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Microsoft’s DirectStorage drastically cuts CPU use in games

Microsoft’s DirectStorage technology will apparently do more than just make your games load quicker — it will also free up a lot of CPU power.

According to a video from Microsoft, using DirectStorage on Windows 11 can reduce processor overhead by up to 40%.

Optimizing IO Performance with DirectStorage on Windows

DirectStorage is a new arrival for Windows, coming straight from Xbox. It’s an application programming interface (API) that brings with it faster loading times when paired with an NVMe SSD. Although the software is available to both Windows 10 and Windows 11 users, the former will not be able to take full advantage of the optimizations DirectStorage delivers.

Microsoft has recently released a video titled “Optimizing IO Performance with DirectStorage on Windows.” In the video, Cooper Partin, Microsoft’s senior software engineer. talks about the tech and the benefits that it offers.

The basic function of DirectStorage seems pretty simple, but the results have the potential to be outstanding. The API allows an NVMe SSD to perform multiple in/out operations per second (IOPS) to take place at the same time. It also lets your games transfer assets directly to the graphics card, bypassing the processor when it’s not necessary for it to be involved.

In games, assets are being sent back and forth endlessly, and DirectStorage drastically cuts the time this takes when used with an NVMe SSD on Windows 11. As the process of transferring data from the game to the GPU is more streamlined, the games should load a lot faster. Partin states in the video that DirectStorage is great at handling smaller sets of data, it helps your SSD batch assets when possible, and it cuts the time it takes for those assets to be processed and rendered.

Sending assets directly to the GPU, and in larger batches, really cuts the amount of work your processor needs to do while gaming, freeing it up significantly. Microsoft promises that pairing an NVMe SSD with DirectStorage and Windows 11 could reduce CPU overhead by anywhere between 20% to 40%. Even on the smaller end of that scale, that’s a huge improvement that could have an impact on gaming performance.

Various frames from Forspoken with loading times when using DirectStorage and without.

Microsoft plans to push more tasks onto the GPU in a future update to free up the processor even more. The idea is that, eventually, the graphics card will take over all of the compression tasks that are currently handled by the CPU.

Even in its current state, the impact DirectStorage has on loading times is impressive. According to a recent GDC 2022 talk by Luminous Productions, the loading times in Forspoken will go down from around 10 seconds on average to just 1 second with DirectStorage. During the demo, the system was able to load 5.5 gigabytes of a scene in Forspoken in just 1.9 seconds.

Although impressive, DirectStorage is far from being supported and optimized for every game. In fact, Forspoken is going to be the first title to fully support the tech, and it’s not coming out until October. However, Microsoft’s DirectStorage certainly shows a lot of promise, so hopefully, game developers will work with Microsoft in order to expand the list of supported titles.

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