Microsoft announces DirectX 12 at GDC 2014

March 21, 2014 | 10:32

Tags: #direct3d #direct3d-12 #directx #directx-12 #dx12 #fermi #gcn #kepler #maxwell #opengl

Companies: #amd #microsoft #nvidia

True to its word, Microsoft has used the Game Developers Conference to formally announce DirectX 12 with the promise of significant performance improvements thanks to an approach that allows programmers to get closer to the bare-metal hardware.

Introduced back in 1995 as the Windows Games SDK, DirectX is a collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow developers to abstract themselves away from the hardware in a system. By far its most famous component is Direct3D, added to DirectX in 1996, which allows for high-performance 3D acceleration across any Direct3D-certified graphics processor - first introduced as a lightweight consumer-grade alternative to the Khronos Group's OpenGL API, which was at the time focused on professional use on workstation-grade hardware.

Now, Microsoft's Direct3D - and, by extension, the DirectX bundle - has grown into the dominant standard in the PC gaming industry, and even extends to consoles since the launch of the Xbox family. In its latest incarnation, Microsoft claims DirectX significantly reduces CPU overhead for gaming using techniques similar to AMD's hardware-specific Mantle technology to allow programmers lower-level access to the graphics hardware.

'First and foremost, [Direct3D 12] provides a lower level of hardware abstraction than ever before, allowing games to significantly improve multithread scaling and CPU utilisation,' claimed Microsoft's Matt Sandy of the new release. 'In addition, games will benefit from reduced GPU overhead via features such as descriptor tables and concise pipeline state objects. And that’s not all – Direct3D 12 also introduces a set of new rendering pipeline features that will dramatically improve the efficiency of algorithms such as order-independent transparency, collision detection, and geometry culling.'

To back up his claims, Sandy offered a demonstration of 3DMark running on Direct3D 11 compared to Direct3D 12 which halved the CPU time required to render a scene while also helping to spread the load more evenly across multiple processor cores - something from which the eight-core Xbox One will draw considerable benefit.

Microsoft has promised that DirectX 12 will be supported by current-generation hardware, with AMD claiming that all Graphics Core Next (GCN) GPUs and Nvidia that all Fermi, Kepler and Maxwell GPUs will be updated in future drivers to include DirectX 12 support. What the company has so far been silent on, however, is operating system support: while Microsoft has promised that DirectX 12 will be launched across Windows desktops, laptops, tablets and mobiles as well as the Xbox One, the company hasn't yet confirmed whether it will be available on anything but its latest Windows revisions.

Although Microsoft has shown off working Direct3D 12 implementations - including the application and driver layers - it has not yet suggested a launch date for the bundle. It has, however, posted some technical details over on the MSDN Blog.
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