Blender 3.0 Goes to the Next Level with AMD GPU Support

by Render Pool

February 5, 2022

Blender 3.0 released in December 2021 and is still expecting to receive many more improvements in the coming months, but one of the biggest announcements in its development cycle has so far been the deprecation of the OpenCL device for its physically-based ray-tracing (calculations of light behavior simulation) rendering engine Cycles X (originally referred to as Cycles). With its demise comes a new GPU rendering device built from the ground up for AMD users in HIP. However, before getting into that, we should talk a bit about what came before it.

What Is CUDA?

CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) is a parallel programming platform released in 2007. The platform, built by NVIDIA, uses a language similar to the C-based language used for multipurpose applications, as well as for developing software used in graphic processing, obviously necessary for rendering. In the past, Blender used this device as an alternative to CPU rendering and though effective, it was designed exclusively for NVIDIA-built GPUs.

What Is OpenCL?

Earlier versions of Blender’s flagship render engine Cycles also supported internal rendering using OpenCL (Open Computing Language) framework, an open industry standard C-based GPU programming language that allows compatible devices, either NVIDIA or AMD, to run all kinds of operations, including local rendering. At the time of its inception, it was quite impressive, though a bit slow and less polished than CUDA.

What Is OptiX?

With Blender 2.81’s release back in 2019, NVIDIA did it again with its implementation of the OptiX ray-tracing API engine for Cycles, no longer using CUDA’s backend and providing even faster speeds in GPU-accelerated ray-tracing rendering; faster speeds of 60–80 percent, according to users.

Again, because it was designed by NVIDIA, it was exclusive to RTX and GTX graphics card users only, giving them that much more leverage over the competition.

Already running circles around OpenCL, and with AMD users relying more on CPU rather than GPU-accelerated power, something needed to be done to level the playing field. OptiX set a standard that OpenCL could not match, which was ultimately deprecated from Blender’s development pipeline after 2.9x.

Introducing the HIP Device

As time went on, and hardware capability and software capacity improved, the Blender Development team began working closely with AMD in developing and refining an even faster, even more effective Cycles render device that could be used by AMD graphics cards. Utilizing a compiled baseline consisting of OpenCL code, CPU, and CUDA rendering code, Blender 3.0 sees the fruit of their labor implemented in what is now known as HIP.

HIP (Heterogeneous-computing Interface for Portability) is an open-source C++ runtime API/kernel language that allows for cross-platform graphics processing (i.e., rendering) for AMD as well as NVIDIA GPUs.

According to AMD Product Manager and Software Development Manager Brian Savery:

“In short, with Cycles X, they were looking for a way to compile a single codebase that could be used on all the different devices Cycles can render on, including AMD graphics cards.”

Blender 3.0 and its inherit Cycles engine is currently capable of functioning with AMD Radeon and RDNA-based graphics cards with Windows, as well as Linux support in the future. According to AMD, the following GPUs are capable of successfully running rendering in Blender using the HIP rendering device:

  • AMD Radeon PRO W6800
  • AMD Radeon 6900 XT
  • AMD Radeon 6800 XT
  • AMD Radeon 6800
  • AMD Radeon 6700 XT
  • AMD Radeon 6600 XT
  • AMD Radeon 6600

How to Set Your Cycles Engine to HIP

By opening Blender, and going to your Preferences located at the bottom of the Edit Menu, you should be able to locate the Cycles Render Devices in your System submenu to the left. From there, simply select the HIP button, and you will have successfully set your render device to HIP.

The Future of HIP

Though originally, support with AMD for Blender 3.0 was exclusive to Windows, the landscape for AMD and Blender’s partnership will continue to expand with guaranteed AMD HIP support for Linux in Blender 3.2 after some refinement delays are resolved. It is expected to be publicly released by March 2022.

If you are having difficulty with your personal setup using Blender, or just need some assistance in rendering your scene in Cycles, Render Pool can give you the support you need to bring your work to life without any hassle and without having to install extra drivers. Take a look and try for yourself. Happy rendering!