Discover the advantages of technology on PC and next generation consoles
Adrenaline readers and gamers in general have been hearing a lot about the DirectStorage, a promising technology for the new generation of games based on storage usage optimization. In this article you will better understand how this feature will work on the PC, what you need to take advantage of it and what are its advantages for the user experience.
How does DirectStorage work on Windows?
To better understand how DirectStorage works on your system, it’s important to first introduce how computers typically operate without this technology:
In applications such as games, Asset information leaves your storage (whether HD or SSD), is read by your processor and redirected to RAM memory, which then transfers this information to the processor again and finally, is destined for the GPUwhich will process this information to load and display your game’s assets.
DirectStorage is enough to basically, skip these steps that make the information pass through the CPU and RAM and make the assets stored on your storage (which now greatly benefits from being on a high speed SSD), communicate directly with your video card🇧🇷
The large and accelerated rise of SSDs in the market, including SSDs with increasingly faster communication interfaces (such as PCIe 4.0 and PCIe 5.0), accompany the need and implementation of DirectStorage. This is because, as hard disks (HDs) have much lower transfer rates, making the information pass through the CPU and through the memories did not affect the final result for loading assets so much. With the new SSDs, this process becomes a “bottleneck” for this communication.
Another very important factor to be considered when implementing DirectStorage is that game files in general has its assets compressed to optimize space, which when passing through the CPU went through decompression before being processed on the GPU. If this data no longer passes through the processor, you need to think of some way for the GPU to do this decompression workwhich is a challenge for Windows technology entry, but we will comment more about it in next paragraphs.
But what are assets?
In the previous paragraphs it was very clear how to load the asstes faster on the video card, but maybe some readers wonder what these so important asstes are. Well, they are basically elements that structure the game, like textures, character and map models, even sound effects and the lighting system.
Anyone who is a developer or follows the development of indie games at a certain level should even recognize that it is even possible to buy some of these assets ready to be added to your game.
As all these elements need to be loaded by the GPU to display the game and in more graphically complex games with these asstes increasingly occupying more data, more efficient communication between the storage where this information is located and the GPU that will process this information to display the game, is precisely what DirectStorage is made of.
When will DirectStorage be available on Windows?
DirectStorage is already a technology that exists and is being implemented even in games, however, only for the Xbox, with another basically identical technology, but with a different name on the PlayStation 5. Scorn, for example, was a game released recently for Xbox and PC, but which only received support for DirectStorage in its Xbox version.
The technology has not yet received a practical implementation for users on Windows, as it is in the development phase, but with each passing day, we are closer to enjoying the benefits in games on PC. Still in November 2022, Microsoft officially launched the DirectStorage 1.1 API for developers, with support for video cards from Nvidia, AMD and even the newest Intel for decompression and data by the GPU.
DirectStorage 1.1 gets official release compatible with GPUs from NVIDIA and AMD
Even more recently, we reported that Nvidia added support for the recently released DirectStorage 1.1 (for developers) in applications based on the Vulkan API.
What are the requirements to take advantage of DirectStorage?
To enjoy the benefits of DirectStorage technology on your computer, you need to have a machine with some specific settings. Microsoft gave DirectStorage a lot of prominence at the launch of Windows 11, and the operating system specifications already tell us what we need to know:
According to these updated specifications, you need to have an SSD on NVMe technology installed to take advantage of Direct Storage. However, it is worth mentioning that there was a period close to the launch of Windows 11 that Microsoft listed the need for an SSD to have at least 1 TB of storage, which surprised some users. Nonetheless, Microsoft does not currently list this storage space as a requirement, which may indicate support for different SSD capacities, including lower capacity models.
According to these specifications, an NVMe SSD that reaches speeds as great as those operating on PCIe 4.0 is not required, so the PCIe 3.0 versions should still be fast enough to communicate properly with the graphics card. Interestingly, today there are already PCIe 4.0 SSDs with lower speed than PCIe 3.0 models, but consoles like the PS5 only validate PCIe 4.0 models and higher, without considering their real speed.
GPU usage for DirectStorage
Something that is not in the specifications of Windows 11, but that can help with the experience in using DirectStorage is an RTX video card, because Nvidia released a long time ago the its GPU file decompression technology, RTX IO, which further optimizes the communication speed of assets with the GPU.
It is worth noting, however, that Nvidia is not the only one to rely on this type of technology, as it is essential for the proper functioning of DirectStorage, but Nvidia stands out for having announced its technology well in advance.
Nvidia announces RTX IO, a function that uses GPU to improve the use of SSDs in games
New tool for the company’s video cards will bring faster loading times and reduce CPU consumption
As I mentioned earlier, the assets no longer pass through the processor, so it can no longer perform the work of decompressing these files, which is why the GPU ends up performing this role. On PlayStation 5, for example, which has a technology similar to Direct Storage, it has already been revealed that the GPU of the SOC has this important role in decompression🇧🇷
Sony explained how this process is carried out on the PS5 in great detail starting at minute 17:57 of The Road to PS5 video. See the summary scheme below:
Returning to the reality of PC technology, we covered the announcement of Nvidia’s RTX IO technology in early September 2020, in the announcement of the Ampere architecture RTX 30 generation of graphics cards. Nvidia even released three graphics illustrating how asset transfer is traditionally CPU bottlenecked and how RTX IO optimizes CPU usage to handle a large amount of information in compression:
You can check out a detailed explanation of how RTX IO works from Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang himself at minute 22:50 of the Ampere RTX graphics card launch video below:
When will I be able to take advantage of DirectStorage in games?
As we mentioned earlier in this article, implementing DirectStorage for Windows is not as simple as for new generation consoles, for example. Therefore, unfortunately it is impossible to give a date when we will have the first game compatible with the technology on the platform.
All we can say is that day is getting closer and closerwith more news piling up about the technology gaining more developer and API support.