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What Are The Features Of DirectX 10?

by: Brian Healy ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Much has been made of Microsoft's decision to make DirectX 10 only compatible with their Windows Vista operating system. From a gamer's perspective, what is it that the new API brings to the table over its predecessor, DirectX 9?

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    DirectX 9.0 has been around since December 2002, and in that time there has been significant progress both in terms of gaming and gaming hardware. Each new incarnation of DirectX has been an evolution of the previous version and has brought with it support for new hardware features, thus allowing games developers to move the goalposts further than before in pursuit of an ever-more realistic gaming environment. However, it was likely that developers had pushed the DirectX 9 envelope as far as it would go, and with Windows Vista on the horizon, the Microsoft Direct3D development team decided the best course of action to move forward again was to build an entirely new DirectX application.

    With any brand new technology, there is always a period where the given industry takes a little while to catch up, and it is true that it takes time before the full range of advantages of a new technology are fully realised. The introduction of DirectX 10 is no exception, and while most of the current games in the market still embrace the older DirectX 9 API, titles which take advantage of DirectX 10's capabilities are slowly making their way onto the shelves.

    But what is it about DirectX 10 that sets it apart from it's predecessor? What does it bring to the gaming table? Even though Windows XP and Direct X 9 will likely continue for some time to be the gamers' choice, the answer is quite a lot.

    DirectX 10 supports standardised hardware requirements, meaning that users can expect less disparity between GPU makers Nvidia and ATI as well as less hardware crashes due to the new Unified Driver Model. The Unified Driver Model creates a standard for how graphics cards should operate, meaning greater stability in the future and users should no longer require to have to revert back to older versions of driver software as a result.

    Games running under DirectX 10 should, at least in theory, run quicker than before, thanks to DirectX 10 allowing for less CPU processing and more calculations being performed by the graphics card. This means the CPU can spend less time trying to render objects in the game, as the graphics processing unit on the graphics card will do most of the spadework, allowing the CPU to concentrate on other areas, such as in-game physics, character animations and artificial intelligence actions.

    DirectX 10 will also allow for better shader effects by adding such additional effects as geometry shader, which in turn allows for more sophisticated visual effects in game, such as motion blur. This will allow games to have a greater degree of realism. Also of benefit will be DirectX 10's support of a unified GPU architecture. Currently, pre-DirectX 10 cards had separate pixel and vertex shaders, which couldn't perform simultaneously. As a result, systems could experience some slowdown due to data bottlenecks as one set of shaders would be redundant while the GPU carried out processing the other. However, with DirectX 10, the unified architecture means that the GPU can handle vertex, geometry and pixel shaders at the same time, instead of having to deal with one process before moving to the next.

    The latest graphics cards from ATI no longer have pixel or vertex pipelines, but instead utilise stream processors. These can perform as both pixel and vertex shaders depending on the in-game environment. However, while the latest DirectX 10 compatible graphics cards have, and can so take advantage of the unified architecture, pre-DX10 cards can still reap some benefit too; because the processing power of the GPU becomes more generic for DirectX 10 on non-compatible graphics cards meaning the GPU can shunt more power towards handling physics calculations and other processes that would not normally be dealt with by the GPU. Nvidia's DirectX10 compatible graphics cards still feature fixed pipelines, meaning one of more pipelines will be redundant while others are being processed.  However, DirectX 10's lower processing overhead means that the delay will be much less than it would be under DirectX 9.

    There's no doubt that DirectX 10 features can offer PC gamers a vast improvement in games performance in terms of both visual elements and playability and also allow developers far greater scope. The fact it is only available through Windows Vista is a shame.