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Microsoft DirectStorage 10% slower the RTX 4090

This week, Microsoft released Forspoken, which includes the much anticipated (and potentially revolutionary) DirectStorage technology for Windows PCs. Early reports from testers were promising but slightly puzzling, with certain game parts loading in under two seconds and continues from your previous save point being almost immediate. All right! However, it seems there is a cost: you lose roughly 10% of your frame rate when playing.

That’s what the German team at PC Games Hardware found when they ran the Forspoken test at 4K. The newspaper did the benchmark from a PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD, PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD, and a SATA SSD using a standardised testing setup that included a Core i9-12900K and Nvidia’s powerful GeForce RTX 4090. DirectStorage necessitates an NVMe disc, which is not supported by the SATA SSD.

Finally, what does this mean? The SATA drive had the best overall performance, averaging 83.2 fps. The average frame rate for the NVMe discs was at 75 fps, a considerable decrease of 9.64 percent. To the plus, Forspoken’s moment-to-moment smoothness was unaffected by DirectStorage, since the 1 percent and 0.2 percent frame rates were maintained throughout all three drives.

DirectStorage’s main selling point is the ability to offload the decompression of game files to the graphics card rather than the CPU, thus it seems to reason that this would have an effect on overall performance. However, the 10% drop in frame rate is still noticeable. That’s basically the same as going from an RTX 3080 to a 3090, albeit in practise there was only an 8 fps difference between the SATA and NVMe configurations.

However, this may not be a general rule. In terms of raw processing power, the RTX 4090 is unrivalled, and PC Games Hardware has only evaluated it at 4K resolution. The scaling of performance may shift at lower resolutions or on GPUs with various architectures and memory configurations. Since Square Enix only provided codes for the PlayStation5, PC journalists are currently rushing to examine the new system.

Forspoken’s suitability as a spokesperson for Microsoft’s lightning-fast new storage technology is also up for debate. The PC version of the game has received negative reviews and user complaints about its technical quality. Who knows whether it’s operating to its full potential given that there are no comparable DirectStorage games to compare results against?

But one thing is abundantly evident. The old adage, “you can’t get lunch for free,” rings true here. In certain cases, DirectStorage may significantly cut loading times, but shifting that workload to the graphics processing unit (GPU) has other effects. Even with more playtime (and games that support DirectStorage), we still haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what Microsoft’s cutting-edge storage technology can do for us. If you’re interested in giving Forspoken a try, you can download a free trial version.