The dream for low-level access to PC gaming hardware is one that’s been alive for forever. PC gamers have looked on at console games – and while shunning them – wondered how such underpowered hardware could produce such good visuals.
Take the old-gen version of GTA V on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Resolution and frame rate aside, it looks amazing for something that’s running on machines with 512Mb of memory. It’s all go to do with the fact that they’re unified platforms, running with low level access to the hardware. Those dreams are starting to become a reality thanks to new APIs like Mantle and DirectX 12.
We’ve seen Mantle in the wild, and it hasn’t brought as much of an increase as we’d hoped. That’s because it’s still largely tied to just AMD’s hardware. DirectX 12 promises to level the playing field, bringing gains to both AMD and Nvidia hardware. It is, however, exclusive to Windows 10. By the looks of it, it’ll be worth upgrading your Operating System.
The folks at Anandtech were given new DirectX12 supporting drivers by both AMD and Nvidia and played around with them – and found that DirectX 12 is filled with a great deal of potential. Running Stardock’s Star Swarm demo, they found some impressive gains over DirectX 11.
Nvidia’s beastly GTX 980 achieved 26.7 frames-per-second with all the bells and whistles on DirectX 11, and a much nicer 66.8 on DirectX 12 – that’s a neat 250 % increase. As for Team Red, the currently flagship saw a nearly 600 % increase. The Radeon R9 290X scored 8.3 frames-per-second on DirectX 11, and 49.2 on DirectX 12.
Star Swarm is, of course, built for this purpose and represents a best case scenario. It’s unlikely that we’ll see such incredible games in the real world – but it does show that there are indeed gains to be had. It mostly comes through the API’s ability to do more efficient load balancing across all cores.
“With DirectX 12 Microsoft and its partners set out to create a cross-vendor but still low-level API, and while there was admittedly little doubt they could pull it off, there has always been the question of how well they could do it. What kind of improvements and performance could you truly wring out of a new API when it has to work across different products and can never entirely avoid abstraction? The answer as it turns out is that you can still enjoy all of the major benefits of a low-level API, not the least of which are the incredible improvements in CPU efficiency and multi-threading.”
The astute amongst you would have realised that Microsoft’s Xbox One runs on AMD, and the system will be getting DirectX 12 support. Does that mean we’ll see wild, 600 percent increases in performance? It’s unlikely that they’ll be this high; remember that the Xbox One already has low level access to the system’s innards. Touted figures at the moment suggest the Xbox One will however see gains of up to 30% in CPU-bound situations. DX 12 should help leverage multithreading – so we’ll almost certainly see some sort of gain on the console. Remember though, that nothing like this exists in a vaccum, and that Sony’s tweaking its SDK and APIs to allow for similar gains.
Last Updated: February 10, 2015