The Graphics Pipeline in Hardware
The rendering pipeline is mapped onto current graphics acceleration hardware such that the input to the graphics card (GPU) is in the form of vertices. These vertices then undergo transformation and per-vertex lighting. At this point in modern GPU pipelines a custom vertex shader program can be used to manipulate the 3D vertices prior to rasterization. Once transformed and lit, the vertices undergo clipping and rasterization resulting in fragments. A second custom shader program can then be run on each fragment before the final pixel values are output to the frame buffer for display.
The graphics pipeline is well suited to the rendering process because it allows the GPU to function as a stream processor since all vertices and fragments can be thought of as independent. This allows all stages of the pipeline to be used simultaneously for different vertices or fragments as they work their way through the pipe. In addition to pipelining vertices and fragments, their independence allows graphics processors to use parallel processing units to process multiple vertices or fragments in a single stage of the pipeline at the same time.
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