Friday, July 19, 2024

What is DirectStorage?

Key Takeaways

  • DirectStorage is a Microsoft technology that improves game loading times by optimizing data flow and moving decompression load from the CPU to the GPU.
  • It requires the latest version of Windows, a compatible NVMe SSD, and a DirectX 12-capable graphics card.
  • The latest release is DirectStorage 1.2.2, which you should already have via Windows Update.

Between Apple and Microsoft, Microsoft is clearly the most focused on gaming, and DirectStorage is prime example of that. The technology originally arrived alongside the Xbox Series X, but later reached Windows PCs, helping to further cement them as the computers of choice for gamers. What is DirectStorage, though, and how does it work? Is your existing PC compatible? We’ll explain the essential details below.


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SSD being connected to Pimoroni NVMe Base for Rapsberry Pi 5

What is DirectStorage, and how does it work?

There was a time when games were all relatively simple apps, but those days are long gone. Modern 3D games frequently need to load in gigabytes of textures, character models, audio files, and map geometries. Earlier storage APIs weren’t optimized to handle this, so even state-of-the-art PCs can sometimes load slower than they’re capable of. With any game, graphics content needs to be loaded from the SSD into RAM, then decompressed by your CPU before being passed to your graphics card (GPU) for rendering. That puts pressure on the CPU, potentially reducing performance.

The DirectStorage API attempts to fix that, exploiting the speeds of NVMe SSDs to load game worlds faster than ever. Both games and your PC need to support the technology, but the result can be maps loading seamlessly or in just a few seconds, versus the half a minute or more gamers still sometimes put up with.

The API shifts the decompression load from the CPU to the GPU, which makes sense, since that’s where graphics are being rendered anyway. Microsoft says this could reduce the load on your CPU by as much as 40 percent or more, freeing it up for non-graphical tasks. Part of the trick here is that media assets are broken into batches, allowing multiple processing requests to happen at once.

A Razer Blade 16 on a desk.What are DirectStorage’s requirements?

At a minimum, DirectStorage demands the following:

  • Windows 10 version 1909 or later
  • An NVMe SSD (using PCIe 3.0 or faster)
  • A graphics card with support for DirectX 12 and Shader Model 6.0

The technology simply won’t work with traditional platter drives (HDDs), or even 2.5-inch SSDs. That could be a problem if your PC is several years old, or mixes and matches drive types, but just about any gaming PC built in the past two or three years will probably reach the minimum specs. You may need to move games off of any external SSDs if they’re not NVMe-based.

Gaming features in the Windows 11 Game Bar settings.How to check if your system is DirectStorage ready

Assuming you’re using the latest version of Windows 11, Microsoft makes it extremely easy to check DirectStorage compatibility:

  • Hit Windows + G on your keyboard to open the Game Bar.
  • In the menu at the top of the screen, click the gear icon to open Settings.
  • Select Gaming features.
  • In the panel that opens, you’ll see which version of DirectX you’re using, as well as whether Windows, your GPU, and/or your storage drives support DirectStorage.

Which games support DirectStorage?

The first PC title to use DirectStorage was Forspoken, back in January 2023. Since then the roster of compatible games has grown, but you can’t assume everything will be compatible — support is still pretty limited, in fact. Here are the enabled titles available on Steam as of mid-June 2024:

  • American Truck Simulator
  • Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora
  • Diablo IV
  • EA Sports FC 24
  • Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Forspoken
  • Forza Motorsport
  • Ghost of Tsushima (Director’s Cut)
  • Horizon: Forbidden West (Complete Edition)
  • New World
  • Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
  • Synced
  • Test Drive Unlimited: Solar Crown
  • Warhammer 40,000: Darktide
  • Voxel Horizon

Ghost of Tsushima review: Jin is a real open world tonic photo 1What’s the latest version of DirectStorage?

The newest release is 1.2.2, which solves some bugs and removes support for 32-bit ARM processors. As long as you’re keeping your system current via Windows Update, you should already have it.

The technology’s biggest leap came in version 1.1, which Microsoft said could load scenes nearly three times faster, freeing up a CPU almost entirely. Both Nvidia and AMD now have compatible GPU drivers, too, so the only real obstacle these days is support from game developers. That should improve as more years-long game projects wrap up.


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