Update 01/27/2022 6:30 pm PT
PC Games Hardware has retracted the original claim that DirectStorage affects frame rates. The outlet used CapFrameX, a utility based on Intel PresentMon, to record the frame rates. Unfortunately, the publication didn't consider that the Forspoken benchmark contains black screens with high FPS that affect the average frame rate.
Logically, the SATA SSD took longer to load than the M.2 SSDs, resulting in higher overall frame rates. So while the data was accurate, the conclusion was wrong. PC Games Hardware has issued the following statement (opens in new tab) (machine translation) on its YouTube channel:
"After some questions came up: PCGH measured graphics card and SSD with full PCI Express connection. However, the measurement did not take into account that a slower SSD has longer loading phases with a black screen that has very high fps. This falsifies the values and we will take a look at Forspoken again in a detailed test - then hopefully with GPU compression deactivated in order to work out more precisely where the advantages and disadvantages of Direct Storage lie."
Microsoft's DirectStorage technology has brought lightning-fast loading times to games. However, it would seem that not everything is sunshine and rainbows. DirectStorage may induce a slight performance loss, according to the latest test by the German publication PC Games Hardware (opens in new tab).
DirectStorage 1.1 moves game asset decompression from the processor to the graphics card. Microsoft's demo showed that scenes load almost 3X faster on a graphics card than the processor. Of course, your mileage will vary and depend hugely on your hardware. Nevertheless, it's an exciting technology that will make loading screens a thing of the past. While many news outlets are focusing on benchmarking the impact of DirectStorage on loading times, PC Games Hardware took it a step further and measured the effect that Microsoft's technology has on frame rates.
Forspoken, from Square Enix, is the first game to leverage DirectStorage, the foundation for PC Games Hardware's tests. The publication's system consisted of a Core i9-12900K (Alder Lake) processor and a GeForce RTX 4090, one of the best graphics cards, at 4K. The reviewer tested with a SATA SSD and two M.2 SSD but didn't mention the exact models.
DirectStorage Frame Rate Benchmarks
|Configuration||Average FPS||1% Percentile||0.2% Percentile|
|Core i9-12900K + RTX 4090 (SATA SSD)||83.2||54.3||36|
|Core i9-12900K + RTX 4090 (M.2 SSD)||75.3||53.8||37.3|
|Core i9-12900K + RTX 4090 (M.2 SSD)||74.4||53.5||35.1|
According to the results, the configuration with the SATA SSD offered the best performance in terms of frame rates. However, switching to an M.2 SSD resulted in up to 10% lower average frame rates. While the number looks significant, it's less than a 10 FPS difference between the configurations. Furthermore, the percentiles were very close to each other, meaning the gameplay was smooth despite the lower average frame rates.
It's too early to tell if DirectStorage only contributes to a 10% game performance degradation. The number could be significantly more considerable. PC Games Hardware tested at 4K, so it's plausible that the impact is more visible on lower resolutions, such as 1080p or 1440p. The GeForce RTX 4090 also possesses a lot of firepower; therefore, it'll be interesting to see how DirectStorage affects slower graphics cards. What would be even more intriguing is to quantify the performance loss and compare it between AMD, Nvidia, and Intel graphics cards.
It was to be expected that DirectStorage would take some toll on the graphics card. There is still a lot of testing to be done, though. PC Games Hardware's results are just a stepping stone. In any event, DirectStorage is a game-changer for game developers and gamers, and we'll likely see it in many upcoming titles.