Near-instant game loads, richer graphics, low CPU use promised with DirectStorage API coming to Windows PCs

All the gamers NVMe

Microsoft plans to bring the DirectStorage API developed for the forthcoming Xbox Series X to Windows PCs, and a development preview will be available next year.

According to DirectX Senior Program Manager Lead Andrew Yeung, the focus of the new API is PC gaming. Windows storage APIs have become a bottleneck in the path from data on storage volumes to graphics rendered on the GPU.

More detailed graphics means more data to shift, and with game engines breaking down textures into small chunks for memory efficiency, the number of IO requests has increased. NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) storage has excellent I/O performance: 2.4GB/s in Xbox Series X, according to Microsoft's specifications, but the existing PC storage APIs cannot keep up. Taking full advantage of the bandwidth means more than 35,000 IO requests per second.

The DirectStorage API, like other members of the DirectX family, will bypass many of the steps taken by existing storage APIs to improve performance. The programming model will also allow parallel requests to take advantage of the request queues supported by NVMe hardware.

Another key piece is decompression: since data is typically compressed, rapid decompression is also critical to performance and Yeung promises "the best current and upcoming decompression technologies" in DirectStorage.

Nvidia's RTX IO technology gives high throughput (thin bar) with low CPU usage (blue blocks), by using new storage transfer APIs and decompressing data on the GPU

Nvidia's RTX IO technology gives high throughput (thin bar) with low CPU usage (blue blocks), by using new storage transfer APIs and decompressing data on the GPU

The goal is the shortest path possible between data on NVMe storage, and uncompressed graphics on the GPU. The outcome, said Yeung, will be greatly reduced load times and smoother and/or more detailed graphics.

There are a host of unanswered questions about the new API. One is compatibility with existing PCs, while another is how useful (if at all) the API will be for other use cases where fast I/O is an advantage.

Jensen Huang

You're stuck inside, gaming's getting you through, and you've $1,500 to burn. Check out Nvidia's latest GPUs


Xbox Series X uses AMD Radeon graphics, but rival Nvidia is hard at work on this same issue. At the other end of the computing spectrum – HPC rather than commodity gaming – Nvidia has long been focused on the fact that "fast GPUs are increasingly starved by slow I/O" and is developing a solution it calls GPUDirect Storage, with rapid processing of datasets for AI in mind. "GPUDirect Storage enables a direct data path between local or remote storage, like NVMe or NVMe over Fabric (NVMe-oF), and GPU memory," explained solution architects Adam Thomson and C J Newburn.

"Both GPUDirect RDMA and GPUDirect Storage avoid extra copies through a bounce buffer in the CPU's memory and enable a direct memory access (DMA) engine near the NIC or storage to move data on a direct path into or out of GPU memory – all without burdening the CPU or GPU."

GPUDirect is nothing to do with gaming, but the recently announced Nvidia RTX IO technology aims to solve the same problem for consumer PCs. Nvidia said it already supports Microsoft's DirectStorage API: "When used with Microsoft's new DirectStorage for Windows API, RTX IO offloads dozens of CPU cores' worth of work to your GeForce RTX GPU, improving frame rates, enabling near-instantaneous game loading."

A key piece in RTX IO is that the decompression takes place on the GPU and not the CPU so that data is transferred to the GPU while still compressed, which Nvidia says improves I/O performance by a factor of two. RTX IO will be supported in the forthcoming RTX 30 GPUs.

When will gamers get to enjoy all this? Since DirectStorage preview SDKs (software development kits) are not expected until next year, it seems there will be quite a wait. Game developers could opt to code specifically to Nvidia's APIs – Nvidia says it will offer a preview to "a few developers … willing to support very early technology", suggesting that RTX IO is not yet ready despite apparently being supported by the RTX 30 hardware to be released later this month. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Microsoft postpones shift to New Commerce Experience subscriptions
    The whiff of rebellion among Cloud Solution Providers is getting stronger

    Microsoft has indefinitely postponed the date on which its Cloud Solution Providers (CSPs) will be required to sell software and services licences on new terms.

    Those new terms are delivered under the banner of the New Commerce Experience (NCE). NCE is intended to make perpetual licences a thing of the past and prioritizes fixed-term subscriptions to cloudy products. Paying month-to-month is more expensive than signing up for longer-term deals under NCE, which also packs substantial price rises for many Microsoft products.

    Channel-centric analyst firm Canalys unsurprisingly rates NCE as better for Microsoft than for customers or partners.

    Continue reading
  • AMD to end Threadripper Pro 5000 drought for non-Lenovo PCs
    As the House of Zen kills off consumer-friendly non-Pro TR chips

    A drought of AMD's latest Threadripper workstation processors is finally coming to an end for PC makers who faced shortages earlier this year all while Hong Kong giant Lenovo enjoyed an exclusive supply of the chips.

    AMD announced on Monday it will expand availability of its Ryzen Threadripper Pro 5000 CPUs to "leading" system integrators in July and to DIY builders through retailers later this year. This announcement came nearly two weeks after Dell announced it would release a workstation with Threadripper Pro 5000 in the summer.

    The coming wave of Threadripper Pro 5000 workstations will mark an end to the exclusivity window Lenovo had with the high-performance chips since they launched in April.

    Continue reading
  • Start using Modern Auth now for Exchange Online
    Before Microsoft shutters basic logins in a few months

    The US government is pushing federal agencies and private corporations to adopt the Modern Authentication method in Exchange Online before Microsoft starts shutting down Basic Authentication from the first day of October.

    In an advisory [PDF] this week, Uncle Sam's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) noted that while federal executive civilian branch (FCEB) agencies – which includes such organizations as the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, and such departments as Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, and State – are required to make the change, all organizations should make the switch from Basic Authentication.

    "Federal agencies should determine their use of Basic Auth and migrate users and applications to Modern Auth," CISA wrote. "After completing the migration to Modern Auth, agencies should block Basic Auth."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022