Windows games can now use DirectStorage to load faster on SSDs
Microsoft has announced that, starting today, Windows games can begin shipping with support for the DirectStorage API. This API first appeared on the Xbox Series X|S and it allows games to load much faster by leveraging the full speed of modern NVMe SSDs. Microsoft had announced it for Windows back in September 2020, but only now is it widely available to developers.
If you’re wondering why DirectStorage matters, here’s a quick explainer: Previous APIs only allowed games to load assets from the drive by performing one I/O request at a time, and each request would have to be thoroughly completed before another one could processed. This only caused a minimal increase in overhead for each request, and because mechanical hard drives and SATA SSDs weren’t that fast, the impact on loading times wasn’t that big.
Now, though, with fast NVMe drives capable of multi-gigabyte read speeds, this process means it’s nearly impossible to use the full bandwidth of the drive while only processing one request a time, meaning games load much slower than they should. Additionally, these assets are usually compressed, and they need to be decompressed before they can be loaded in the game.
DirectStorage addresses all of this by allowing multiple I/O request at a time, leveraging new decompression technologies, and feeding assets more efficiently to the GPU. By changing all of this, games can load that much faster when they use DirectStorage, and on top of that, they can start use much bigger assets, since developers can rest assured they’ll be loaded much quicker and won’t keep the player waiting. Ultimately, this results in shortened load times and, as developers get used to having that headroom, more detailed textures in games.
This benefit is more favorable to NVMe SSDs, however, and that’s because of the unique interface they use, consisting of multiple queues for data access, which make it easier for games to request access to multiple assets at the same time without having to wait for a previous request to be completed. Windows 11 users will also be benefitted the most, thanks to a new storage stack. Windows 10 users will also see improvements, though.
Microsoft didn’t mention any games that will use the technology right now, but you can likely assume that any titles taking advantage of DirectStorage on Xbox will also use it on Windows. You’ll have to wait for individual developers to implement it in each game, however, since it’s not a switch Microsoft can flip on its end.