from geometry to pixels

Low-Level GPU Documentation

While programming graphics applications means programming against an API that abstracts us from the actual hardware (OpenGL, Direct3D), it can still be interesting to dig a bit deeper. Having a good understanding of the hardware (and its limitations!) can help you optimizing your code but also understanding limits of the API. Or maybe you’re just curious what happens below your API calls.

This is a growing collection of (mostly) low-level documentation of GPUs I stumbled across. First sorted by vendor, then roughly by the hardware release / generation (newest chips at the bottom). To get a rough feeling of the chips feature set, I tried to add the highest supported OpenGL version, 4.2+ means that this chips will probably support also newer, not yet defined OpenGL versions.

Note 1: Fabian ‘ryg’ Giesen wrote some very good articles about the graphics pipeline named “A trip through the Graphics Pipeline 2011” (don’t mix that up with “A trip down the graphics pipeline” by Jim Blinn). He describes what goes on in an average DX11 graphics card from your program, API, driver down to the bare metal. You might want to read these articles first before you want to look up the specifics of certain chips below.

Note 2: If all you are interested is writing better shader code by understanding the hardware better, the talk “Low-Level Thinking in High-Level Shading Languages” given by Emil Persson (aka Humus) at GDC 2013 is a great start.



R300 register listing (2002, e.g. ATI Radeon 9800, OpenGL 2.0)

ATI Radeon X1950 and others, ca. 2005, OpenGL 2.0:

ATI Radeon HD 2900 and others, ca. 2006, OpenGL 3.3:

ATI Radeon HD 3800/4800, ca 2008, OpenGL 3.3:

Heterogeneous Computing OpenCL and the ATI Radeon HD 5870 Architecture – Starting on slide 47 is a high level introduction of the ‘Evergreen’ / ‘Southern Islands’ Architecture

AMD Radeon HD 69xx, 2010, OpenGL 4.2:

AMD Accelerated Parallel Processing OpenCL Programming Guide (OpenCL guides often give useful informations about the GPUs that can be used, same is true for CUDA guides!)

AMD Radeon HD 7xxx, codename Southern Islands (aka Graphics Cores Next, GCN, 2011, e.g. AMD 7970, OpenGL 4.2+):

Description of the HDA  Audio on Radeon GPUs – updated as a pdf here.

AMD Radeon HD 8xxx, (GCN Generation 3, codename Volcanic Islands):

NVidia GPUs:

NVIDIA GeForce 7 Programming Guide

G80 Programming Guide High-Level documentation targeted at graphics programmers (2006, e.g. GeForce 8800, OpenGL 3.3)
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GPU Architecture Overview


Fermi Whitepaper (2010, e.g. GeForce 580, OpenGL 4.2)


Kepler Whitepaper (2012, e.g. GeForce 680, OpenGL 4.2+)
Kepler GK110 Compute Whitepaper (2012, CUDA focussed)

Device Control Block 4.0 Specification.


NVidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti Whitepaper

NVidia GeForce GTX 980 Whitepaper (GM204)

General information:

Low level linux tools to inspect the binary NV drivers

NV GPU docs and wiki by the open source community.


Intel GPUs:

Intel 965 (OpenGL 1.x) ( |

Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3000 and 3000 White Paper

GMA X4500 (Intel G45 chipset, OpenGL 3) ( |

Intel HD (2010 Core™ i7/i5/i3) (

Sandybridge (Intel HD 2000 / HD 3000, OpenGL 3.2) ( |

Ivy Bridge (Intel HD 2500 / HD 4000, OpenGL 4.0) (

Intel Haswell (2013 Intel HD 4400 / HD 4600 / Intel Iris Pro 5200, OpenGL 4.x) (


PowerVR MBX Tile-based rendering architecture overview (ImgTec MBX, OpenGL ES 1.1)
PowerVR SGX Architecture Guide for Developers (ImgTec SGX, OpenGL ES 2.0)
PowerVR performance recommendations (ImgTec SGX, OpenGL ES 2.0)
Various Graphics documents by ImgTec

The PowerVR SDK contains some architecture guides and whitepapers.


Other GPUs:

The Broadcom VideoCore IV as used in the Raspberry PI gets reverse engineered. Broadcom also published the specifications for VideoCore IV.

If you’re interested in a little history lesson, Texas Instruments has the specs for its TSM34010 microprocessor still online – this was the first programmable graphics processor (but a quite unsuccessful one) from 1985. The Wikipedia has some more general information about it.

VIA Chrome 9, a Direct3D 9 GPU

The Mali 400 reverse engineered open source drivers have some documentation.

Other collections / sources:

AMD OpenGPU Docs Docs Mirrors a lot of the specs listed above.

More development oriented collection:

AMD Radeon SDK