DirectStorage is a Microsoft technology and part of DirectX. It was originally introduced for the Xbox Series X/S gaming consoles and its primary function is to reduce loading times in games. The technology was later adapted to run on Windows. However, adoption among game developers has been slow, and in 2023, only a couple of titles have integrated DirectStorage.
This is likely to change eventually, as DirectStorage is clearly desirable for modern gaming PCs that are often equipped with the latest and fastest consumer-oriented NVMe solid state drives.
Leveraging GPU Decompression
The main task of DirectStorage is to optimize how game data is loaded from the SSD to the graphics card, with the goal of providing short to non-existent loading times and better overall gaming performance.
Game data is traditionally transferred from the storage device via the CPU for decompression, among other tasks, before it is passed on to the graphics card for rendering. Given the massive amounts of data that modern titles need to load, this process becomes a bottleneck where the maximum transfer rates of a modern PCI-Express SSD cannot be fully utilized. The result is longer loading times.
With DirectStorage, there is a direct connection between the PCI-Express/NVMe storage device and the graphics card. Decompression and pre-processing of game data that previously occurred on the CPU is instead performed by the graphics card. This also reduces the load on the CPU by as much as 40% CPU, according to Microsoft.
Faster loading times are a key benefit of DirectStorage, but freeing up resources from the CPU means that it can be used for other tasks related to the gaming experience, such as enabling improved AI or physics. With the right optimizations using DirectStorage, games can be made to dynamically load graphics resources in real-time, drawing larger and more detailed worlds. Loading screens can be dispensed with altogether, as new content is loaded without the player having to notice it.
Games Using DirectStorage
Since DirectStorage needs to be included in the development phase of a game, few PC games have so far added support for the technology. The first was Forspoken by Square Enix, another was a PC version of the Playstation game Ratchet & Clank. Blizzard has also announced that its popular title Diablo 4 will also support DirectStorage at some point.
Microsoft launched a development kit for DirectStorage for Windows 11 in 2022, and it is highly likely that the technology will become far more common in the future.
Enabling DirectStorage in Consumer PCs
The requirements for using DirectStorage is another aspect that slows adoption, as not all gaming PCs have the necessary components:
A graphics card that supports DirectX 12 with Shader Model 6.0 is a base requirement, but high memory bandwidth will be beneficial as more data will flow uncompressed to the graphics card.
A modern PCI-Express SSD with NVMe. While DirectStorage will work with most SSDs or even conventional hard drives, the storage can easily become a bottleneck. PCIe 4.0 SSDs are recommended and PCIe 5.0 devices will further improve performance.
Windows 11. DirectStorage should work with Windows 10, but it’s reasonable to assume that Microsoft will prioritize Windows 11 going forward.