DirectStorage 1.1 with GPU Compression improves game loading significantly
Microsoft announced in 2020 that the DirectStorage API would come to its Windows operating system. DirectStorage, which debuted on Microsoft's Xbox console, promises faster loading times by reducing CPU overhead and increasing IO throughput.
First thought to be a Windows 11 exclusive, Microsoft revealed a year later that DirectStorage would also find its way on PCs running Windows 10. The company released the first stable version of the DirectStorage API for Windows in March 2022.
DirectStorage requires that games are installed on fast NVMe drives, as the benefit of the technology is the largest in this case. Gamers may still see loading improvements on slower hard drives, but not nearly as much.
Microsoft offered a sneak peek of the upcoming DirectStorage 1.1 API for Windows yesterday. One of the main new features of the updated API is support for GPU decompression.
GPU decompression promises faster loading times by moving decompression processes from the CPU to the GPU. Most compression algorithms have been optimized for CPUs in the past, and the majority of games uses CPUs for decompression tasks currently.
With DirectStorage 1.1 comes the option to move the decompression tasks to the GPU. Microsoft created "a highly optimized sample" to benchmark the loading of assets using the CPU and GPU. According to Microsoft, GPU decompression improved the loading time almost by the factor 3. An additional benefit is the dropping of the CPU load during the tasks.
Translated into real-world numbers, the decompression time was reduced from 2.36 to 0.80 seconds, and the CPU load dropped from 100% to 15.08%. The gains are promising, but independent verification is needed.
Windows gamers do need to understand that values may differ depending on the hardware of their devices.
DirectStorage games are compatible with Windows 10 and Windows 11 according to Microsoft, but Windows 11's implementation features further optimizations not available on Windows 10. Games that use the new API will see decompression improvements, which will translate to faster loading times.
As far as required hardware is concerned. The new GPU decompression feature requires a DirectX 12 capable GPU supporting Shader Model 6.0. To benefit from faster loading times in general, Microsoft recommends fast NVMe SSD storage devices and saving games on them.
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