has support for Vulkan.
- Star Citizen – As of March 2017, the Director of Graphics Programming for Cloud Imperium Games, Alistair Brown, has announced on the official Star Citizen forums that Cloud Imperium will now only focus on implementing Vulkan into Star Citizen and Squadron 42. Support for DirectX 12 will be dropped as it would require customers to use Windows 10.
- Mad Max – Beta Vulkan support exclusively for Linux port released in March 2017.
- Ballistic Overkill - Vulkan support released in may 2017.
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive - Vulkan support will be available in summer of 2017.
Game console emulatorsEdit
- Beetle/Mednafen PSX, Libretro port of Mednafen PlayStation
- Dolphin Emulator
- Libretro port of Mupen64Plus
- Source 2 – In March 2015, Valve Corporation announced the Source 2 engine, the successor engine to the original Source engine, would support Vulkan.
- Serious Engine 4 – In February 2016, Croteam announced that they were supporting Vulkan in their Serious Engine.
- Unreal Engine 4 – In February 2016, Epic Games announced Unreal Engine 4 support for Vulkan at Samsung's Galaxy S7 Unpacked event.
- id Tech 6 – In May 2016, id Software announced Doom, running the id Tech 6 engine, would support Vulkan.
- CryEngine – Crytek has plans to include Vulkan support in CryEngine.
- Unity – The engine currently supports Vulkan in version 5.6.
- Xenko – Vulkan support was added in July 2016.
- Intrinsic – A free Vulkan based cross-platform game engine published on GitHub.
- Torque 3D – In April 2016, the developers community announced they will include Vulkan support.
- GPU PerfStudio 3.6 supports Vulkan on Windows and Linux.
- GTK+ Scene Graph Kit, released on March 2017 as part of GTK+ 3.90 has a Vulkan rendering path.
- RenderDoc support for Vulkan was added on 10 Feb 2016 
The Vulkan Window System Interface (WSI) does for Vulkan what EGL does for OpenGL ES. EGL is used by OpenGL ES programs to interface with the native platform windowing system. EGL handles context management, surface binding and rendering synchronization.
Initial specifications stated that Vulkan will work on hardware that currently supports OpenGL ES 3.1 or OpenGL 4.x and up. As Vulkan support requires new graphics drivers, this does not necessarily imply that every existing device that supports OpenGL ES 3.1 or OpenGL 4.x will have Vulkan drivers available.
|Company||Hardware||Software support: Vulkan 1.0|
|Microarchitecture||Available since||GPUs (chips)||Graphic cards / SoCs||Linux||Microsoft Windows[a]||Android Nougat and later|
|GCN 5th||TBA||Vega 10||Radeon Rx Vega series||AMDGPU PRO (Ubuntu & RHEL)
& RADV in Mesa
|GCN 4th||June 2016||Polaris 10, Polaris 11, Polaris 12||Radeon Rx 400 series|
|GCN 3rd||August 2014||Tonga, Fiji, Carrizo||Radeon R9 Series|
|GCN 2nd||March 2013||Bonaire, Hawaii, Kaveri, Kabini, Temash, Mullins, Beema, Carrizo-L||Radeon HD 7790, PlayStation 4, Xbox One||Experimental|
|GCN 1st||February 2012||Oland, Cape Verde, Pitcairn, Tahiti||Radeon HD 77xx–7900 Series|
|TeraScale 3||December 2010||Cayman, Trinity/Richland||Radeon HD 69xx Series, Radeon HD 7xxx–76xx Series||not supported|
|TeraScale 2||September 2009||Cedar, Cypress, Juniper, Redwood, Palm, Sumo||Radeon HD 5000 Series, Radeon HD 6350, Radeon HD 64xx–68xx Series|
