Loading screens may be a thing of the past. AMD and developer Luminous Productions revealed new details about Microsoft’s DirectStorage technology at GDC 2022, where they showcased the upcoming game Forspoken loading in as little as one second.
In a demo, technical director of Luminous Productions Teppei Ono showed DirectStorage in action by loading a 5.5GB scene in Forspoken. With an M.2 SSD and DirectStorage, the scene loaded in just 1.9 seconds — nearly 10% faster than the same SSD without DirectStorage.
Although DirectStorage benefits NVMe SSDs the most, it works on SATA SSDs as well. In Forspoken, Ono showed off an impressive 18% increase on a SATA SSD. Combined with one of the fastest SSDs you can buy, DirectStorage may kill loading screens for good.
The studio was able to achieve such fast loading times by eliminating I/O bottlenecks that limit ultrafast SSDs. Ono says that I/O bottlenecks are gone, as the machine is able to better utilize the hardware in it to perform file decompression and move those files where they need to go.
This is just the first taste of DirectStorage. Although Ono spoke to the benefits of DirectStorage, he also pointed out some challenges it’s currently facing, namely bottlenecks in the CPU. Ono says that these issues can be solved by offloading some work to the GPU, which should come in the future.
“Support for GPU decompression is expected to be introduced, which we believe will cut loading times even more,” Ono said.
These issues are still present, but Forspoken can still load some scenes in as little as one second with an ultrafast SSD (5000MB/s) and DirectStorage. Hopefully, further improvements will cut loading times down to less than a second.
Microsoft released DirectStorage for developers in March, and Forspoken is the first game announced that will support the tech. DirectStorage is a feature of the Xbox Series X, and it looks to eliminate loading bottlenecks by offloading work (like file decompression) from the CPU to other dedicated processors.
DirectStorage works on Windows 10 and Windows 11, but Ono notes that Windows 11 has specific optimizations. “DirectStorage is compatible with both Windows 10 and Windows 11, with the latter benefitting from further optimization,” Ono said.
The feature is designed for PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs, but SATA SSDs and spinning hard drives are still compatible. They may not see a performance benefit, however. Ono says that spinning hard drives may not load faster in Forspoken with DirectStorage “due to hardware performance limitations.”
DirectStorage isn’t a new idea, but it’s a first for PC. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 both use a similar approach to improve loading times, and for the first time, games load faster on consoles than they do on PC. DirectStorage offers a general solution that can work with a large swath of hardware, not just the custom SSDs inside the latest consoles.
AMD, Nvidia, and Intel all had news to share at GDC 2022. AMD showcased its next-gen FidelityFX Super Resolution 2.0 upscaling feature, and Intel went in-depth on its XeSS A.I.-assisted upscaler. Between DirectStorage and features like FSR 2.0, future PC games may look better, run at higher frame rates, and load faster.
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