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A PC as fast as the PlayStation 5. Microsoft is catching up

The technology that makes current generation consoles load games so quickly is getting closer to personal computers. Microsoft has taken the next step. Now is the time for graphics card manufacturers and game developers.

One of the biggest innovations of the new Xbox and PlayStation is their storage. PS5 and Xbox Series X | The S is equipped with fast SSD NVMe storage, just like a relatively modern PC. In previous generations, consoles used a much slower mechanical memory, which meant that games could take up to minutes to load.

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It’s not as comfortable on new consoles as it is on new PCs. It is more convenient and faster. Games load lightning fast, can be dumped into memory just as fast, and they can quickly download data to memory – resulting in more variety or detail in what’s happening on screen. Strangegiven the fact that modern gaming PCs usually have more powerful components than the console.

This is due to two reasons. First of all, the Xbox Series and PlayStation 5 take most of their construction from the IBM PC architecture, but they don’t exactly stick to it. In both devices, apart from SSD memory, there are additional coprocessors to support it. Both devices also use firmware written specifically for them, while gaming PCs with Windows use the same libraries as old computers in some accounting offices. Both problems can be solved.

The first with raw computing power. The other by providing similar software solutions. Today, Microsoft boasted about the next phase of the implementation.

What is DirectStorage and why do gamers need it?

Faster processing of data from memory does not only mean faster loading of games. It’s also the ability to stream more data from memory while the game is running, and thus the ability to display a much larger number of more complex elements on screen. This, in turn, opens up new opportunities for game designers who will be able to introduce new mechanics to them or enrich them visually.

Video games optimized for disk drives – ie. for the previous generation of consoles – typically streamed data from memory at a bitrate of 50 MB/s, in 64k blocks, which translates into several hundred calls per second. second to the main processor so that new data can be processed. The current generation of consoles (and modern PCs) use NVMe memory, the throughput of which is counted in gigabytes per second. The memory for the Xbox Series X hardware provides a speed of 2.4 GB/s, which corresponds to over 35 thousand. block references with 64k per second.

Using the existing API, the application (ie a video game) must handle each reference sequentially. Then send an inquiry and wait for a reply. As long as these appeals were few, this was not a problem: each one is a relatively simple operation. But increasing their number thousands of times begins to clog the entire system.

DirectStorage allows for parallel processing of references and a significant shortening of the data flow. The new API allows game developers to have multiple references to memory within a single instruction, instead of having to use a separate instruction for each reference. It also makes it possible to process the transfer of data by the graphic processor with almost complete omission of the central processor, so far between in the transfer.

How much does software performance affect overall hardware performance? Huge. DirectStorage allows game developers to implement parallel download, processing and upload of data, as well as transfer data directly between RAM and graphics chip memory. At the same time, it also provides support for data decompression. This significantly relieves the device’s main processor. According to Microsoft, typical gameplay on the old API reserved most of the Xbox Series X’s CPU cores for data exchange operations. With DirectStorage, it only needs to reserve part of a single core’s time for the same operations, freeing up the rest of the CPU’s resources for other calculations.

DirectStorage 1.1 – what’s new? Up to three times faster loading of games.

DirectStorage is part of DirectX. It is supported in Windows 11 and in limited form (although it’s unclear what the limitations are) on Windows 10 1909 or later. This means that this technology is already embedded in the system. The player does not need to do anything to access its current version, apart from Windows itself being continuously updated.

Version 1.1 introduces another element of the console computing system, which is texture decompression. As part of DirectStorage 1.1, this is done by the GPU bypassing the main processor. As a result, according to Microsoft’s measurements, the loading speed of a typical game increases approximately three times. In the case of the prepared technical demo, this speed decreased from 2.36 s to 0.8 s.

Data decompression in the GPU is much more efficient than at the CPU

Unfortunately, there is still a fundamental problem, which is the lack of games compatible with DirectStorage and the lack of graphics cards that cooperate with the mechanism. Nvidia and AMD have declared their support for it today, ensuring that drivers for GeForce and Radeons will soon support it. Intel, the manufacturer of Arc cards, is silent on this matter so far.

In terms of games, the only game yet to be released is Forspoken. Its premiere is scheduled for next year. The game is written in Unreal Engine 5 and is supposed to use DirectStorage for graphics details not seen before on a PC. However, these promises should be treated with great skepticism.

A PC as fast as the PlayStation 5. Microsoft is catching up

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