Fractal Architect 4 render engine

The Fractal Architect 4 render engine, given robust, quality drivers, has worked on all versions of Mac OS (except partially on High Sierra because of driver problems). AMD, Nvidia, and Intel GPUs all can be used. It supports CUDA  and OpenCL.

The Apple CPU OpenCL driver has always worked over the last 7 years, so when the GPU drivers are defective, users can still use the app with CPU rendering.

Nvidia GPUs and CUDA are also supported (but not in the FA 4 Mac App store version because of app sandboxing) on both Mac OS and Windows 10.

It has  been ported to Windows 10 and there it also works with AMD and Nvidia GPUS.  Intel GPUs worked with 1 version of Intel’s OpenCL drivers but not with a later OpenCL driver update. (So the Windows platform is also affected by driver quality issues.)

Intel’s OpenCL driver for CPU on Windows 10 does not work with the FA 4 render engine.

The render engine is a fantastic test case for GPU compute and can be used by OpenCL and CUDA driver developers to validate the quality of their drivers. The render engine itself is open source and licensed with LGPL license.

FAEngine – FA 4 Open Source Render Engine

The app itself is even easier to use for driver quality testing on Mac OS. Metal is supported by the app (but not in the open source render engine).

Earlier versions of the render engine have worked on all versions of Mac OS since 2009.

Fractal Software is made by Indie Hobbyists

Let’s make sure that is understood. There has never been a commercially successful product in this app category.

Right now, myself and Andreas Maschke are the most active developers in the flame fractal app category. I am the author of Fractal Architect. Andreas is the developer of JWildfire. Both our products are huge, with multiple man years of development. (For FA, it is 9 man years.) I receive testing support from Lennart Ostman, for which I am deeply grateful.

That gives the illusion of a huge team creating these products, but it is just 2 hobbyists doing what we love best. We do it for love, as I have never been paid a single cent for my time. I receive no financial support to produce this product. All test hardware is paid using app revenues. (The remainder I pay out of my own pocket.)

Fractal Architect 5 (in development) is about 3x larger than the historic Photoshop 1 when it was first released 27 years ago.

So when you expect Facebook pages, forums, blog, and tons of support, we are not Adobe with billions in revenue and 1000’s of employees. Remember I make NO money from this app.

All app revenues pays for test hardware – nothing else.

Is it time to remove GPU rendering support from the app?

Let’s face it. Apple has done a terrible job producing reliable drivers for OpenCL and Metal compute shaders. Each Mac OS update brings the terror of: Did Apple kill the drivers this time?

Since March 2017, the state of OpenCL drivers for AMD GPUs has been: Unusable

Either the app crashes or you get a total system lockup with OpenCL AMD rendering. (late 2016 MacBook Pro with AMD GPU)

With about 100 different Mac configurations released in the last 6 years that have GPUs, your results will probably be very different.

For the 5 previous years, the AMD OpenCL drivers had been rock solid.

Fractal Architect is the “Rosetta Stone” for GPU compute testing. It allows you to easily switch render devices between OpenCL, Metal, and CUDA. It allows you to check their LLVM compilers for their ability to compile the extremely complex kernels used by the app.

It allows you to profile and compare performance between devices and between different Mac models.

But supporting GPU rendering is very expensive. Guess who pays for all of the test Macs?

The revenue base to support this GPU support feature is tiny.  Flame fractal apps are a micro niche. To date (since 2009) the entire revenue from the app goes toward buying test hardware and nothing else !

This year, because of driver quality problems, worldwide sales of the app are now so low that I can only buy 1 test Mac every 3 years. I cant test the app on a current generation AMD GPU on a low end MacBook Air. I can’t test next years AMD GPU on last year’s Mac.

So should:

A) GPU rendering be removed from the app as test hardware is cost prohibitive?

or B) should it be left in because it will probably work with fixed drivers on future GPUs?

Perma-Broke Apple AMD OpenCL Drivers

Its now 7 months of broken OpenCL drivers for the AMD GPU in the late 2016 Touch Bar MacBook Pro. (Since Sierra 10.12.4. Affects all builds of High Sierra.)

Metal drivers work correctly for the Mac’s AMD GPU, but some fractals (10 to 20%) render incorrectly. So I don’t recommend Metal as an alternative.  (Note: this incorrect render output is a new problem. Older Metal driver versions did not have this problem. The drivers in Q1 2017 worked so well. Now it is Q4 2017.

The legacy of Apple’s unusable GPU compute drivers goes on and on.