One of the newer Xbox features that Microsoft has been working to bring to Windows is DirectStorage, a collection of features that allows fast PCI Express-based NVMe SSDs to communicate directly with your GPU. For DirectStorage 1.0, the main benefit was faster load times—up to 40 percent faster, according to Microsoft. This week Microsoft announced that it’s readying DirectStorage 1.1 for release later this year, which will allow game assets to be decompressed on the GPU instead of the CPU, speeding up decompression operations and freeing up your processor to do other things.
Normally, compressed game assets are loaded into system memory and decompressed by the CPU before being sent to the GPU. This circuitous route adds to game load times and can contribute to “pop-in” in games with big open worlds—that effect where you see a bland, less-detailed version of an object for a brief instant before more detailed textures and models have time to load in.
DirectStorage’s GPU-based decompression works with a new GPU-optimized compression format called “GDeflate,” originally created by Nvidia. Microsoft’s sample image comparing GPU decompression with GDeflate and CPU decompression using Zlib showed much faster load times (0.8 second on the GPU, compared to 2.36 seconds on the CPU) along with much lower CPU usage, though Microsoft says that the exact results will vary based on your hardware and the game you’re loading.
Using a new decompression format means that games won’t see any of these DirectStorage benefits for “free”—game developers will need to work to implement them. But despite being contributed by Nvidia, GDeflate will work just as well on AMD and Intel GPUs. Microsoft says it’s working with all three companies to make sure their drivers support GDeflate and DirectStorage 1.1.
DirectStorage 1.1’s system requirements are pretty loose. Microsoft says the feature will work on Windows 10 or 11, doesn’t absolutely require a particular type of storage, and will run on any DirectX 12-capable GPU that supports Shader Model 6, which should cover the vast majority of Nvidia, AMD, and Intel GPUs launched within the last four or five years. But for the best results, the company recommends Windows 11, an NVMe SSD, and a newer DirectX 12 Ultimate GPU (of those, the speed of your SSD will make the biggest difference).