When It Comes to Gaming, Embedded GPUs are No Gamble
Gaming hardware vendors and purchasers must understand the implications of hardware that is implemented in their gaming machines.”
Electronic gaming machines provide an important revenue stream for most casinos, offering a combination of entertainment and enticement with mass appeal. Despite the significance of these machines to the bottom line, many gaming operators don’t put a lot of thought into the embedded hardware that goes into these systems, or the potential ramifications for their business. What’s under the hood of these machines matters, sometimes in unexpected ways.
The first criterion any successful electronic gaming machine must deliver on is entertainment. A game’s content is the most important factor in a machine’s ability to stimulate players. While keeping players engaged is important, eye-catching graphics are what draw players to a machine in the first place.
Ambitious Game Design
Casino gaming developers are sharpening their competitive edges and getting to market faster with highly differentiated, visually thrilling gaming systems that attract, retain, and delight casino gamers. Beginning with the early era of single-screen games, the gaming experience has evolved to include high-definition displays and in-game video playback, and onward to 3D graphics, multi-display configurations, and 4K resolution. Where once digital casino gaming was confined to only slot machines, today it encompasses digital poker, roulette, and much more.
Cutting-edge technologies have transformed the digital gaming experience, supporting the latest and most ambitious casino game design requirements, enabling enticing, visually stunning gaming experiences, with features that today include full 4K multimedia processing support, and multiple video and 3D acceleration. These new interactive, multimedia-rich digital gaming systems require strong compute and graphics performance.
Multi-display graphics support has emerged as a must-have feature for digital casino gaming systems, enhancing players’ immersion in the gaming experience with overhead visuals and/or panoramic ‘surround sight’ screen configurations that could include from one to 10 displays for single or multi-player gaming. This one-computer-to-many-display architecture requires an embedded processing platform that can keep pace with the corresponding increase in graphics performance demands, incorporating high-speed graphics cores capable of driving multiple screens in high resolution while maintaining high frames-per-second performance during video decode.
The system’s graphics processing unit (GPU) is the engine that makes this possible. Every modern gaming system with a display has some kind of GPU embedded within. Machines with low to moderately complex graphics may use integrated graphics units. Higher-end machines typically use a discrete GPU, able to drive greater overall system performance. GPUs and complementary, high-performance displays are key to maintaining the visual edge that distinguishes successful gaming machines.
Another critical feature of a gaming machine is reliability, as a downed machine equates to lost revenue. As is the case with many other types of computer equipment, common points of failure for gaming machines are mechanical devices like hard drives and fans. Leading equipment manufacturers have helped solve these problems by adopting solid-state media and using larger, high-reliability fans with long life spans to help avoid failures. Choosing an equipment vendor involves understanding the vendor’s design choices and how these choices affect system reliability.
Despite the reliability concerns, some equipment vendors continue to try to trim costs by using off-the-shelf hardware designed for PCs. This practice is more common with GPU-based PC graphics cards than any other component type. The issue is that PCs typically have a different set of reliability requirements than embedded applications like casino gaming machines. In addition, PC technology turns over quickly, and most people use their PCs for only a percentage of the day. Using such a device in a casino gaming system running 24 hours per day, every day would quickly consume its intended life cycle. When considering the lost revenue of a downed machine and the cost of the impending service call, the total cost of one failure can far outweigh any savings achieved with low-cost graphics cards.
GPU vendors like AMD have addressed many of these problems by offering specialized products specifically for embedded markets like digital gaming. The first big difference is power consumption. Embedded discrete GPUs tend to fall in the 25-35 watt power range, while mainstream graphics cards for desktop PCs are typically in the 30-75 watt range. Operating at lower power levels can help keep machines cooler, enabling fans to either run at low speeds or eliminating fans altogether. Lower power consumption also reduces electricity consumed. Each of these benefits adds to the cumulative cost savings over the life of the system, which may seem small individually, but can make a big impact in large-scale deployment.
Gaming hardware vendors and purchasers must understand the implications of hardware that is implemented in their gaming machines. After all, this equipment represents a significant investment in their business that can directly impact overall revenue. Cutting corners is a gamble with potentially high risk.
In addition to advanced processing platforms, development tools are just as important, helping speed time to market and enabling high-performance, low-power use, and easy content management.
Some would view the thousands of mobile gaming applications at our fingertips as a threat to the casino gaming industry. However, high-tech casino gaming systems can transcend the entertainment experiences that commercial in-home and mobile gaming systems provide, delivering an extraordinary visual spectacle that will entice the next generation of gamers out of the comfort of their homes and into the casino, giving them a visceral digital gaming experience that defies their expectations and surpasses their imaginations.
Looking forward, embedded systems designers are exploring the future of sophisticated next-generation digital gaming features including gesture control and player facial recognition.
Stay tuned for the latest updates in casino gaming technology, which exhibitors will reveal at the fifteenth annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas later this month.
Mitchel Furman is the Senior Vertical Manager for Electronic Gaming Machines at AMD. Prior to his current role, he was Senior Product Manager of Discrete GPUs at AMD. Furman has more than 15 years of experience creating, launching and managing new product lines in a wide range of industries.