What is DirectX and why is it important for PC gaming?

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DirectX is the secret sauce that keeps most of the best PC games running. It solves a problem for developers by providing a standardized solution for communicating instructions to your graphics card, and it’s the cornerstone of the best graphics cards you can buy today.

We’ll explain what DirectX is, why DirectX 12 Ultimate is important, and how you can find out which version of DirectX is installed on your PC.

What is DirectX?

DirectX is an application programming interface (API) developed by Microsoft for Windows and Xbox. A graphical API is an intermediary that facilitates the sending of instructions from software to hardware inside your PC. In the early days of computers, instructions went directly to hardware. However, as games have become more complicated and security measures more straightforward, APIs have been the backbone of telling your GPU what to do.

Previously, game developers had to write drivers for multiple graphics cards. APIs like DirectX are standardized, allowing your AMD or Nvidia drivers to do everything no matter what graphics card you have. Graphics APIs also enable features like hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and they can improve performance through various optimizations.

DirectX isn’t the only graphics API, but it’s the main one you’ll come across. However, it is exclusive to Windows, while open source APIs like Vulkan offer cross-platform support.

DirectX 12 Ultimate explained

DirectX ray tracing in Battlefield V.

The most recent version of DirectX is DirectX 12 Ultimate, which is available on Windows 10, Windows 11, and Xbox Series X/S. Microsoft describes it as “additive” to DirectX 12, bringing features like ray tracing and variable rate shading to Windows and Xbox consoles.

Here are all the additional features of DirectX 12 Ultimate:

  • DirectX ray tracing (DXR): an early version of ray tracing introduced in games like fortnite and Battlefield V. Most titles that support ray tracing do so through DXR (though Vulkan also has its own ray tracing support).
  • Variable Rate Shading (VRS): Allows the GPU to allocate different amounts of power to different areas of a frame. The idea is to increase performance by focusing on the most important areas of a scene, saving resources in less demanding areas.
  • Mesh Shaders: Mesh shaders are a complex subject, but they essentially combine multiple shader steps into a single process. This avoids switching between your CPU and RAM when drawing meshes, which improves performance.
  • Sampler Feedback: Modern games stream assets into the game world, and the game is forced to predict what to stream next based on what the player is doing. Sampler feedback feeds samples of what might happen without actually executing the instruction, allowing games to make better decisions about which assets to stream.

Although DirectX 12 Ultimate has many new features, you don’t have to worry about them. They are primarily intended for developers to optimize games beyond what they could do in DirectX 12 or DirectX 11. The most important addition is DXR, which enables ray tracing not only on PC but also on the Xbox Series X.

DirectX 12 versus DirectX 11

A player stands next to his mushroom companion in Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.

Although most new games come with DirectX 12, there are still many mainstream titles that use DirectX 11 by default. fortnite, for example, uses DirectX 11 and games like Control and Civilization VI include both options. In most cases, you should choose the most recent API supported by your graphics card.

We passed the benchmark in The wonders of Tiny Tina to see the differences. They’re minor, but DirectX 12 delivered a respectable 6.5% boost in our tests. The most recent DirectX version usually provides the best performance, especially months or years after a new version has been released.

Performance comparison between DirectX 11 and DirectX 12.

Nvidia’s RTX 30-series and 20-series graphics cards support DirectX 12 Ultimate, as do AMD’s RX 6000 graphics cards. AMD’s RX 5000 graphics cards do not support DirectX 12 Ultimate (they do not support ray tracing), although they do support the base version of DirectX 12.

How to Install and Update DirectX

DXdiag menu under Windows 11.

You cannot install DirectX directly. It comes with Windows and you can only update it with Windows. If you see an offer to install DirectX online, avoid it at all costs. Microsoft does not provide an installer.

Installing and updating DirectX involves performing a Windows update. Read our full guide to installing Windows 11 if you’re starting from scratch. Before updating DirectX, you need to determine your version of DirectX, which you can do by following these steps:

  • Right-click on the Windows icon in the start bar and select Course.
  • Type “dxdiag” in the box and select OKAY.
  • To verify DirectX version under the System tongue.

As long as you’ve kept Windows up to date, you should have the latest version. If you don’t, you can force Windows to check for new updates by doing the following:

  • Utilize Windows key + S to open the search field.
  • To research Check for updates and select it.
  • Use the To verify for updates button to check for new updates.
  • Click on Install now.

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