During this week's Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, Microsoft finally took the wraps off DirectX 12, the long-awaited update to the company's multimedia APIs.
Matt Sandy, a Direct3D program manager at Microsoft, said in a March 20 blog post that DirectX 12 "introduces the next version of Direct3D, the graphics API at the heart of DirectX." Describing Direct3D as "one of the most critical pieces of a game or game engine," he said his team "redesigned it to be faster and more efficient than ever before."
For the latest iteration of DirectX, Microsoft has adopted the mantra of "closer to the metal," a term that describes techniques that enable developers to exert fine-grained control over hardware resources, often resulting in faster performance. "Direct3D 12 represents a significant departure from the Direct3D 11 programming model, allowing apps to go closer to the metal than ever before," stated Sandy. The company accomplished this by "overhauling numerous areas of the API," including three key areas: pipeline state representation, work submission and resource access.
Henry Moreton, a distinguished engineer at Nvidia, a maker of GPUs and mobile processors, said in a statement that DirectX 12 enables "a dramatic increase in visual richness through a significant decrease in API-related CPU overhead." Whereas in the past the OS and drivers "managed memory, state, and synchronization on behalf of developers," leading to inefficiencies, Microsoft's newest graphics technology "gives the application the ability to directly manage resources and state, and perform necessary synchronization."
"As a result, developers of advanced applications can efficiently control the GPU, taking advantage of their intimate knowledge of the game’s behavior," boasted Moreton.
Although currently in alpha, DirectX 12 is already delivering big performance gains in 3DMark, graphical benchmarking software that's a staple of many a PC enthusiast's software toolkit. "After porting the benchmark to use Direct3D 12, we see two major improvements—a 50 percent improvement in CPU utilization, and better distribution of work among threads," reported Sandy.
Currently, Microsoft is targeting "holiday 2015" for the official DirectX 12 launch.
Owners of high-end PCs aren't the only ones who will benefit from the technology. "Direct3D 12 works across all the Microsoft devices you care about. From phones and tablets, to laptops and desktops, and, of course, Xbox One, Direct3D 12 is the API you've been waiting for," said Sandy.
He added that gamers will likely enjoy enriched visuals and better performance without having to invest in new processors or graphics cards since "over 80 percent of gamer PCs currently being sold" will support the technology.
Microsoft is already lining up industry support. Nvidia's Moreton said his company's "work with Microsoft on DirectX 12 began more than four years ago with discussions about reducing resource overhead." He added that for "the past year, Nvidia has been working closely with the DirectX team to deliver a working design and implementation of DX12 at GDC."