Vulkan SDK for Android 1.1.1 Mali Developer Center
Multisampling in Vulkan

This document will give you an introduction to efficiently use multisampling in Vulkan.

Multisampling in Vulkan with resolve attachments
Same quad, without multisampling
The source for this sample can be found in samples/multisampling in the SDK.


For this sample, we will look at how we can efficiently implement multisampled anti-aliasing (MSAA) on Mali GPUs the most efficient way. There are two main approaches we can choose from, where one alternative is dramatically better than the other.

We will base the sample on Rotating Texture so we can focus on the differences from rendering without MSAA to rendering with MSAA.

Rendering to Multisampled Texture, Resolving Later (slow)

The traditional way of doing multisampling is to first create a multisampled texture, render to it, then have an explicit "resolve" step. This is highly inefficient. To implement this, the GPU needs to write out a full 4xMSAA buffer, which is four times the size of a regular texture, then read it back to the GPU in order to resolve the final pixel values.

// Resolves a multisampled image to non-multisampled, but extremely expensive.
vkCmdResolveImage(cmd, srcImage, dstImage, ...);

It is highly recommended to avoid this path on Mali.

Resolving a transient multisampled texture to non-multisampled texture (optimal)

Vulkan exposes a fast path which takes full advantage of tiled architectures. On Mali, we can obtain 4xMSAA practically "free" (typically 1-2 % speed hit) by making use of resolve attachments in Vulkan.

Setting up the VkRenderpass

For multisampled rendering, we need to change how we set up our render pass. We will need two attachments, one multisampled texture, and one without.

VkAttachmentDescription attachments[2] = { { 0 } };
// This is the multisampled attachment we will render to.
// After resolving the texture, we do not need to preserve it, so use DONT_CARE for storeOp here.
attachments[0].format = format;
attachments[0].samples = VK_SAMPLE_COUNT_4_BIT;
attachments[0].loadOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_CLEAR;
// DONT_CARE is critical here, since it allows tile based renderers to completely avoid
// writing out the multisampled framebuffer to memory. This is a huge performance and bandwidth
// improvement.
attachments[0].storeOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_STORE_OP_DONT_CARE;
attachments[0].stencilLoadOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_DONT_CARE;
attachments[0].stencilStoreOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_STORE_OP_DONT_CARE;
// The image layout will be attachmentOptimal when we're executing the renderpass.
attachments[0].initialLayout = VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED;
// This is the backbuffer which we will resolve the multisampled image to.
attachments[1].format = format;
attachments[1].samples = VK_SAMPLE_COUNT_1_BIT;
// loadOp is meaningless here since we will resolve to it and never render to it.
attachments[1].loadOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_DONT_CARE;
attachments[1].storeOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_STORE_OP_STORE;
attachments[1].stencilLoadOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_LOAD_OP_DONT_CARE;
attachments[1].stencilStoreOp = VK_ATTACHMENT_STORE_OP_DONT_CARE;
// The image layout will be attachmentOptimal when we're executing the renderpass.
attachments[1].initialLayout = VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED;
attachments[1].finalLayout = VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_PRESENT_SRC_KHR;

It is critically important that we set up the storeOp correctly for the multisampled attachment. After resolve, there is no need why we should ever want to keep the multisampled data, so we set it to STORE_OP_DONT_CARE. This allows the driver to only keep the multisampled buffer on-tile instead of in main memory.

Now, we specify our subpass, we only have one subpass, but it will have two attachments. One color buffer, and one resolve buffer.

// We have one subpass.
// This subpass has 2 color attachments. First is multisampled, other is not.
VkAttachmentReference colorRef = { 0, VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_COLOR_ATTACHMENT_OPTIMAL };
VkAttachmentReference resolveRef = { 1, VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_COLOR_ATTACHMENT_OPTIMAL };
VkSubpassDescription subpass = { 0 };
subpass.pipelineBindPoint = VK_PIPELINE_BIND_POINT_GRAPHICS;
subpass.colorAttachmentCount = 1;
// At end of sub-pass, resolve the multisampled color to backbuffer.
subpass.pColorAttachments = &colorRef;
subpass.pResolveAttachments = &resolveRef;
// Finally, create the renderpass.
rpInfo.attachmentCount = 2;
rpInfo.pAttachments = attachments;
rpInfo.subpassCount = 1;
rpInfo.pSubpasses = &subpass;
VK_CHECK(vkCreateRenderPass(pContext->getDevice(), &rpInfo, nullptr, &renderPass));

Setting up the VkPipeline

In the VkPipeline, there aren't many changes. We need to specify that we are rendering with 4x multisampling.

// Render with 4x MSAA.
VkPipelineMultisampleStateCreateInfo multisample = { VK_STRUCTURE_TYPE_PIPELINE_MULTISAMPLE_STATE_CREATE_INFO };
multisample.rasterizationSamples = VK_SAMPLE_COUNT_4_BIT;
multisample.sampleShadingEnable = false;
multisample.alphaToCoverageEnable = false;
multisample.alphaToOneEnable = false;

Setting up the VkFramebuffers

When creating the framebuffers, we just have to include our multisampled texture. Note that multisampledRenderTarget comes first since we specified that attachment 0 was multisampled in VkRenderpass.

// Build the framebuffer.
fbInfo.renderPass = renderPass;
fbInfo.attachmentCount = 2;
const VkImageView attachments[] = { multisampledRenderTarget.view, backbuffer.view };
fbInfo.pAttachments = attachments;
fbInfo.width = width;
fbInfo.height = height;
fbInfo.layers = 1;
VK_CHECK(vkCreateFramebuffer(device, &fbInfo, nullptr, &backbuffer.framebuffer));

Creating a Transient, Lazily Allocated Texture

We know that we will never actually need to write to the multisampled texture. It will only live as a temporary entity while executing the render pass.

We can express this by using TRANSIENT_ATTACHMENT_BIT.

info.imageType = VK_IMAGE_TYPE_2D;
info.format = format;
info.extent.width = width;
info.extent.height = height;
info.extent.depth = 1;
info.mipLevels = 1;
info.arrayLayers = 1;
info.samples = VK_SAMPLE_COUNT_4_BIT;
// This image will only be used as a transient render target.
// Its purpose is only to hold the multisampled data before resolving the render pass.
info.initialLayout = VK_IMAGE_LAYOUT_UNDEFINED;
// Create texture.
VkImage image;
VkDeviceMemory memory;
VK_CHECK(vkCreateImage(device, &info, nullptr, &image));

When we allocate memory for this texture, we can choose a lazy allocation which only actually allocated memory for the texture when it's being written to (never).

alloc.allocationSize = memReqs.size;
// For multisampled attachments, we will want to use LAZILY allocated if such a type is available.
alloc.memoryTypeIndex =
findMemoryTypeFromRequirementsWithFallback(memReqs.memoryTypeBits, VK_MEMORY_PROPERTY_LAZILY_ALLOCATED_BIT);
VK_CHECK(vkAllocateMemory(device, &alloc, nullptr, &memory));
vkBindImageMemory(device, image, memory, 0);