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DX11 Debugging DX11 Shaders as a hobbyist.

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The new graphics debugging functionality in VS2012 sounds great, but you can't use it with VS2012 express. I won't be making money with my endeavors any time soon, and the family budget can't justify $500 for VS Pro just so Dad can mess around with computer graphics.

 

I'm trying to learn DirectX 11, and my very first shader code is drawing nothing. I'm not having any luck with PIX from the old June 2010 SDK, it crashes when I try to run my program with it, even though my program can run without PIX. (It's just not drawing properly.) DebugView, which was quite useful in DirectX9 debugging, doesn't seem to work either.

 

Is there a free way to debug DirectX 11 shaders on a Windows 7 platform?

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You can get far without spending any money on development software.

 

Concerning PIX: read here.  Luckily I was warned by that thread then and blocked that update. Hopefully you can uninstall (if that's actually the issue and solves it ;)

 

Debug output will only happen when you have used D3D11_CREATE_DEVICE_DEBUG at device creation (not entirely correct: The control panel lets you select apps explicitly, but I never used that, so I can't comment on that).

 

That thread made me finally look into alternative GPU debuggers: The only one that worked for me was Intel's GPA Frame analyzer (works great for my NVidia and is the only one apart from PIX that works with my C# stuff). NVidia and AMD have "their" debuggers, too (NSight, GPUPerfStudio).

 

Good luck. Shaders are fun, especially with D3D11.

 

Edit: Important: I'm still using VS Express 2010 and Win7 so use my uninstall-approach at your own risk.

Edited by unbird

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You can try your luck with GPU PerfStudio if you have an AMD GPU or Nsight if you have an Nvidia GPU, but I'll warn you that the overall experience isn't great with either of those tools.

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I didnt manage to make pix show shader SOURCE code using the new D3DCompileFromFile instead of june sdk D3DX11CompileFromFile (I have the windows sdk 8 installed on my windows 7), I gave up and turned back to the d3dx one.

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Does nsight have a stand alone version ? I thought it was integrated into visual studio which would require the pro version as express doesn't support add ons ? I've been using it myself recently and although its better than nothing, I still prefer pix a graphics debugger. Intel GPA is another alternative which might give you some info.

 

As for pix crashing, can you attach a debugger to the process to see why it crashes ? I had a pix crash last week which ended being causes by the app trying to create a SW or REF device. Apparently pix only works with a HAL device (This was d3d9 of course). 

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Ha! I uninstalled (KB2670838) and now PIX will run my app farther so that my window opens to a white client area, but instead of throwing an exception like it did before, the computer completely freezes up such that I have to do a hard reset. When I run the app by itself, I get my cornflower blue screen (so the screen clear is working, or seems to be working) and it remains responsive enough to shut down.

 

The thing is, this is my very first run of my very first dx11 application, and I'm sure I have many misconceptions. I was hoping I could find out what those misconceptions are through debugging. It's enormously hard to learn something when your tools are taken away. I don't understand why Microsoft would deduce that only professionals need to debug. I don't see myself progressing in this environment.

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Does nsight have a stand alone version ? I thought it was integrated into visual studio which would require the pro version as express doesn't support add ons ? I've been using it myself recently and although its better than nothing, I still prefer pix a graphics debugger.

Ah, true, forgot that. There's an NSight eclipse version coming with the CUDA Toolkit. Unfortunately that download alone is 1 Gb and my system partition is not capable of taking that load. Neither do I know if that is only working for CUDA stuff. Could anybody comment on that ?

As for pix crashing, can you attach a debugger to the process to see why it crashes ? I had a pix crash last week which ended being causes by the app trying to create a SW or REF device. Apparently pix only works with a HAL device (This was d3d9 of course).

Hmmm, IIRC you can force the REF device in PIX, but it will be terribly slow.

Ha! I uninstalled (KB2670838) and now PIX will run my app farther so that my window opens to a white client area, but instead of throwing an exception like it did before, the computer completely freezes up such that I have to do a hard reset. When I run the app by itself, I get my cornflower blue screen (so the screen clear is working, or seems to be working) and it remains responsive enough to shut down.
 
The thing is, this is my very first run of my very first dx11 application, and I'm sure I have many misconceptions. I was hoping I could find out what those misconceptions are through debugging. It's enormously hard to learn something when your tools are taken away. I don't understand why Microsoft would deduce that only professionals need to debug. I don't see myself progressing in this environment.

This is really painful if you're just starting out. Although PIX has some troubles with more advanced DX11 stuff and occasionally hiccups it's a bloody essential app.

