You can check if your system is ready for DirectStorage right now thanks to a new preview of the Microsoft Game Bar feature in Windows 11. The Gaming Features tab in the settings menu will tell you whether your system is ready for DirectX 12 Ultimate, allow you to enable HDR and Auto HDR without diving into the myriad Windows settings screens, and now shows which parts of your system are and aren't ready for the next-gen DirectStorage feature.
It feels like we've been banging on about DirectStorage for an age, without there actually being anything to show for it. But that doesn't stop us from being genuinely excited about a new feature that will actually make the most of the speedy SSDs we've been jamming into our systems for years.
You can check for yourself how ready your system is for the new feature using an Insider preview build of Windows Game Bar. Don't worry, you don't need to switch your whole Windows installation around to a potentially flaky dev build, though you will need to enable Insider access on a Microsoft account. It's free, and simple to register for.
Then you just need to download the Xbox Insider Hub from the Windows Store. Yeah, sorry, I'm going to make you go into the Store, I know that's not ideal. On one of the Windows 11 installs I tried this on my Store refused to download or install anything, no matter what I tried. So, apologies if you bang your head against that particular brick wall, too.
On my main system, however, Xbox Insider Hub installed immediately. So you might get lucky.
Once that's installed, click on the Preview tab and select the Windows Gaming preview. Once your signed up for that, you can then go back into the Library page of your Store and click Get Updates. That should then update the Xbox Game Bar app and you're good to go.
Then it's just a question of hitting Win+G and checking the Gaming Features tab of the settings menu to see whether your GPU and OS are optimised for DirectStorage, and which of your installed drives are, too.
So, why are we excited about it?
Games have historically not really benefited from advanced storage options, such as NVMe SSDs, and that's largely because there were still a lot of systems still rocking old school hard drives and developers were busy catering to the lowest common denominator. And in recent times that has meant catering to the console crowd.
But with the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 machines now using NVMe storage as standard, there is an impetus to actually make use of such a speedy medium for their potential gaming benefits.
And what are those?
As well as offering fast level loads, it will enable seamless game worlds with assets and assorted game data being streamed in the background while you're playing. And this is possible because DirectStorage frees up a ton of CPU resources by allowing the GPU to talk to your SSD.
Microsoft estimates that with DirectStorage enabled in-game it will reduce CPU overhead by 20–40%. And both AMD and Nvidia are convinced because, with their SmartAccess Storage and RTX IO features, they're introducing ways for their own GPU architectures to support the DirectStorage API.
Which, okay, is still not available in any released game, though we do know that Forspoken at least will support it, and is aiming to use DirectStorage to get its load times down to just one second on an NVMe SSD. Look, it needs both implementation by a game's developers, as well as optimisations within that game to make it work. So yeah, it's taking its own sweet time.
But Forspoken is on its way in October. Unless that too slips from the barren release schedule that is 2022. And hopefully we won't have to wait another couple months on top of that for the devs to release the eventual DirectStorage patch.