There’s a lot of hype surrounding DirectStorage, a new feature developers can use to eliminate loading times and improve the overall experience for gamers. But what is DirectStorage and will it live up to the rumours?
In this article, we’ll discuss what DirectStorage is, how it works, and how you can use it on Windows 11.
What is Microsoft’s DirectStorage?
DirectStorage is a feature included in the latest DirectX 12 iterations and is designed to enhance the gaming experience by accessing the full capabilities of newer generation SSDs. DirectStorage was originally developed for the Xbox Series consoles, but is now available on Windows 11 and 10.
How does DirectStorage work?
Simply put, DirectStorage allows newer GPUs to receive game data faster by now skipping unnecessary paths and using faster technology, resulting in nearly instant loading times.
When a game currently requests data (such as textures, audio, or models) from system storage, a storage API retrieves the data and moves it to the system’s Random Access Memory (RAM). From here it is passed to the VRAM of the graphics processing unit (GPUs) to be displayed for display.
This data is compressed to save space on your hard drive. The problem is that GPUs generally cannot read compressed data. So before being sent to the GPU, the data is decompressed by your Central Processing Unit (CPU).
This is what the process currently looks like:
The downside of this process is that decompression takes a long time and bottlenecks the CPU, meaning it’s unavailable for tasks that require the GPU. This means longer game load times and lower frame rates.
DirectStorage is an Application Programming Interface (API) for low-level storage with brand new GPU decompression techniques to move the decompression work from the CPU to the GPU. This means that the CPU is completely bypassed and the GPU can quickly receive large streams of compressed data.
DirectStorage also uses the newer NVMe SSDsenabling much faster data transfer rates than older storage devices.
Previous APIs were written only to handle a limited amount of data: one in/out (IO) access at a time, usually in large chunks. DirectStorage enables many parallel IO requests, increasing efficiency by transferring only the data necessary for each scene or level. Essentially, DirectStorage optimizes IO performance for the massive bandwidth available in NVMe drives.
What are the system requirements for Windows 11?
Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S consoles Deploy DirectStorage natively. It was included as part of the Velocity Architecture and therefore games must be installed on the Xbox SSD.
However, Windows 10 and 11 operating systems have specific hardware requirements to run DirectStorage.
The hardware requirements for DirectStorage are:
- You must use a PCIe 3.0 NVMe drive of at least 1 TB. This is the current communication protocol for SSDs (replacing the previous SATA interfaces). NVMe SSDs can achieve much faster speeds because they are connected directly to the CPU through a PCIe interface. PCIe 4.0 provides the best results.
- You must have a DirectX 12 Ultimate GPU with at least Shader Model 6.0 support. This includes the NVIDIA RTX 20xx series and above and the AMD graphics cards with RDNA 2 chips.
Enable DirectStorage on Windows 11
DirectStorage is an API included in Xbox Series consoles, Windows 11 and Windows 10 version 1909 and later. This means that it is already enabled on these systems, but cannot be used unless you meet the system requirements and the game developers implement the API.
If you meet the requirements, your PC games should run better than ever. Forspoken (developed by Luminous Productions) may be the first game with DirectStorage support and is expected to be released in October 2022.
A new era of gaming
Every year new developments push the boundaries of what is possible in terms of graphics and game performance. The new DirectStorage storage stack optimizations should push the boundaries for video games even further. But to see exactly what this looks like in practice, we’ll have to wait until October.