DirectStorage for Windows promises to bring the rapid loading speeds of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 to PC gaming, and the first title to actually implement this technology arrives January 24, 2023. Can your PC handle it?
Forspoken Is the First DirectStorage Game on PC
Forspoken is a game launching on PlayStation 5 and Windows PC. It’s an action roleplaying game with a focus on traversal, covering large distances with speed and fluidity. That involves a huge amount of streamed data, so this is perfect for the PlayStation 5. That’s because the PS5 features a custom SSD and hardware compression technology to reach maximum data read speeds of around 9GB per second.
Even if you have one of the latest PCIe SSDs in your computer, you won’t get anywhere near that figure, so to have an equivalent experience on PC, something new is necessary.
That’s where DirectStorage comes into the picture, and Forspoken is the first PC game to implement this long-awaited feature that Xbox Series players have enjoyed since those consoles launched.
In fact, the developers of Forspoken say that DirectStorage 1.1 reduces load times from 10 seconds to a mere one second in the game, although your specific hardware may influence real-world performance.
How Does DirectStorage Work?
DirectStorage is part of the latest DirectX API or Application Programming Interface. This is a set of standard software functions that handles communication between software and hardware. This is why game developers no longer have to develop their games for specific graphics or sound cards. As long as the hardware and software comply with DirectX, it should all just work.
DirectStorage handles the loading of files from high-speed SSDs. It accelerates the speed at which data can be read from these drives in several ways. For example, it allows for data files to be requested and loaded in parallel. But perhaps most importantly, it allows for hardware decompression.
By using the processing power of your GPU, DirectStorage can decompress data on the fly before loading it into the computer’s memory. This increases the effective read speed of the drive beyond its actual maximum speed. Imagine a file is 100MB on disk compressed, but while you load that data, you also decompress it, and it arrives in memory as a 200MB file. You’ve effectively shifted double the data, even though the drive only moved 100MB.
Since DirectStorage bypasses the CPU for the decompression stage and GPUs are much, much better at parallel processing with their thousands of cores, the difference in performance is an order of magnitude better.
What You Need to Take Advantage of DirectStorage
The version of DirectStorage shipping with Forspoken is DirectStorage 1.1. Although version 1.0 has been available for some time, no game developers have yet taken advantage of it. This is likely because 1.0 lacked the asset decompression feature that makes 1.1 so compelling.
The hardware requirements for DirectStorage 1.1 are as follows:
- A moderately recent DirectX 12 GPU
- A PCIe NVME SSD
- Windows 11 (at the time of writing)
Though you may still see some benefits on SATA SSDs, the major gains are on the much faster PCIe drives that allow for parallel data transfer.
How DirectStorage Will Speed Up Your Future PC Games
As the market share of DirectX 12 GPUs, Windows 11, and PCIe SSDs continues to grow, we expect more and more PC titles in addition to Forspoken to include DirectStorage support or for existing games to receive patches adding the feature retroactively.
What we don’t expect is for any games to have DirectStorage as a minimum requirement or to have games designed around the assumption that such high storage speeds are available. This is a key advantage current consoles have since developers know how fast the drives are at their disposal, making it possible to build exclusive games.
As time goes by, most PC gamers will eventually acquire hardware compatible with this technology, and it will accelerate not just games but everything else you do on your computer. It will, however, be a long time before any PC games can justify locking out players who don’t yet have compatible gear.