DirectX 12, Mantle, and the uncertain future of PC gaming - Games Weekly

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

DirectX 12, Mantle, and the uncertain future of PC gaming

Microsoft, to great cries of “WHY?”, made Windows 8 tablet-friendly at the expense of desktop usability. Removing the Start menu didn't help either, and the resulting operating system experienced a lower adoption rate than even Windows Vista, which was similarly maligned.

With Windows 10 the company wants to win back the hearts and minds of gamers, and its trump card is DirectX 12. The in-house graphics API has been powering games on Windows since 1995, but recent updates have been slow you can blame an increased focus on Xbox for that. Now, that’s all about to change.

DirectX 12 promises to reduce CPU bottlenecks, which means better performance for machines with good GPUs but weaker processors. It’s the same thing AMD are doing with Mantle, but DX has the edge in that it works across all hardware, not just AMD.

But here’s the big question: will DirectX 12 be made available for earlier versions of Windows? Or will Microsoft use it to force us to upgrade? The company is remaining tight-lipped, and all we know for sure is that Windows 10 will definitely be shipping with DirectX 12.

Recent DirectX 11 upgrades were limited to Windows 8, and DirectX 10 was a Vista exclusive back in 2009, so we’ve seen examples of this kind of restriction before. If the new DirectX doesn’t work with Windows 7, you might have to start thinking about upgrading, as future games will undoubtedly require it.

Nvidia’s new Maxwell-powered GPUs will have DirectX 12 support, and Microsoft recently collaborated with Epic to get it working with Unreal 4. This could pressure AMD into including DX12 support in its new graphics hardware. If not, could we ever see Mantle or DX12-only games, similar to console exclusives? Let’s hope not.

DirectX 12 is said to reduce CPU power usage by 50%, as a result of shifting the load from the CPU, which will dramatically improve performance. A  demo that switched between DX11 and DX12 saw framerate increases of around 60%, although that’s no guarantee of real-world performance. What is interesting is that Nvidia says DX12 will be backwards compatible with all its recent GPUs.

Microsoft is targeting DirectX 12 at ‘holiday 2015’ games, but has already opened up an early access program for developers, which includes access to the new DX12-powered Unreal engine. So we could see games powered by the new tech as early as Christmas. Let’s hope AMD users aren’t left in the lurch.

As for Windows 10 itself, the new OS will see the return of the Start menu, but with a panel on the right-hand side incorporating the touchscreen-friendly ‘live tiles’ from Windows 8. Also, power users will be happy to know that for the first time, the Windows command prompt will allow keyboard shortcuts.

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