|TeraScale 1||May 2007||R600, RV630, RV610, RV790, RV770, …||Radeon HD 2000 Series, HD 3000, HD 4000|
|Pascal||May 2016||GP10x||GeForce 10 series, Tegra X2||Nvidia GeForce driver||Nvidia GeForce driver||Yes|
|Maxwell||February 2014||GM10x, GM20x||GeForce GTX 750 Ti, GTX 750, GTX 860M, GeForce 900 series, Tegra X1|
|Kepler||March 2012||GK10x, GK110, GK208||GeForce 600 series, GeForce 700 series, Tegra K1|
|Fermi||March 2010||GF10x, GF11x||GeForce 400 series, GeForce 500 series||not supported|
|Tesla||November 2006||G8x, G9x, GT20x, GT21x||GeForce 8 series, GeForce 9 series, GeForce 100 series, GeForce 200 series, GeForce 300 series|
|Kaby Lake||January 3, 2017||Core i3-/i5-/i7-7000, Pentium xyz, Celeron xyz||Anvil in Mesa||Intel Graphics driver||Anvil in Mesa 17.1|
|Skylake||August 2015||Core i3-/i5-/i7-6000, Core m3-/m5-/m7-6Yxx, Pentium G4xxx, Celeron G39xx|
|Broadwell||September 2014||Core i3-/i5-/i7-5000, Core M-5Yxx||not supported|
|Haswell||September 2012||Core i3-/i5-/i7-4000, Pentium G3xxx, Celeron G18xx|
|Ivy Bridge||April 2012||Core i3-/i5-/i7-3000, Pentium G2xxx, Celeron G16xx|
|Sandy Bridge||January 2011||Core i3-/i5-/i7-2000, Pentium Gxxx, Celeron Gxxx||not supported||not supported|
|Westmere||January 2010||Core i3-/i5-/i7-xxx, Pentium G69xx, Celeron G1101|
|PowerVR Series 8||February 2016||GE8200, GE8300||PowerVR Graphics SDK v4.1|
|PowerVR Series 7||November 2014||GE7400, GE7800, GT7200, GT7400, GT7600, GT7800, GT7900||Apple A9, A9X, A10 Fusion, Helio X30 (MT679?)|
|PowerVR Series 6||January 2012||G6100, G6200, G6230, G6400, G6430, G6630, RK3368, G6050, G6060, G6100 (XE), G6110, GX6240, GX6250, GX6450, GX6650||Apple A7, A8, A8X, MediaTek MT8173, MT8176, MediaTek MT6595M, MT6595T, MT6595M, MT6795, MT8135, Helio X10 (MT6795), LG H13, Atom Z3460, Z3480, Z3530, Z3560, Z3570, Z3580|
|PowerVR Series 5||January 2009||SGX543, SGX544, SGX554||Apple S1, A5, A5X, A6, A6X, NovaThor L8540, L8580, L9540, TI OMAP 4470, 5430, 5432, MediaTek MT5327, MT6589M, MT6589T, MT6589, MT8117, MT8121, MT8125, MT8389, Atom Z2460, Z2520, Z2560, Z2580, Z2760, Exynos 5410||not supported|
|Adreno 500 series||Adreno 510, Adreno 530||Snapdragon 430, 625, 650, 652, 820, 821||1.0|
|Adreno 400 series||Snapdragon 415, 615, 616, 617, 805, 808, 810||planned to be supported|
|Adreno 300 series||Snapdragon 200, 208, 210, 212, 400, 410, 412, 600, 800, 801||not supported|
|Bifrost||June 2016||Mali-G71, …||Kirin 960||1.0|
|Midgard 4th||Q4 2015||Mali-T860, Mali-T830, Mali-T880||Exynos 8890, Exynos 7870, Kirin 950, 955, MediaTek MT6738, MT6750, Helio X20 (MT6797), X25 (MT6797T), P10 (MT6755), P20 (MT6757)|
|Midgard 3rd||October 2013||Mali-T760, …||Exynos 7420, Exynos 5433, MT6752, MT6732, RK3288|
|Midgard 2nd||August 2012||Mali-T600 series, T720||Exynos 5250, 5260, 5410, 5420, 5422, 5430, 5800, 7580, Mediatek MT6735, MT6753, Kirin 920, 925, 930, 935||not supported|
- Direct3D – main competitor of Vulkan
- OpenGL – another graphics API by the Khronos Group
- OpenCL – a heterogeneous computing framework by the Khronos Group
- Mantle – a low-level graphics and compute API from AMD, the foundation of Vulkan
- Metal – a low-level graphics and compute API for iOS and macOS
- AMDGPU – AMD's fully open-source unified graphics driver for Linux
- Drivers so far have supported Windows 7 and later.
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