Microsoft's DirectStorage tech will support PCIe 3.0 and 4.0 SSDs
Faster loading times for one and all
Microsoft have confirmed that their upcoming DirectX tech to help eliminate game loading times, DirectStorage, will be supported by both PCIe 3.0 SSDs and the newer PCIe 4.0 drives. This is excellent news for SSD owners, as it means you won't have to shell out for an expensive PCIe 4.0 SSD like Samsung's 980 Pro or WD's Black SN850 to take advantage of this new storage tech.
Microsoft confirmed the news in their Game Stack Live presentation last night during the live chat, and that a limited Developer Preview of DirectStorage will be available sometime later this summer. It will also be supported by all DirectX 12 graphics cards, but that DirectX 12 Ultimate GPUs (that's Nvidia's RTX 20 and RTX 30 cards, and AMD's RX 6000 cards) will provide the best experience. Have a watch of the full presentation below if you're interested in learning more about how DirectStorage is going to work.
The main takeaway, though, is that all-important PCIe 3.0 SSD support. When Microsoft first announced DirectStorage last September, they never confirmed which type of NVMe SSDs would end up supporting it - only that it would work on "certain systems with NVMe drives", according to their blog post.
Back then, I was worried it would be limited to the new (and very expensive) PCIe 4.0 NVMe drives. You see, DirectStorage is based on the same technology as Microsoft's Xbox Velocity Architecture inside the Xbox Series X and Series S, both of which have been built around entirely PCIe 4.0-based components. Naturally, I'd imagine that PCIe 4.0 SSDs will still probably provide the 'best' experience for DirectStorage - much like their distinction between DirectX 12 vs DX12 Ultimate GPUs - but it's a relief to know that PCIe 3.0 SSD owners will still be able to make use of it when it eventually launches.
I'd definitely recommend watching the presentation above if you're at all interested in the whole PC vs console loading times debate right now. The aim, Microsoft's Andrew Yeung says, is to get down to a sub-one second load time where everything starts "feeling instantaneous", but right now there are lots of factors prohibiting that from happening over on PC, including CPU bandwidth and the way textures and other assets are actually loaded into a game. DirectStorage aims to streamline these processes and bring PC in line with what's happening over on Xbox.
Indeed, loading times on the Series X are properly impressive. Whereas before I'd often use the time to do a quick Twitter scroll while I waited, now there's barely time to take a swig of tea or even glance at a loading screen tooltip before I'm plonked into a game. It's impressive stuff, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it gets implemented over on PC.
We still don't know exactly when DirectStorage will start appearing in PC games at the moment, but with Microsoft's Developer Preview going live later this summer, it's only a matter of time before we, too, join the loading time super squad. Loading screen tooltips, it's been nice knowing ya.