After you've done your initial boilerplating you could at least read back textures/buffers and debug this way. But if you can't even render teh famous first triangle this is a vicious circle. I would be glad, too, if the graphics debugger became available for VS 2012 Express (until then, I probably wait with the install).

Also, have you tried the other stuff from the thread I linked (again: at your own risk) ? And also try running one or two from the SDK tutorials through PIX. Maybe you're really doing something so weird PIX would give up anyway.

Did you have at least success with the debug flag ? Feel free to show your code and debug messages, maybe we'll see something.

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Well, it's not exactly my first 3D graphics program, as I had some experience with dx9. For my first dx11 app I went for broke with some fairly complex bezier triangle instancing making full use of tessellation.

 

I'll have to work on it for a while, but my suspicion at this time is that I'm probably instancing something ad infinitum, creating massive amounts of debug data that PIX can't handle, while the stand alone program just gives up in a less dramatic fashion.   

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laugh.png Your first D3D11 app and you went straight for tesselation. Well, if that isn't bold.

As mentioned, PIX isn't of much use here. Well, it doesn't crash, but e.g. you can't debug these shaders.

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laugh.png Your first D3D11 app and you went straight for tesselation. Well, if that isn't bold.

As mentioned, PIX isn't of much use here. Well, it doesn't crash, but e.g. you can't debug these shaders.

I've never actually been able to get PIX to debug any shader even in the dx9 days. It always had crazy bugs that changed after every update. Still, it was useful just to see what the vertex streams were composed of. I'm quite sure that my vertex buffers aren't how I am imagining they ought to be. Staring at my code and waiting for an epiphany is discouraging, but I already found a couple of bugs that way.

 

I'm frustrated because PIX currently ends my computer session without any kind of error message, and without PIX my CPU code steps through fine and each frame appears to make it to the draw call. BTW I am also using C# with SharpDX.

Edited by cephalo

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Well, I admit, though the shader debugging works with my PIX, I rarely use it. Never found it particularly useful. I rather put some "logging" into my shaders by outputting a debug value. This is easy for pixel shaders. For others you have to pass them along first (maybe with an additional semantic).

Checking the streams on the other hand is useful indeed. How about geometry shader stream out and read back through staging ? Are you familiar with that?

I use SlimDX, but you really should give Intel's GPA Frame Analyzer a shot. At least the input stream is viewable - you can even look at the geometry with an arcball camera. Edited by unbird

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It is an unfortunate situation...  Are you able to run the program from your VS IDE?  If so, do you get any error messages or anything like that?  And do you have the debug layer of the device being used???

 

To prove that your system isn't messed up, you could try downloading the Hieroglyph 3 project and running the 'BasicTessellation' demo.  That will tell you if the problem is coming from your program or if it is something systemic on your machine.

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Ok, I brought this setup to my home computer, and it works! PIX is working here. Unfortunately, all the vertex data looks fine too, both on the input and after the instancing. I wonder what the deal was with my work computer?

 

Anyway, I'm not sure why I'm only seeing the cleared background. I may have some render state set wrong or have the wrong primitive chosen. My bezier triangle has 10 control points, so I'm using PrimitiveTopology.PatchListWith10ControlPoints because it seems right, but in PIX on the mesh tab I'm not seeing triangles, only points. Obviously if you draw points without setting any size, you aren't likely to see anything.

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Also, something that is very simple but that helped me a lot in debugging the actual shader code... Have a way to recompile your shaders during run-time.  This has really saved me a lot of time, especially since reloading resources at the beginning of the application takes quite a long time.  Now I can make tweaks within my shaders without having to restart the whole app.

 

I know it's pretty trivial, but it really increased my productivity.

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Any news on this yet? I'm using express edition on windows 8 and can't uninstall the update. This sucks.

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Nothing has changed yet. Your only option for your first DirectX 11 app is to hope that you can see something on the first run. If you don't, there are many things that could prevent things from being visible, and without a debugger, its like feeling your way out of a dark cave and hope you aren't miles away from daylight. Not impossible, but highly unpleasant and time consuming.

 

It's a bad time to start learning DirectX.

Edited by cephalo

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I've found intels GPA to be a suitable replacement. I recently moved from x9 to x11 and although i had to go right back to a simple triangle to get anything on screen, i was able to debug the issues i had. After that i was able to bring back most if not all of my frameworks capabilities within a week or so.

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That's a good tip Burnt_Fyr. I tried it myself unsuccessfully, but I think it's because I'm using some features from DX 11.1.

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