Here's What You Need To Know About DirectX 12

Microsoft hinted that a new iteration of its gaming and multimedia API DirectX was on the cards earlier this month and last Thursday, it followed up on said hinting with the announcement of DirectX 12. If you're not sure if your graphics card will support it, how it compares to AMD's Mantle or if you should be interested at all, you've come to the right place.

Firstly, it's going to be a while before we see games making use of DirectX 12, or more accurately Direct3D 12, which is almost exclusively the focus of Microsoft's announcement. The company itself states "holiday 2015" for its consumer debut... which is nearly two years away.

So if you're concerned about the need to suddenly upgrade, you can safely unclench the appropriate organs.

On top of this, NVIDIA has stated that all its DirectX 11-compatible GPUs will happily support the upcoming API (Fermi, Kepler and Maxwell) and AMD has said the same thing about its Graphics Core Next chips (the HD 7000-series and onwards). This means if you've purchased a 3D accelerator in the last few years, you should be OK.

What Microsoft failed to mention is what operating systems will support DirectX 12. When DirectX 10 came out, only Windows Vista and later were given the privilege of hosting it, a fact the gaming community didn't take kindly to.

However, DirectX 11 and its subsets have all been made available to post-Windows XP platforms and given how significant a shift XP to Vista represented, I'm going to tentatively say DirectX 12 will be supported on Windows 7. At least from an architectural point of view, there's no reason for it not to be.

I'll admit this is an educated guess and given Microsoft didn't just confirm this in its original announcement, I can't say anything with 100 per cent confidence.

The performance gains Microsoft is reporting with Direct3D 12 are due to reduced CPU utilisation -- basically lessening and/or optimising its role in the rendering process. This is the same approach AMD has taken with Mantle.

This graph, supplied by Microsoft, shows the change in workload:

By allocating user-mode driver calls to other threads (and therefore other logical cores) the delay between frames is reduced. Microsoft also seems to have taken the kernel mode driver out of the equation, further helping the cause, though I don't have the technical know-how to explain how it's gone about that.

Sufficed to say, if anyone was going to circumvent Windows' kernel-layer (or reduce its impact to near-zero), it'd be Microsoft.

Usually improvements and upgrades to APIs like DirectX are of little importance to console owners -- if they've even aware of its existence -- but DirectX 12 is the exception. Unlike Mantle, which was designed specifically for PC and won't be available to either the AMD-powered PS4 and Xbox One, Microsoft will be bringing DirectX 12 to its latest console.

(Humorous aside: AMD's VP of Global Channel Sales, Roy Taylor somewhat short-sightedly declared in 2013 that Microsoft would never release DirectX 12. Oops.)

As for the PS4, it's already using a close-to-metal graphics API so it's essentially old hat for Sony. Heck, it even came up with its own shader language so developers could maximise the potential of the hardware.

Other than Microsoft and the two largest players in the discrete GPU market, our best source of information on DirectX 12 are the people who will be working with it. Dualshockers' Giuseppe Nelva went to the trouble of picking out a few of the more interesting developer reactions on Twitter:

Unfortunately, DirectX 12 is still extremely new and we won't know any further details until Microsoft -- or developers with access -- share them with us. The biggest question is about operating system support... hopefully the company won't keep us waiting too long for an answer.

DirectX 12 [Microsoft]