Microsoft DirectStorage API is now publicly available to developers
Future games can finally benefit from the techBy Cohen Coberly
In context: One of the main selling points for next-gen consoles is their SSDs. Or, more specifically, how their software and games interact with and take advantage of those SSDs. PS5 and XSX players enjoy lightning-fast load times, features like Quick Resume, and seamless in-game transitions across supported next-gen titles. However, Microsoft has promised that PC players won't be left out, thanks to a Windows feature called 'DirectStorage,' now available to developers.
For the unaware, DirectStorage boasts many of the same benefits of similar next-gen console tech: fast load times, and more detailed game worlds, to name just a couple. How does DirectStorage accomplish this feat? Microsoft explained the tech in detail in a blog post from late 2020, but we'll briefly summarize it here.
In short, DirectStorage aims to take advantage of the newer, speedier storage drives that have become commonplace over the past couple of years. Sadly, though PCIe and SSD drives are fast, efficient, and more readily available to consumers than ever, it still feels like games aren't utilizing them to the fullest. Sure, our load times are generally shorter, but low-quality distant terrain, disguised loading screens, and frequent texture pop-in are still common gripes for PC users.
These issues exist partially because current storage APIs are badly optimized for the high number of IO requests modern games make. As Microsoft says, this forces developers not to "fully saturate" the IO pipeline and to leave precious bandwidth on the table.
DirectStorage saves the day by allowing games to make far more IO requests than before; and with greater efficiency, to boot. It batches "many-at-a-time parallel IO requests" and then feeds them to the GPU, all while using the fastest, most modern decompression methods available.
Though DirectStorage will be available across various drive types, Microsoft says NVMes will benefit the most thanks to data access pipes called "NVMe queues." The company explains the tech as follows:
To get data off the drive, an OS submits a request to the drive and data is delivered to the app via these queues. An NVMe device can have multiple queues and each queue can contain many requests at a time. This is a perfect match to the parallel and batched nature of modern gaming workloads. The DirectStorage programming model essentially gives developers direct control over that highly optimized hardware.
So, now that you have a basic idea of how DirectStorage might benefit you, the question remains: when can we expect to see these benefits manifest in actual titles? Sadly, nobody can say for sure.
Developers still need to take advantage of the DirectStorage API in their games, and since it only just become generally available yesterday (it was restricted to a developer preview previously), it will probably be a while before the first AAA and AA titles take advantage of it. However, the future is certainly bright, and we hope DirectStorage really is capable of bringing the visual and load time improvements Microsoft is boasting about. If it isn't, we'll be sure to tell you about it here.
If you're a game dev, you can download the SDK here. If you're a gamer, Microsoft recommends upgrading to an NVMe drive for game storage when it's financially feasible for you to do so. Otherwise, there are no major requirements besides a Windows 10 or 11 PC.
According to Microsoft, the latter will allegedly benefit from DirectStorage more than the former, but until we see some real-world comparisons from independent reviewers (such as ourselves), don't feel obligated to make the leap to Windows 11 yet.
Middle image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun