How to use DirectStorage in Windows 11

From Xbox to Windows – DirectStorage is an API interface and gaming technology that accelerates the load times of computationally intensive games and supports demanding graphics. Prerequisites are hardware with NVMe-SSD and a graphics card with DirectStorage support.

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What is DirectStorage?

DirectStorage is a technology known from the Xbox console series X and S. It’s also supported by PlayStation 5. DirectStorage API lets game developers integrate the function into games to speed up load times and display detail-rich game worlds. Because PC games are a major area of gaming and now that Windows 11 is the best Windows for gamers thanks to special gaming features, DirectStorage is now fully supported by Windows 11.

The advantage is that the programming interface reduces processor overhead when rendering complex game worlds. Graphics data is transferred at a faster speed between SSD and graphics card thanks to DirectStorage, without compressed data needing to be decompressed by the CPU. Gamers enjoy a better gaming experience with detailed textures, large worlds and lots of action. From the perspective of game developers, the API means they no longer have to adapt the graphics quality to hardware limitations and can use sophisticated graphics technologies such as raytracing. However, one prerequisite is that games are programmed using an integrated DirectStorage feature and PC gamers use Windows 11 as well as the hardware to support DirectStorage.

How does DirectStorage work?

The function of DirectStorage is closely connected to rendering of game graphics. Traditionally, compressed graphics data is decompressed via detours. Game data stored on a SSD is transferred to the main memory (RAM). To conserve memory the data is compressed. When you start a game, the API (Application Programming Interface) retrieves the data from the SSD to RAM memory. This passes them to the CPU processor for decompression. Once decompressed, they’re passed back to the RAM and from there to the video memory (VRAM) of the GPU for rendering.

DirectStorage is a low-level API that eliminates the need for time-consuming decompression via the CPU. Compressed graphics data is transferred directly from the SSD via RAM to the graphics card. Decompression happens in the VRAM of the GPU in this way, saving time for processing and transferring game data. YouTubers from Linus Tech Tips have tested just how much time is saved when rendering with and without DirectStorage. They rendered a 52.4 MB game scene which took 0.33 seconds to load without DirectStorage and just 0.08 seconds with it.

What are the prerequisites?

Now for the “but”. While DirectStorage comes pre-installed on Windows 11, its usage is only optimal if games were programmed using DirectStorage and gamers own the necessary hardware such as SSDs with NVMe. The prerequisites are:

  • a NVMe SSD with at least 64 GB storage size
  • a graphics card with support for DirectX 12 and Shader model 6.0.

Hardware was also the main reason why DirectStorage was available on Xbox consoles in 2020, while PC users had to wait longer. Consoles have a uniform hardware, but PCs come with different hardware components, graphics cards, SSD vs. HDD, processors, and RAM which make implementation of DirectStorage a greater challenge. Until now, because with Windows 11 that’s changed.

Note

It’s not just game developers who use DirectStorage as part of their development process. Graphics card manufacturers like Nvidia are using an integrated proprietary DirectStorage programming interface. Nvidia could soon be offering this kind of API beginning with the GeForce RTX 200 series.

What does Windows 11 with DirectStorage offer?

DirectStorage moves compressed graphics data from the hard disk to the graphics card’s VRAM without a detour via the CPU. Since the graphics card decompresses data much faster, the load on the processor is reduced by 20 to 40 percent and game performance is accelerated. Game developers using DirectStorage can offer sharper, more detailed textures and larger game worlds that can be rendered without judder, dropouts or glitches with the appropriate hardware.

Integrated DirectStorage also means that game developers can add more elements, such as NPCs, or create open worlds like those in Final Fantasy XIV. Faster rendering means objects don’t suddenly appear but are components of the visible game world. One of the first PC games to offer support for DirectStorage is the fantasy action role-playing game Forespoken from renowned developer Square Enix. If gamers are to really benefit from the faster technology, decompression and transfer of data needs to be considered as early as the game development stage. Because without games with DirectStorage functionality, any hardware advantages aren’t going to speed up load times all that much.

Is DirectStorage available for Windows 10?

Generally, DirectStorage works on Windows 10, albeit with a few shortcomings since the storage stack optimizations cannot be used. You’ll need to install Windows 11 to enjoy all the advantages of DirectStorage. Nevertheless, gaming performance should be somewhat better on Windows 10, at least to a certain extent.

Does DirectStorage require activation?

Windows 11 users benefit from integrated DirectStorage functionality. As long as you’ve got the matching hardware such as a NVMe SSD and compatible graphics card, you can use DirectStorage for relevant games.

Note

DirectStorage isn’t the only application to speed up Windows 11 performance. Other integrated features help to speed up Windows 11 or speed up Windows 10.