Graphics DirectStorage: Performance SSDs are not just a game

Saurav Yadav | October 2023

PC gaming is changing — and your gaming PCs must keep up. For today and especially tomorrow, gamers have started to look at solid-state drives (SSDs) that can take advantage of Microsoft DirectStorage. SSDs are a vital part of system hardware that’s necessary to run the new generation of gaming, and it’s moving up in importance as hardware that enhances gamers’ experiences. The CPU, one of the most important hardware parts impacting gaming, does a lot of the heavy lifting and often ends up being the bottleneck in open-world games. DirectStorage enables SSDs to bypass communication with the CPU, a process that has big implications for the dedicated gamer.

In their search for seamless experiences and immersive, open-world gameplay, gamers reach boundary conditions during their everyday gameplay and hate the dreaded “Loading…” screen. To alleviate their frustration, gamers have learned many workarounds for overloaded PCs. For instance, when a game starts to lag, they know to turn off ray tracing (and thus compromise on image resolution). For simultaneous streaming, they start up a second PC to run their video feed and any other workloads that overpower their central processing units (CPUs). Sometimes, these workarounds are still not enough.

The game changes now

Specifying a more efficient newer generation CPU helps, but with that, your SSD matters more than ever. For gamers, SSDs are no longer just for marginally shorter game-load times. They have become an integral part of a high-performing PC. Now, the storage device can work directly with the system’s graphics processing unit (GPU), bypassing the CPU entirely. This concept is supported by Microsoft DirectStorage, NVIDIA GPUDirect® Storage and others. For simplicity, let’s just call it DirectStorage here.

The dramatic expansion of gameplay — especially in open-world games — has spurred the technological breakthrough. No longer can the game and CPU rely on a small number of common images and shapes for high-performance play. Now the gamer drives, rides and flies through infinitely variable screens and scenarios. It’s a workout for a typical gaming PC, but going forward, it’s easily managed for one built with an optimized SSD that supports DirectStorage. The newest AAA titles (meaning high-budget, high-profile games) like Forspoken™ already rely on DirectStorage, and Diablo IV™ has promised to support it in future game patches. Any other game that matters will do the same. You can give your gaming PC better performance by building it for DirectStorage.

A data maze cannot amaze

Basically, DirectStorage sidesteps the CPU to give graphics data directly to the GPU. Most of today’s PCs send graphics data to the PCIe bus, up to the CPU, on to the DRAM, back to the CPU, back to the PCIe bus, and only then over to the GPU. However, with open-world gaming and any other graphics-intensive applications, a direct path is possible and is a far better implementation.

Instead of the data labyrinths in other systems, DirectStorage sends graphics data through the PCIe bus directly to the GPU. That’s it — no circuitous path or wasted time. The benefits are amazing: more system bandwidth, lower latency and smaller CPU loads. DirectStorage drastically reduces load time, lag and system freeze while maintaining higher resolution.

More game developers are taking advantage of DirectStorage application programming interfaces (APIs) to make their games more visually engaging, immersive and fun to play. As a result, we expect that the gaming community’s demand for NVMe™ SSDs will continue to surge.

Get ahead of the game

But not just any SSD will do — even if it says NVMe. Modern clock speeds magnify the tiniest delay or inefficiency, so for NVMe SSDs, experienced engineering is critical. At Micron, we’ve been doing exactly that for decades.

Micron focuses on the best user experience in each class of SSDs we produce. Our NVMe SSDs that support DirectStorage give PC OEMS, game developers and gamers significant advancements in input/output operations per second (IOPS) for sequential read/writes. These advancements mean intelligent saturation of the PCIe Gen4 interface and optimized interactions with the DirectStorage API. And that’s why we are now optimizing all our PC SSDs for DirectStorage.

Game the system

The evolution of PC gaming and other high-end graphics applications is fast and relentless. PC OEMs, game and graphics software developers and users themselves are optimizing all PC components for total system performance. Of course, the CPU, GPU and connection speed are essential. But now, so are the SSD performance optimizations and support for DirectStorage. They are essential for gaming PCs in today’s open-world gaming and high-end graphics ecosystem. At Micron, our NVMe SSDs come from decades of experience, generations of advancements, and industry-leading technology. To us, gaming is not just a game.

Senior product line manager, Client SSDs

Saurav Yadav

Saurav Yadav is a senior product line manager for client SSDs at Micron Technology Inc. He manages a range of present and future high-performance SSDs focusing on delivering best-in-class user experience. Along with gaming and storage, analytics is also one of his most passionate subjects, which he studied during his Master of Science in Information Management from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and his Bachelor of Engineering in Information Technology from Mumbai University.

Saurav Yadav