You may have seen headlines like “DirectStorage causes 10 percent performance hit on RTX 4090 in Forspoken” or “Careful — Microsoft DirectStorage could kill your frame rate,” all based on a single test from German YouTube channel PC Games Hardware. Microsoft’s new DirectStorage feature is designed to boost load times in PC games massively, but it’s not supposed to tank your all-important frame rates.
So what’s going on? The reality is that the DirectStorage implementation in Forspoken does not affect frame rate performance at all. It’s a case of bad test data.
I saw the headlines and immediately started testing Forspoken on an RTX 4090 rig coupled with Intel’s Core i9-13900KS and a SATA SSD and PCIe 4.0 SSD. While PC Games Hardware found that frame rates dipped by 10 percent when using a PCIe 4.0 SSD with DirectStorage, in my own tests, I wasn’t able to replicate this performance hit. The performance was identical, but the load times were obviously very different between the two drives.
It appears that PC Games Hardware used CapFrameX to measure performance, a capture and analysis tool based on Intel’s PresentMon. While it’s a popular app used for PC benchmarks, the loading sequences inside Forspoken’s benchmark cause blackscreens with high frame rates that can impact the overall average frame rate.
Because load times are longer on a SATA SSD, these blackscreens are on the screen for longer, impacting the final average frame rate numbers. CapFrameX was quick to point this out on Twitter shortly after the headlines emerged. PC Games Hardware has now pinned a message to its YouTube video comments section, admitting it “did not take into account that a slower SSD has longer loading phases with a black screen that has very high fps” (translated from German).
Forspoken is one of the first games to ship on PC with Microsoft’s DirectStorage enabled, so it’s a great test candidate for what to expect from a technology that promises the blazing-fast load times that we’re seeing on Xbox Series X consoles. While Forspoken uses DirectStorage 1.1 — Microsoft’s latest release that includes GPU decompression — it doesn’t appear to be making use of GPU decompression yet.
Square Enix doesn’t offer an easy way to disable DirectStorage in Forspoken’s settings menu (it’s on by default) but you can add “-noDirectStorage” to the launch options for the game. I’ve tested the game with and without DirectStorage enabled, and load times can be cut in half in some loading spots in Forspoken. Here are the results using a 2TB Samsung 990 Pro:
The impact of DirectStorage load times is clear in Forspoken’s built-in benchmark, and in most scenes, you can see load times improved by 30 percent or more. Just how GPU decompression might help in games like Forspoken isn’t clear yet, but we’re likely to see improvements in certain areas of the game.
GPU decompression is the next logical step for DirectStorage and one that developers have been calling for. GPU decompression works by offloading the work needed to decompress assets in games to the graphics card instead of the CPU. Games typically compress game assets for distribution, and then these assets are decompressed once a game is played.
Now, we just need more games with DirectStorage and its GPU decompression benefits. Nvidia, AMD, and Intel are all ready to support the technology, but it’s up to game developers to bring it to life inside titles launching this year and beyond.
Update, January 27th 9:40AM ET: Article updated with comment from PC Games Hardware.