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How To: Upgrade Windows Vista To DirectX 11

Introduction

DirectX is the most important interface between the graphics card and a computer game. It is this API that allows game developers to write their code without having to worry too much about the hardware in the gamers’ computers.

DirectX 11 is the newest version of the API and it offers the greatest range of features. If you’re already running Windows 7, you’re all set, since it’s included with Microsoft's latest operating system. But what about the thousands upon thousands of gaming PCs still running Windows Vista? After all, having taken a fair bit of criticism for the way it handled DirectX 10, Microsoft says it has learned from its past mistakes and promises to do better this time around.

The message is clear: Windows Vista will be able to upgrade from DirectX 10 to version 11. Windows XP, on the other hand, is stuck with DirectX 9. End of story.

Microsoft’s plan is that DirectX 11 will become available to the general public with the release of Windows 7 in a few weeks. Windows Vista, on the other hand, won’t see the upgraded API until later as part of Vista’s Service Pack 3. While that may make sense from a marketing perspective (pushing the new OS based on a feature advantage) there is no real technological reason for this delayed approach.

The final version of DirectX 11 has been available since the end of August 2009. The trick is knowing how to get it installed on Vista. If you dig deep enough and go through the MS Knowledge Base, various blog entries, and the Developer Network, you can actually find an answer. However, it appears that Microsoft is determined to make upgrading Vista to DirectX 11 as difficult as possible.

On the following pages, Tom’s Hardware offers a step-by-step guide demonstrating how to activate the download of DirectX 11 (RTM) through Microsoft’s Windows Update by using two simple registry entries. The remainder of the installation completes automatically.

As Simple As Running A Script

Not everyone feels comfortable doing what amounts to open-heart surgery on the Windows registry. To make life easier for our readers, we have created a little script that does the work for you. You can find a download link for this script on the last page of this article. Download and uncompress the archive. You’ll find it contains a copy of Microsoft’s End User License Agreement (EULA), as well as a CMD file. Run this CMD with administrator’s rights by right-clicking on the icon and selecting “Run as administrator,” as shown in the screen shot above. Before you begin, you should also ensure that Service Pack 2 for Vista is installed on your computer, as it is required for this upgrade!

The DirectX 11 Script Is Installed

Launching the script with administrator’s rights opens the command line. You should now see the following message: "Platform Update for Windows Vista registry key has been set successfully." This means that the appropriate entries have been added to the Windows registry. What exactly do these entries do? On the next pages we will show you where Microsoft has hidden DirectX 11 for Vista.

Checking Windows Update For The DX11 Upgrade

Microsoft has already uploaded the DirectX 11 update to the official Windows Update Server; it just remains hidden for now. The registry entries in our script activate a so-called beta download. Contrary to what the name may imply, this doesn’t mean that you’re about to download a beta version of DirectX 11. As you’ll be able to verify later by running DXDiag again, the version number is that of the final release of DirectX 11. Thus, the next step is to launch Windows Update on your computer.

Select The Platform Update

You should now see a package called "Platform Update for Windows Vista." Check the box next to this package to select it as a download. If you’ve already downloaded an update from Microsoft on the same day, you’ll need to tell Windows Update to check for new packages manually by clicking “Check for Updates” on the previous screen.

Notice how Microsoft has hidden the DirectX 11 package inside the “Platform Update?” That’s actually a pretty accurate description, since the Platform Update also installs other Windows 7 features on computers running Vista. You can find a complete list of these features inside our zipped archive.

DirectX 11 Is Installed As Part Of The Platform Update

Nothing special at first glance: Windows Update is installing the Platform Update for Windows Vista (KB971644), including DirectX 11. Once it is done, a reboot is required.

Conclusion

The big moment is here. Tada! DirectX 11 shows up correctly in the diagnostic tool DXDiag. If you want to verify that DirectX 11 is working correctly on your Vista machine, you can download the DirectX SDK from Microsoft as well. On the other hand, you won’t be able to actually use DX11 unless you have the appropriate hardware, such as ATI’s Radeon HD 5800 series that utilizes the new API. Nvidia is expected to release its own DX11-capable parts later this year. DirectX 11-enabled drivers are also required, but are already available for the Radeon HD 5800- and 5700-series cards we've been reviewing over the past 30 days. Games using the new version of the API are set to hit the shelves towards the end of the year (BattleForge has already been patched to include DirectX 11 support, in fact).

You can download the registry script enabling the Microsoft Platform Update with DirectX 11 for Windows Vista here.

(Ed.: Please note that the above link points to our Tom's Hardware Germany page. When you click the link, you'll see the following text in German:

Microsoft is updating Windows Vista to use some of the features built into Windows 7. Officially, the update is meant to become available as part of Service Pack 3 for Windows Vista. If you don’t want to wait and would like to enjoy the new features now, you can unlock a special feature in Windows Update using this script. It allows the operating system to download the appropriate components automatically through Microsoft’s Windows Update.

Also included in this package are the API components of DirectX 11. Service Pack 2 for Windows Vista is required for this update.

From the landing page, click the Download link. From there, click Download-Server Nr.1 to start the download.)

  • jimmysmitty
    Nice tip. But I don't think many people with Vista will stay. Most people I know either plan on or already run Windows 7. I do myself and wont go back.

    Still a good tip for some of the straglers.

    Another thing I heard was that if your GPU had support for certain features that are in DX11, like say a HD4800 series, that it could run them without full DX11 support. I know that all HD2K+ series ATI GPUS can do tesselation so i hope what I have heard is true....
    Reply
  • CoryInJapan
    jimmysmittyNice tip. But I don't think many people with Vista will stay. Most people I know either plan on or already run Windows 7. I do myself and wont go back.Still a good tip for some of the straglers.Another thing I heard was that if your GPU had support for certain features that are in DX11, like say a HD4800 series, that it could run them without full DX11 support. I know that all HD2K+ series ATI GPUS can do tesselation so i hope what I have heard is true....im pretty sure I read that here on toms hardware on one of the DX11 articles.
    Reply
  • kirvinb
    Everytime Toms remove the drop box, they get flamed. You would think they would listen. Please bring the drop box back. Clicking threw pics just isnt cuttin it..
    Reply
  • V3ctor
    Thanks Toms :D Now all I need is a DX11 game :)
    Reply
  • curnel_D
    CoryInJapanim pretty sure I read that here on toms hardware on one of the DX11 articles.Simple things like threaded DX support will work this way. Not some of the more advanced DX11 shaders and such. So DX11 games will undoubtedly run faster under DX11 software models. But it wont look as good if not paired with DX11 hardware.
    Reply
  • San Pedro
    Um, don't think this is big deal as there isn't any real DX11 games out there.
    Reply
  • theubersmurf
    the download link just redirects to the tomshardware.com/de site, I get no download when I hit the download link.
    Reply
  • nukemaster
    You have to click the Download-Server Nr.1 before it redirects you.

    This is a great trick you guys found.

    Good work!
    Reply
  • masterasia
    I'm waiting on nVidia DX 11 cards.
    Reply
  • core i7 ownage
    masterasiaI'm waiting on nVidia DX 11 cards.Nvidia won't get DX11 since they are made by Microsoft AND ATI/AMD. So they won't just give a source to Nvidia.
    Reply