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Microsoft changes course, gives gamers a reason to stick with Windows 10

Microsoft has advertised
Enlarge / Microsoft has advertised “Xbox Velocity Architecture” to summarize a range of game-loading boosts for its newest consoles. The upcoming DirectStorage API is primed to bring some of those benefits to Windows PCs, but now that it is spread across two OSes, with varying speed expectations on each, will it have the same impact?


Microsoft’s Windows 11 unveiling in June came with announcements across the company’s many departments, including a warning from the company’s gaming division: you’ll need Windows 11 to play games that employ select “next-gen” APIs, particularly the new DirectStorage API.

On Friday, the company’s DirectX team walked that OS restriction back.

“Microsoft is committed to ensuring that when game developers adopt a new API, they can reach as many gamers as possible,” DirectX Program Manager Hassan Uraizee writes in explaining that the upcoming DirectStorage API will no longer be Windows 11-exclusive. This statement comes alongside Microsoft’s launch of a DirectStorage preview program that will let developers immediately begin testing this feature in intensive 3D software. The API, among other things, redirects I/O calls for 3D graphical assets directly to a computer’s GPU.

How “full” is “full potential”?

Uraizee’s post says that one other previously announced DirectStorage pillar, a jump to higher-speed SSD storage, has also moved into “optional” territory. Essentially, Microsoft is now claiming that developers can expect any game-loading pipeline built on DirectStorage to scale down to lower-performing computers while still benefiting from OS-level tweaks like decompressing assets via the GPU—aided largely by DirectX’s Agility SDK, which can be dropped into various Windows versions (Win10 version 1909 and higher) and work without expected conflict with other OS elements. Even so, Windows 11’s “storage stack upgrades” will be exclusive to that OS, and thus Uraizee says that gamers will want Windows 11 to access the “full potential” of DirectStorage.

But one of DirectStorage’s implied sales pitches is the ability to design real-time 3D worlds that revolve around a revolutionized I/O approach—one where wide-open landscapes and detailed elements no longer have to be hidden by mid-game trickery (i.e., waiting in an elevator or crawling through a thin passageway). Uraizee’s brief explanation doesn’t draw a line in the sand regarding how DirectStorage and its Win10 and Win11 variants will or won’t factor into such ambitions for PC games.

“DirectStorage-enabled games will still run as well as they always have, even on PCs that have older storage hardware (e.g., HDDs),” he writes, but “as well as they always have” is a decidedly last-gen description. Once we see more ambitious console exclusives for the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5, whose specs include aggressive SSD and I/O defaults, we’ll see whether Uraizee’s optimism will apply to those games’ PC ports on slower-storage systems.

Either way, this is a big walkback from Microsoft’s previous announcements about DirectStorage. Perhaps Microsoft noticed how many interested gamers’ PCs failed last month’s Windows 11 compatibility test—due either to a lack of solid-state media or a motherboard that failed checks for Trusted Platform Module (TPM)—and scrambled to guarantee that its DirectX 12 Ultimate ambitions aren’t further limited. Already, DX12U requires more modern GPUs, including Nvidia’s RTX 2000 and 3000 families and AMD’s RDNA 2 line, and in a chip-shortage universe, uptake to compatible GPUs has been slow.

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