Twilight of the GPU - back to CPU rendering

Tim Sweeney, co-founder of Epic Games and the brains behind every iteration of the widely licensed Unreal series of 3D game engines, [...] predicted that rendering would eventually return to the CPU. Take a 1999 interview with Gamespy, for instance, in which he lays out the future timeline for the development of 3D game rendering that has turned out to be remarkably prescient in hindsight:

2006-7: CPU's become so fast and powerful that 3D hardware will be only marginally beneficial for rendering, relative to the limits of the human visual system, therefore 3D chips will likely be deemed a waste of silicon (and more expensive bus plumbing), so the world will transition back to software-driven rendering. And, at this point, there will be a new renaissance in non-traditional architectures such as voxel rendering and REYES-style microfacets, enabled by the generality of CPU's driving the rendering process. If this is a case, then the 3D hardware revolution sparked by 3dfx in 1997 will prove to only be a 10-year hiatus from the natural evolution of CPU-driven rendering.

Sweeney was off by at least two years, but otherwise it appears more and more likely that he'll turn out to be correct about the eventual return of software rendering and the death of the GPU as a fixed-function coprocessor.


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