Microsoft has announced that a new version of DirectStorage will go to game developers before the end of 2022, and it will be a significant step forward in terms of accelerating load times with SSDs.
As you may know, DirectStorage is the feature first seen on Xbox that provides faster loading times — and better performance when loading game items in major open world titles — and it first came to Windows PCs. in March.
What Microsoft Has Revealed Now (opens in new tab) (hat tip for Tom’s Hardware) (opens in new tab)) is that DirectStorage 1.1, a new version with built-in GPU decompression technology, will be available very soon. Although there are still no games that benefit from it (yet – we’ll come back to this obviously rather crucial point).
Microsoft already told us that DirectStorage (DS) will reduce load times by 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 the order of a tripling of load time performance, the company promises.
Normally, decompression (of compressed game items, which must be made smaller due to their hefty size) is done by the CPU, but what Microsoft does is transfer this grunt work directly to the GPU.
Microsoft explains, “Graphics cards are extremely efficient at running repeatable tasks in parallel, and we can use that capability along with the bandwidth of a fast NVMe drive to do more work at once.”
In a Microsoft demo, the company illustrated that when DirectStorage is run with GPU decompression, compared to traditional CPU decompression, “scenes load nearly 3x faster and the CPU is almost completely freed up to be used for other gaming processes.” (In that demo, by the way, the processor only saw 15% max usage, compared to 100% usage when DS wasn’t used).
Keep in mind that this is a cherry-picked and ‘highly optimized’ demo (in Microsoft’s own words), but it certainly promises some seriously solid gains overall, making games that support – and run – DirectStorage loading much smoother all-round.
Analysis: Unfortunately, Forspoken is not (yet) released
It’s worth noting that, while DirectStorage was created with super-fast NVMe SSDs in mind, it will still work with slower SSDs (and indeed hard drives, to some degree); but the effect will not be nearly as pronounced. The storage speed technology also works great on Windows 10 machines, but Windows 11 brings advancements in storage optimization, which again means DS has more impact. (You also need a modern GPU to run DS, so one with DX12 and Shader Model 6 support).
The main catch is still that, despite the work on DirectStorage going well, there are still no PC games that actually support the technology. We were supposed to get the first game DS to show this month, Forspoken, but it’s been delayed until January 2023 (and was already put back before, so that’s a bit disappointing).
That said, it’s only a few months away – assuming there are no further hitches – but even then it’s only one game. It will no doubt be a while before wider support is adopted by PC game developers, but if it does, it could become a compelling reason to upgrade to Windows 11 for gamers (and equally a good reason to NVMe SSD for those who haven’t made the leap on the storage front yet).