Microsoft DirectStorage 1.1 API tested with Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus-G PCIe Gen4 SSD running latest Phison IO+ firmware

The first standards for Microsoft’s DirectStorage 1.1 API running on Sabrent’s Rocket 4 Plus-G PCIe Gen4 SSD have been published by Compusemble.

Microsoft DirectStorage 1.1 API tested on Sabrent’s Rocket 4 Plus-G PCIe Gen4 SSD

This past August, Sabrent introduced its all-new Rocket Plus-G PCIe Gen4 SSDs for PCs and gaming consoles. These SSDs are specifically optimized for Microsoft’s DirectStorage API which aims to provide console-level load times for the PC platform. Microsoft also introduced GPU decompression through DirectStorage API version 1.1 which will ship with newer AAA titles such as Forspoken in early 2023.

On initial release, PC’s DirectStorage transmitted optimized data to the CPU, but version 1.1 also improves compression by allowing developers to offload it to the GPU. Here’s a more detailed description from Microsoft of what exactly DirectStorage 1.1 and GPU decompression brings to the table.

ames require massive amounts of data to build immersive worlds — every character, object, and landscape […] It adds up to hundreds of gigabytes of data. To reduce the overall package size of the game, these assets are compressed. When you run the game, the assets are moved into system memory, where the CPU decompresses the data before eventually copying it into GPU memory for use as needed. Moving and decompressing these assets on gaming hardware contributes significantly to load times and limits the amount of detail that can be included in open-world scenes.

DirectStorage 1.0 improves the data transfer part of the process. Advances in Windows 11 along with DirectStorage allow developers to take advantage of the higher bandwidth of NVMe drives. DirectStorage-enabled games installed on NVMe drives should expect to see load times reduced by up to 40%. After optimizing this part of the pipeline, developers will want to improve decompression performance next.

Decompression is usually done on the CPU because compression formats have historically been optimized for CPUs only. We’re introducing a workaround in DirectStorage 1.1 by moving the decompression of those assets to the GPU instead – known as “GPU decompression”. Graphics cards are very efficient at performing repeatable tasks in parallel, and we can take advantage of this capability along with the bandwidth of a high-speed NVMe drive to do more work simultaneously. As a result, the amount of time it takes to load an asset decreases, which reduces level load times and improves open-world broadcasting.

In the benchmarks, we can see that the Sabrent Rocket Plus-G PCIe Gen4 SSD offers more than double the bandwidth versus a PCIe Gen3 SSD after GPU decompression. Most of the bandwidth here is due to the Gen4 protocol but the DirectStorage API also cranks up the performance. Compared to a high-end WD_Black SN850X Gen4 SSD, the same Rocket 4 Plus-G PCIe Gen4 SSD is slightly ahead in NVMe SSD read speeds before GPU decompression.

What’s important about the Expanse benchmark is that it measures sustained performance on a Microsoft DirectStorage API workload. We can see that the Sabrent Rocket Plus-G PCIe Gen4 SSD maintains higher bandwidth throughout the benchmark and according to Intel, sustained B/W numbers will come in handy in future DirectStorage games. Phison IO + Firmware also plays a very important role in maintaining higher bandwidth because it is specially tuned for the DirectStorage API.

The Microsoft DirectStorage API is available on PC right now, but besides some benchmark demos, it hasn’t been introduced in a AAA game or app yet. We’ll have to wait until 2023 before we actually see the API in action.

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