GDC14: Microsoft DirectX 12 Debuts

GDC14: Microsoft DirectX 12 Debuts

By Olin Coles

At the 2014 Game Developers Conference (GDC14) this morning, Microsoft revealed their new DirectX 12 graphics API built upon Direct3D 12. The briefing was light on solid details and heavy on imagination, but still revealed enough solid evidence to provide a working proof in concept prototype that portends to offers real-world performance benefits. Overall, Direct3D 12 can be summed up as: performance optimizations derived through refined allocation of processor resources.

Rather suspiciously, these announced API features are strikingly similar to those present in AMD’s Mantle API, which has been openly available for almost two years. The unfair disadvantage here is that AMD, a company primarily known for desktop and mobile processing hardware, is not going to receive the public adulation that a crowned software development brand like Microsoft proudly proved it could demand with the at-capacity room where the news was delivered. I realize I’m grasping at straws by relating AMD Mantle to DirectX 12, but it’s an honest relationship that deserves credit if you’re interested in the back story.

Moving on to the details of what was promised, Benchmark Reviews has posted all of the detail-loaded presentation slides on our Facebook page, which break down to the following highlights:

  • Lower level of abstraction
  • Improved addressed stated and rendering overhead
  • Improved resource management
  • New rendering features

In a subsequent performance demonstration using 3DMark 11 in a head-to-head DX11 vs DX12 comparison, testing with the former produced results the loaded processes onto the processor’s first core whereas testing with DirectX 12 evenly distributed CPU load across all four cores. Not coincidentally, this new feature matches the cornerstone of AMD’s Mantle API, illustrating how close AMD and Microsoft (and others) work together to promote globally-beneficial technology.

DirectX 12 Forza Motorsport 5

Forza Motorsport 5 running on DirectX 12

With the reduced demand on resources, DirectX 12 enables compatible hardware to deliver better performance than previously available. While this essentially equates to a free software-based hardware performance upgrade, it also opens up future graphics products to make bold performance claims that might actually be partially attributed to software optimizations (which is actually an old practice). Regardless, console systems like the XBOX ONE stand to reap the biggest rewards for this optimization, since the hardware isn’t going to change but the performance level will.

In terms of compatible hardware, DirectX 12 reaches far and wide. For example, NVIDIA claims DX12 will be supported across their past few generations of GPU architecture: Fermi, Kepler, and Maxwell. AMD has made similar promises, which translates to gamers winning more performance across the board. Ultimately, Sony may also borrow some of these optimizations for the proprietary API the operates on AMD hardware inside the PlayStation 4 console.

Optimizations don’t end with the ‘big’ players, since Qualcomm announced that these improvements will also yield benefits for the mobile sector. Among them are improved power efficiency that extend device battery life and better mobile processor performance.

Finally, near the end of the briefing, Microsoft alluded to who will receive DirectX 12 and when. The details were vague, but essentially beta release will begin near Q2 2015 with DX12 games promised in time for Christmas 2015. As for which operating systems will get the API, Benchmark Reviews covers the “details” in our parallel article: Microsoft DirectX 12 and Windows 7 Support. -BmR

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