Lest there was any doubt, AMD announced in a blog post that its upcoming RDNA 2 graphics architecture "will provide full support for DirectX 12 Ultimate," which includes a variety of visual tools for game developers. Among them is an update to Microsoft's DirectX Raytracing (DXR) API used for real-time ray tracing.
There's a bit to unpack here, so I'll start with RDNA 2. AMD introduced its RDNA graphics architecture with Navi, the GPU that powers its Radeon RX 5000 series on desktops and mobile. It's built on a cutting edge 7-nanometer manufacturing process, the same node AMD is using for its latest generation Ryzen CPUs (Zen 2).
RDNA 2 is the next iteration of Navi. Typically, new and updated GPU architectures offer faster performance and better power efficiency than the ones they replace, and I fully expect that to be the case with RDNA 2. Additionally, RDNA 2 will introduce hardware-based support for real-time ray tracing. At present, only Nvidia's GeForce RTX cards and GPUs offer dedicated hardware to handle ray-traced visuals (technically, some of Nvidia's GeForce GTX cards also support ray tracing, but it's entirely software based and not feasible in most games).
RDNA 2 is what will underpin the custom graphics cores in Microsoft's Xbox Series X and Sony's PlayStation 5 consoles, both due out towards the end of the year. AMD has already confirmed it will be launching an RDNA 2 graphics solution on the PC later this year, but has not yet announced a release date or provided any detailed specifications.
On the software side, DX12 Ultimate is the newest application programming interface (API) from Microsoft, developed in concert with AMD and Nvidia. This is what allows developers to communicate with your hardware. DX12 Ultimate is not a revamping of DirectX, but a collection of updated tools and technologies, and the next version of DirectX Raytracing is one of them.
"DXR adds a new level of graphics realism to video games previously only available in movies, and AMD has collaborated with Microsoft on the design of DXR 1.1, an update to DXR that can deliver better efficiency and performance in many ray tracing effects," AMD says.
Part of Microsoft's goal with DX12 Ultimate is to unify experiences across the PC and the Xbox Series X. Microsoft is also attempting to future proof graphics hardware as much as possible, at least as it pertains to the features supported. If you buy a graphics card with the DX12 Ultimate badge, it denotes support for all of the graphics technologies that will be relevant for the next several years.
Right now, the GeForce RTX line is the only DX12 Ultimate option, but as AMD has confirmed, it's next-gen Radeon cards will join the fray.