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Microsoft DirectStorage 1.1 arrives with GPU decompression step to shorten PC game loading time

Microsoft is releasing DirectStorage 1.1 this week, and the biggest new addition is GPU decompression for Windows PC games. GPU decompression is the next natural step in an industry-wide effort to improve game load times on modern PCs. Microsoft originally introduced DirectStorage earlier this year, but developers have been calling for support for GPU decompression, which is now present in DirectStorage 1.1 this week.

GPU decompression works by shifting the work required to decompress asset packages in a game to the graphics card instead of the CPU. Right now, game assets are typically compressed as they are packaged for distribution and then decompressed after the game has started.

The problem is that most compression techniques are designed for the CPU, which is not ideal for modern games that want to drive faster decompression speeds with the latest PC hardware.

“Typically, decompression is done on the CPU because the compression format has historically been optimized only for the CPU,” explained Cassie Hoef, senior program manager at Microsoft.” We’re providing an alternative method in DirectStorage 1.1 that takes the decompression of these assets to the GPU instead – called GPU decompression.”

In recent years, we have seen the industry move to PCIe Gen3 or Gen4 NVMe storage devices that can deliver up to 7GB/s of data bandwidth. This fast storage is great news for game developers who want faster load times, and advances in I/O technology can dramatically speed up load times and games using DirectStorage 1.1.
Developers now need to tweak their games to take advantage of DirectStorage 1.1, and these improvements can even see dramatic changes within the game, where you move from one world to another or teleport between different parts of the map or world. Microsoft claims this can be three times faster while freeing up the CPU to handle other game processes.

NVIDIA has taken advantage of DirectStorage 1.1 by implementing RTX IO in its current Game Ready Driver (version 526.47). AMD is working with its software vendor to finalize its driver, while Intel’s latest Arc graphics driver (101.3793) already includes its own optimization of DirectStorage 1.1 optimizations.

What we need to be left is game support. DirectStorage has always promised extremely fast load times, which we saw on the Xbox Series X console, but we have yet to see many PC games adopt the technology. Perhaps GPU decompression will push game developers to really take advantage of DirectStorage. Forspoken was supposed to be the first major game to support DirectStorage, but that game was delayed until January 2023.

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