What Is Microsoft DirectStorage API?

The special treatment that both the Xbox Series X and Series S got from Microsoft is now finally in development and coming to Windows 10.

Of course, we are talking about the newest member of the Direct X family, the DirectStorage API.

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Storage Drive History

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With the introduction and increase of availability of SSDs (solid-state drive) back in the early 2010s, video games saw a considerable improvement in loading times and certain situations, increase in performance too. This was all thanks to the SSD’s ability to read and write data at a speed almost ten times faster than any average HDD.

Since then, SSDs have improved ten times over, especially since NVM Express (NVME) came into play. This is a device (controller on the motherboard) that allows computers to access storage data through the PCIe bus instead of the old SATA interface.

By opening this new connection between SSDs and the PCIe lanes, manufacturers finally had the reason to further optimize and speed up their storage drives. Thanks to NVME and PCIe Gen 4, we now have SSDs that can read at 7,000 MBps and write at 5,000 MBps. Again, that is more than ten times faster than SATA III’s limit of just 500 MBps.

However, even though NVME M.2 solid-state drives are so much faster than SATA III drives, this never brought any significant improvements in video games. In fact, the improvements in video games today are almost always zero.

Enter DirectStorage API. This new software implementation in Windows should allow video games to finally utilize those incredible drive speeds to bring better performance to the table.

Sony’s and Microsoft’s Direct Storage Access

The idea for this DirectStorage API is not new at all. The idea has been circling for a long time, but it was never introduced to the console or PC industry. Well, until PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X released at the end of 2020.

Both of these consoles come with their own solution that allows for more efficient storage access.

Sony’s Solution

Sony’s solution to allow for faster drive access is thanks to the unique SSD controller installed directly on the motherboard itself. The SSD is unique in its own way too. This is probably why the PS5 delivers much more impressive drive speeds in comparison to the Series X. The claimed read speed of the PS5 SSD is about 5.5 GBps while the Series X has a read speed of only 2.4 GBps.

Of course, there are faster PCIe 4.0 SSDs available for PCs, but that SSD controller is the game-changer. This is what allows the console’s video games to access maps, textures, and other important information quickly. Much faster than the speed at which games on Windows can access data.

Microsoft’s Solution

Even though the Series X has a much slower SSD, it is not behind in any way because of Microsoft’s much different solution that delivers a similar outcome. Something that would considerably improve the I/O speeds of the console.

That solution is the DirectStorage API. Instead of relying directly on a dedicated piece of hardware like Sony, Microsoft has achieved improvements in-game asset streaming by combining both hardware and software innovations.

Combining hardware-accelerated decompression for more efficient game package handling and with the new DirectStorage API which is now a part of the DirectX family. With this kind of implementation in the console, developers can now craft their games to utilize the improved I/O performance.

But, how does all of this translate to Windows or PCs overall?

DirectStorage API On Windows

At the moment, there is nothing on Windows 10 that is similar to Sony’s or Microsoft’s solution for more efficient data access. Motherboards today do not have any kind of special SSD controller for solid-state drives or hardware to optimize decompression.

However, what PCs do have is PCIe Gen 3 and Gen 4 which are already just as fast or faster than the SSDs found in next-gen consoles.

Microsoft is building on that fact and hoping that implementing DirectStorage API in DirectX on Windows 10 would bring considerable performance in video games and applications too.

This also means that there would be no need for hardware upgrades to utilize this new technology. Your wallet is safe this time around.

Keep in mind, that’s what Microsoft is claiming now, but it may be too early to tell. Things could quickly change in the next year or two.

What Can You Expect?

When you look at the numbers and all these technical terms, DirectStorage API sounds like a great DirectX feature, but what exactly should you expect?

Well, one of the supposed advantages is that video games in the future could maximize the utilization of those 7,000 MBps SSDs. This would ultimately lead to incredibly fast loading times. Something that a lot of open-world games lack these days.

Texture streaming would also be much more efficient which means the texture pop-in issues would be gone. Here is an example of texture pop-in effects in Cyberpunk 2077.

DirectStorage API could potentially lower stuttering and improve minimum FPS in video games.

Essentially, we would all get a much smoother gaming experience with a free Windows 10 update.

When Can We Expect It?

With such strong advantages coming with this innovation, you are probably getting pretty hyped about it. Who wouldn’t want more FPS free of charge?

Well, based on Microsoft’s official dev blog, the DirectStorage API will be rolling out for developers sometime in 2021.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we will see video games utilizing this new API in 2021. It could be years before developers release a game supporting the API.

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Branko Gapo
Branko Gapo

Keeping up with the incredibly fast evolution of computer technology is impossible. That is why Branko will be using his knowledge on this matter to share news and information on all the latest essential technological innovations and advancements.