The Internet's been abuzz over the promise of Windows 10's underlying DirectX 12 gaming technology for months now. Drastically higher frame rates! Drastically lower power consumption! Drastically improved performance from AMD hardware! A--gasp--whole new era in PC gaming.
And all of it's true! Er, maybe.
With Windows 10 starting to grace PCs around the globe as part of Microsoft's staggered rollout, let's take the time to wrap our head around DirectX 12: What it really does, where you can find it, and most importantly, when you can begin tapping into its sweet, sweet "close to the metal" goodness.
What is DirectX 12?
Let's start high-level. DirectX 12 is the newest version of Microsoft's DirectX application programming interface, which handles visual and other multimedia tasks on Windows-based systems. Most end users know it because a very large number of PC games lean on DirectX in some way for their graphical prowess.
DirectX is mostly associated with Windows, but because Microsoft's recent "Windows everywhere" push will spread Windows 10's core bits to virtually every Microsoft platform, DirectX 12 will appear on Windows 10 computers and tablets, Windows 10 Mobile phones, and even the Xbox One in due time. If your device runs Windows 10, it runs DirectX 12, basically.
Fun fact: The name "Xbox" derives from "DirectX Box." Not-so-fun fact: Microsoft hasn't announced plans to bring DirectX 12 to prior versions of Windows, so it looks like you'll need to upgrade to Windows 10 to get it. Good thing Windows 10's free for most people.
What's so special about DirectX 12?
Short answer: It's going to make your PC games faster.
Long answer: The reason DirectX prevailed over the proprietary graphics API wars of yesteryear is its high level of hardware abstraction. The sheer volume of available components in the PC ecosystem is staggering, and that's before you even get into the intricacies of the potential system combinations with all those parts. DirectX 12 lets developers target its high-level APIs, which then handle all the nitty-gritty hardware compatibility details in the background.
DirectX 12 continues that, but it'll also give developers lower-level access to hardware if they want to additionally optimize their software. The API's highlight feature will essentially let games handle CPU utilization more efficiently, better balancing loads between multiple cores rather than dumping the bulk of the work on a single core. Games will also have reduced GPU overhead, and less overhead means more speed.
A new "Explicit Multiadapter" feature sounds just as exciting. Explicit Multiadapter lets software utilize multiple graphics processors inside a PC even if they aren't from the same vendor--allowing you to, say, tap into the graphics integrated on your Intel processor for specific graphics tasks while your GeForce GPU handles primary duties, or rock an AMD Radeon graphics card and an Nvidia GeForce graphics card in the same system.
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