Is DirectX 12 Worth Getting Excited About?

Posted on March 21, 2014 1:22 PM by Rob Williams

At this week’s Game Developers Conference, held in San Francisco, Microsoft took the veil off its long-awaited DirectX 12 graphics library. Now, the question has to be asked, “Is it worth getting excited over?”. At this point, I’d say the answer is “Sure.”

I’m not sure about everyone else, but I expected to hear about the graphical features that would be made possible with Direct3D 12; instead, the bulk of what we learned about is what’s in effect an AMD Mantle clone: A console-like low-level API.

A “bare to the metal” graphics API is important; it could vastly improve the efficiency of our GPUs, which could result in higher framerates in our games. This kind of gain could be especially important if we consider that future games will be more demanding than ever, and perhaps even stress a mainstream GPU to its limit quite easily. Really – no one ever complains about extra performance, and given this type of approach seems to have no downside, I say “Bring it on!”

Futuremark 3DMark 11 running with DirectX 12
Futuremark’s 3DMark 11 running with DirectX 12

Still, is that enough to get me excited? Not really. As we’ve seen from AMD’s Mantle, higher-end setups stand to gain very, very little; on the flip-side, those running more modest setups could experience some noticeable gains. Normally, when a new Direct3D API is announced, it’s something high-end gamers can get excited about – but not here. Remember when tessellation seemed like the coolest feature ever? Even DirectCompute has good value.

I admit I am underselling what we know about DirectX 12 at this point. I’m just having a hard time getting that excited about a technology that AMD announced last fall. It’ll certainly be nice when it gets here, but to me it feels more like an evolution than a revolution – one that should have happened long ago.

The fact that all (or most) DirectX 11-capable cards can likewise handle DirectX 12 makes me question whether or not this is in fact a major release at all. It sounds more like DirectX 11.5.

Microsoft Forza 5 - DirectX 12
For some reason, Forza 5 was ported to the PC for a D3D12 demo.

As far as vendor support goes, NVIDIA’s quite excited about it. In a blog post, it states that it’s been working with Microsoft on DirectX 12 for over four years, and, for what it’s worth, it’s really excited at the prospect that every GeForce user equipped with Fermi or later will be able to take advantage of DX12.

AMD on the other hand has been quiet up to this point, no doubt thanks to the fact that the only thing announced with DX 12 is a clone of Mantle. On that front, the company did announce the other day that Crytek has adopted Mantle. Further, the company has said that DX12 doesn’t negate Mantle’s usefulness – we’ll see about that once DX12 actually gets here.

When Microsoft released DirectX 10, it required that users run at least Windows Vista. That kind of exclusivity was gone when DirectX 11 came out, as it could run in Vista just fine. What about 12? If I had to guess, I think it’ll be available for those running Windows 7 or later. After all – DirectX 12 can run on DirectX 11 cards. If Microsoft forced people into its latest OS to take advantage of it, it couldn’t make a single excuse for it, other than to please its shareholders.

  • Kougar

    Hell yes I’m excited. It’s about bloody time they implemented true load balancing on the drivers. Not to mention DX12 will be backwards compatible with a dozen generation of cards already on the market, that alone is unusual given every DX update previous required hardware to be in place.

  • zacharyt1122

    I’m quite excited about it. Hopefully this can improve upon performance in a very big way. There really should be no reason you get a new game and get performance issues, so hopefully we can start seeing some big improvements on day 1 games. Also the fact that older GPU’s will benefit is awesome as you won’t need to buy a new GPU to take advantage of it.

  • ET3D

    It’s certainly more exciting than the incremental improvements and rebrands we usually see in the graphics hardware market. DX12 would let developers add more detail to games, and I think that would have impact even at the high end. Currently it doesn’t matter how powerful the card, you still get a limited number of draw calls because of the API.

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