Microsoft’s tech to dramatically speed up Windows gamer load times is coming ‘soon’

Microsoft has announced that a new version of DirectStorage will be released to game developers before the end of 2022, and it will be a big step forward in terms of speeding up load times with SSDs.

As you may know, DirectStorage is the feature first seen on Xbox that delivers faster load times – and better game asset loading performance in major open-world titles – and it’s first arriving on Windows PCs in March.

What Microsoft just revealed (opens in a new tab) (tip of the hat to Tom’s gear (opens in a new tab)) is that DirectStorage 1.1, a new version incorporating GPU decompression technology, will be available soon. Although there are still no games that will benefit from it (yet – we’ll come back to this obviously quite crucial point).

Microsoft has already told us that DirectStorage (DS) will deliver up to a 40% reduction in load times – for games on fast NVMe SSDs running Windows 11 – and this new piece of the DS puzzle, GPU decompression, will offer something something in the order of a tripling of loading time performance, promises the company.

Normally, decompression (compressed game assets, which need to be scaled down due to their large size) is done by the CPU, but what Microsoft is doing is offloading this tedious work directly to the GPU.

Microsoft explains, “Graphics cards are extremely efficient at doing repeatable tasks in parallel, and we can use that capability with the bandwidth of a high-speed NVMe drive to do more work at once.

In a Microsoft demo, the company illustrated that when DirectStorage works with GPU decompression, compared to traditional CPU decompression, “scenes load almost 3x faster and the CPU is almost entirely freed up to be used for other game process”. (In this demo, the CPU only saw a peak utilization of 15%, by the way, compared to 100% utilization when DS was not in use).

Now keep in mind that this is a hand-picked and “highly optimized” (in Microsoft’s own words) demo, but it certainly promises very big payoffs overall, which should see games that support DirectStorage loading – and running – much smoother. -round.

Analysis: Forspoken is unfortunately not coming (yet)

It’s worth noting that even though DirectStorage is designed with ultra-fast NVMe SSDs, it will still work with slower SSDs (and even HDDs, to a point); but the effect will not be as pronounced. The storage acceleration technology will also work great on Windows 10 machines, but Windows 11 offers advancements on the storage optimization front, which again means DS delivers more of an impact. (Also, you need a contemporary GPU for DS to work, i.e. with DX12 support and Shader Model 6).

The main problem is that despite the good progress of work on DirectStorage, there are still no PC games that actually support the technology. We were supposed to have the first game to show DS this month, Forspoken, but it’s been delayed to January 2023 (and has already been pushed back before, so that’s a little disappointing).

That said, there are only a few months left – assuming there are no more setbacks – but even then, it’s only one game. It will no doubt be some time before wider support is adopted among PC game developers, but when it does, it could become a compelling reason for gamers to upgrade to Windows 11 (and a good one too). reason to get an NVMe SSD for those who haven’t yet taken the leap to the storage front).

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