DirectStorage 1.1 is now available for PC, and GPU decompression can provide three times faster loading

Several weeks ago, Microsoft announced that DirectStorage 1.1 is “coming soon” on PC, and now it’s official time. DirectStorage 1.1 is now available for any developer hoping to use the technology in their game. For those unfamiliar, the DirectStorage API allows PC developers to stream more efficiently from NVMe SSDs potentially reducing the processing load. This was an exaggerated aspect of the Xbox Series X/S “speed architecture”, but the new API brings DirectStorage to PC.

On initial release, PC’s DirectStorage transfers the optimized data to the CPU, but version 1.1 also improves compression by allowing developers to offload it to the GPU. Below is a more detailed description from Microsoft of what exactly DirectStorage 1.1 and GPU Decompression brings to the table…

“Games require massive amounts of data to build immersive worlds – every character, object, and landscape […] It adds up to hundreds of gigabytes of data. To reduce the game’s overall package size, these assets are compressed. When the game is launched, the assets are moved to system memory, where the CPU decompresses the data before eventually transcribing it into GPU memory for use as needed. Moving and decompressing these assets on game consoles contributes significantly to load times and limits the amount of detail that can be included in the open world scenes.

DirectStorage 1.0 improves the data transfer part of this process. Advances in Windows 11 combined with DirectStorage allow developers to take advantage of the higher bandwidth of NVMe drives. Games that support DirectStorage installed on NVMe drives should expect to see load times reduced by up to 40%. After optimizing this part of the pipeline, developers will want to improve the decompression performance next.

Decompression is usually done on the CPU because the compression formats were historically optimized for CPUs only. We provide an alternative method in DirectStorage 1.1 by moving the decompress of those assets to the GPU instead – known as “GPU Decompression”. Graphics cards are very efficient at performing repeatable tasks in parallel, and we can take advantage of this capability along with the bandwidth of a high-speed NVMe drive to do more work simultaneously. As a result, the amount of time it takes to load an asset decreases, which reduces tier load times and improves broadcasting in the open world.”

Based on highly optimized Microsoft tests, DirectStorage 1.1 with GPU decompression can deliver up to 3 times faster loading than DirectStorage 1.0.

DirectStorage for PC has a lot of potential, but not a lot of support yet. Square Enix’s Forspoken, which comes out in January, will be the first game to make use of the technology after horror game Scorn made it clear it was not using it. Hopefully more support will come.

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