Microsoft’s DirectStorage 1.1 arrives to boost PC game load times with GPU decompression


Microsoft is releasing DirectStorage 1.1 this week, and the biggest new addition is GPU decompression for Windows PC games. GPU decompression is the next natural step in an industry-wide effort to improve game load times on modern PCs. Microsoft originally launched DirectStorage earlier this year, but developers have been calling out for GPU decompression support, and it now arrives with DirectStorage 1.1 this week.

GPU decompression works by offloading the work needed to decompress assets in games to the graphics card instead of the CPU. Right now, game assets are typically compressed when they are packaged up for distribution and then decompressed once a game is played.

The problem is most compression techniques are designed for CPUs, which aren’t great for modern games that want to push for faster decompression rates with the latest PC hardware.

“Typically, decompression work is done on the CPU because compression formats have historically been optimized for CPUs only,” explains Cassie Hoef, a senior program manager at Microsoft. “We are offering an alternative method in DirectStorage 1.1 by moving the decompression of those assets to the GPU instead — known as GPU decompression.”

Forspoken load times.

Forspoken load times.
Screenshot by Sean Hollister / The Verge

We’ve seen the industry move to PCIe Gen3 or Gen4 NVMe storage devices in recent years, offering 7GB/s of data bandwidth. This fast storage is great news for game developers wanting to speed up load times, and the advances in I/O technology can dramatically speed up load times and games using DirectStorage 1.1.

Developers will now need to tweak their games to make use of DirectStorage 1.1, and the improvements could even see big changes inside games where you move from one world to another or teleport between different parts of a map or world. Microsoft claims this can be as much as three times faster, freeing up the CPU to handle other game processes.

Nvidia has implemented its own RTX IO in the current Game Ready Driver (version 526.47) that takes advantage of DirectStorage 1.1. AMD is working with its software vendors to finalize its drivers, and Intel’s latest Arc graphics driver (101.3793) includes its own optimizations for DirectStorage 1.1.

All we need now is game support. DirectStorage has always promised blazing-fast load times that we’re seeing on Xbox Series X consoles, but we haven’t seen many PC games adopt this technology yet. Perhaps GPU decompression will push game developers to really take advantage of DirectStorage. Forspoken was supposed to be the first big game with DirectStorage support, but the title got delayed to January 2023.


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