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DirectStorage API Finally Available for Windows

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Almost a year and a half after Microsoft announced Windows 11 DirectStorage would come to PC, it’s finally arrived. The good news is the much-lauded storage API could theoretically boost gaming performance for PCs that support it. The bad news is games have to be designed for it, so it will be awhile before anyone can actually experience it. Microsoft is making the API available to any developer who wants to implement it in a future title, and also advising gamers on what they need to take advantage of it. The short answer is a Windows 11 PC with an NVME SSD.

DirectStorage is a big deal since it’s probably the only feature current next-gen consoles have that isn’t on PC yet (before now, that is). It allows for some impressive in-game performance too. In demos shown at launch for the Xbox Series X, games loaded quickly. Games could also be paused and resumed with no delays. Microsoft says the technology also allows for bigger worlds to be created, since a high volume of assets can be quickly streamed from the drive.

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According to Microsoft, the DirectStorage API will improves game performance by drastically increasing the number of possible I/O requests. In a blog post discussing the technology’s merits, it says previous-gen games had a streaming budget of 50MB/s. This is equivalent to hundreds of requests being sent to the storage device each second. With DirectStorage though, it says it can saturate a 2.4GB/s NVME interface, delivering up to 35,000 requests per second. It also employs a “many at a time” parallel handling method for I/O overhead instead of a “one at a time” serialized approach. Additionally, Microsoft says DirectStorage also uses the most efficient decompression technologies available. This is important as many game assets are compressed to more quickly travel from the SSD to the GPU for rendering.

Finally, Microsoft says you will need an NVME drive to take advantage of DirectStorage. This is because  NVME drives have hardware data access pipes called NVMe queues. A drive can have concurrent queues, each with many requests, all of which can be handled by the drive simultaneously. For example, a SATA drive has just a single queue that can accept up to 32 requests. An NVME drive, however, has 64 thousand queues, and each queue can have 64 thousand requests in it. It’s why NVME was created in the first place, to take advantage of these drives capabilities.

Though Microsoft recommends Windows 11 for DirectStorage, it does state in its announcement it works on Windows 10. The blog notes, “DirectStorage is compatible with Windows 10 devices, but Windows 11 has the latest storage optimizations built in and is our recommended path for gaming.” What is confusing though is in a post for gamers, it says, “With DirectStorage, which will only be available with Windows 11…” There’s also no discussion about whether only certain NVME drives will work, so we assume they will all be compatible. The blog just states, “DirectStorage Optimized” Windows 11 PCs are configured with the hardware and drivers needed to enable this amazing experience.” Microsoft mentions “proper drivers” in several places, but it’s not clear if those will come in a DirectX update or not.

You can read Microsoft’s full announcement here. As a PC gamer with an NVME drive in my current machine, I’m curious to see if this new technology will make things feel any faster in future games. Right now, with a high-end PC, everything is super fast already. Game loading times are so fast that I can’t even read more than one of the tips that scrolls by. Like most of you reading this, however, I’m cautiously optimistic it’ll make a difference. Besides, nobody ever complained about getting more performance, so I’ll take whatever Microsoft has to offer quite happily. Forspoken seems to be the first game to use it, and it releases in October.

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