Microsoft has announced that a new version of DirectStorage will be released to game developers before the end of 2022, and it will come with an important step forward in terms of speeding up load times with SSDs.
As you may know, DirectStorage is the feature first seen on Xbox that brings faster load times – and better performance when loading game assets in major open-world titles – and first arrived on Windows PCs in March. .
What Microsoft has now revealed (opens in new tab) (tip of hat to Tom’s Hardware (opens in new tab)) is that DirectStorage 1.1, a new version with built-in GPU decompression technology, will be here very soon. Although there aren’t any games that benefit from this yet (yet – we’ll come back to this obviously quite crucial point).
Microsoft has already told us that DirectStorage (DS) will produce a reduction in load times of up to 40% – for games on fast NVMe SSDs running on Windows 11 – and this new piece of the DS puzzle, GPU Decompression, will offer something in order to triple load time performance, the company promises.
Typically, decompression (of compressed game assets, which need to be smaller due to their hefty size) is performed by the CPU, but what Microsoft is doing is offloading this heavy lifting directly to the GPU.
Microsoft explains, “Graphics cards are extremely efficient at performing repeatable tasks in parallel, and we can utilize this feature along with the bandwidth of a high-speed NVMe drive to do more work at once.”
In a Microsoft demo, the company illustrated that when DirectStorage is running with GPU decompression, compared to traditional CPU decompression, “scenes are loading nearly 3x faster and the CPU is almost fully freed up for use in other game processes”. (In this demo, the processor only had 15% maximum usage, by the way, compared to 100% usage when the DS was not being used).
Now keep in mind that this is a handpicked and ‘highly optimized’ (in Microsoft’s own words) demo, but it certainly promises some seriously hefty gains in general, which should see games that support loading – and running DirectStorage – much more smoothly all -round.
Review: Forspoken is unfortunately not available (yet)
It’s worth noting that while DirectStorage is made with super-fast NVMe SSDs in mind, it will still work with slower SSDs (and indeed hard drives, to an extent); but the effect will not be so pronounced. Storage acceleration technology will also work well on Windows 10 machines, but Windows 11 offers advancements on the storage optimization front, which again will mean the DS delivers more impact. (Also, you need a contemporary GPU for the DS to work, i.e. one that supports DX12 and Shader Model 6).
The main problem is still that, despite the work on DirectStorage going on well, there are still no PC games that really support the technology. We were supposed to be getting the first game to show off the DS this month, Forspoken, but it’s been pushed back to January 2023 (and it’s been pushed back before that, which is a little disappointing).
That said, it’s still just a few months to go – assuming there are no more hiccups – but even so, it’s just a game. It will undoubtedly be some time before broader support is adopted among PC game developers, but when it is, it could become a compelling reason to upgrade to Windows 11 for gamers (and an equally good reason to get one). NVMe SSD for those who haven’t yet made the leap to the storage front).