Explainer

What is DirectStorage in Windows 11?

DirectStorage is a new API for Windows 11 game developers to create more expansive games and improve load times. Here’s what you need to know.

Windows 11 comes with several new features, including a unique opportunity for hardcore gamers called DirectStorage. Provided your system is powerful enough, you can take advantage of Microsoft DirectStorage to speed up your games. In addition, the technology offers superior graphics performance and faster load times for current and next-generation games.

But what is DirectStorage in Windows 11? Do you need to turn it on? Here we’ll explain why users need DirectStorage, how it works, and how to take advantage of it on your Windows 11 PC.

What is DirectStorage and Why Is It Needed?

DirectStorage is a Microsoft low-level storage API for games that allows for super-fast, near-instant loading times for your games. If you’ve even been stuck in a loading screen during a game, DirectStorage is here to try and solve the problem.

When you’re streaming a game, DirectStorage loads pixels, textures, audio, maps, and character models to the local drive. The game then gets the data from the hard drive using an Application Programming Interface (API).

In turn, the API moves the game’s data from the hard drive in the system’s RAM. From there, it goes to the Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) for rendering.

If you download a game, its data is compressed to save storage space. The GPU, however, can’t use compressed data. So, the data goes from RAM to the CPU for decompression. From there, the game copies to VRAM in the GPU to be displayed.

Because of compression issues, there’s a bottleneck between the CPU (which is constantly decompressing data) and the graphics card or GPU. It’s a legacy process that results in slower load times and lower frame rates.

To fix those bottleneck issues and improve PC gaming, enter DirectStorage—already available for Xbox Series X/S game developers, but now available for Windows 11.

How DirectStorage Works

DirectStorage is a new storage API that offers significant improvements over legacy APIs. There are two main benefits in how it works. First, after copying game data into your PC’s RAM, there’s no longer decompression at the CPU level.

Instead, DirectStorage includes new GPU decompression techniques. The GPU receives a lot of compressed data at once and doesn’t need to wait before rendering graphics. As a result, modern high-end GPUs are necessary to decompress data at a higher rate than CPUs.

Secondly, DirectStorage takes advantage of the faster speed and bandwidth offered by an NVMe SSD, which can be GB/s. On the other hand, older gaming APIs read at a slower rate—in the MB/s range.

The result is near-instant load times, improved framerates, and an overall improvement to game complexity. The only problem at the moment is game support—you’ll need to wait for game developers to implement DirectStorage into Windows 11-capable games.

Do I Have to Turn DirectStorage On?

You don’t need to switch DirectStorage on, but you do need a PC with the system requirements to take advantage of it. First, you’ll need a 1TB NVMe SSD (or bigger) to save your games and to play them. Also, the NVMe drive needs to be able to support and use the Standard NVM Express Controller driver.

You’ll need a beefy GPU that’s compatible with the DirectX 12 Ultimate GPU with Shader Model 6.0 support, too. That means you can’t use anything below an Nvidia RTX 2000 or RTX 3000 series or an AMD RDNA 2 graphics card.

If you have the hardware and minimum system specifications, you’ll enjoy the benefits of DirectStorage and gaming, provided the developer uses the API.

Summing Up

DirectStorage is an API that game developers use to develop complex games. It will result in the creation of new graphically stunning game environments that prove to be far more expansive than previous generations. For gamers, this means more impressive, faster-loading, and wider-reaching games.

The technology’s development (and implementation) began initially for the Xbox Series X/S console, but it’s now supported in Windows 11. DirectStorage bridges the gap between GPU technology and storage. If you have the hardware, there’s nothing you need to turn it on. Just load a game that’s DirectStorage-compatible, and your PC will do the rest.

Developers will now be able to provide expanded worlds with enhanced graphics. You’ll also be able to enjoy more awesome games without the slow load times—you’ll just need to pick the right games to play first. For the time being, DirectStorage support is patchy, but it is likely to improve over the next few years.

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