It’s almost time for Windows 7 and along with that the first lot of DirectX 11 class hardware has started to appear. This time the first off the block was, surprise surprise, ATI. The 5800 series cards were released a couple of days ago and there are already impressive reviews about the new cards all around. I am sure it wont be long before Nvidia, which has been uncannily silent, comes out with their line-up. So it is safe to assume that there will be DirectX 11 class hardware on the shelves going into Windows 7 release (Windows 7 RC already has DX 11 support and will also be available for Vista soon). It will however, still take a few weeks more for the initial euphoria to settle, and we should see prices of the cards drop around the holiday season, and probably that is when I will go in for an upgrade as well. I have been running the HD 4850 for some time now and thus far it’s proving to be sufficient, not only for gaming but also for my programming needs. The HD 4850 has been surprisingly good given it’s price point and one would expect the same from 5800 series given the already positive reviews.
There are a couple of things that are in favour of DirectX 11. The first is the API itself. DirectX 11 offers more than just a simple evolutionary upgrade (more here). DirectX 10 was mostly a non event. The enormous success and the longevity of XP and the XBox 360 ensured that the 9 version of the API far outlived most expectations (and probably will continue to live for some time to come). The story of DirectX 10 is also intrinsically connected to Vista. Vista’s low adoption meant not enough people were running a DirectX 10 capable software platform, which Microsoft stubbornly refused to port to XP for whatever reasons. Even though 10 class hardware was available during Vista’s reign, nagging hardware issues and poorly implemented drivers meant DirectX 10 never really caught on like 9 did.
That brings us to the second point in favour of DirectX 11 — Windows 7. XP is old, and I mean seriously old. I am still running a 2004 copy of XP on my machine and though it’s doing it’s job admirably, it’s due for an upgrade. Windows 7 seems to have gotten over those little annoying quirks of Vista which we hated and shouted so much about. My hunch is most people who have stuck with XP will probably upgrade too. Maybe not on immediate release, but 2-3 months down the line when things settle in, after those initial bugs have been addressed and more and more reviews of the OS come out; 7 should slowly see wider adoption. With Vista it seemed like things were rushed into and hyped up. In contrast Microsoft has been careful with Windows 7. The RC of Windows 7 has been somewhat of a “soft launch” and though I haven’t myself had the chance to try it out, it would seem (from reviews and from what people are saying) Windows 7 is much better off than what Vista was. So it’s fair to assume that 7 will catch on more than Vista and in the process DirectX 11 will “get on” to the Desktop.
Does it mean DirectX 11 will be the defacto API for coming games? For that lets look at the games developed today. Yes most of the games that are developed today are still developed primarily for DirectX 9.0 class hardware. Why? Consoles that’s why. You do see AAA titles advertise DirectX 10 and 10.1 support, but even those games are developed with DirectX 9.0 class hardware in mind. Yes some features here and there, usually eye-candy to impress your overzealous graphics fanboi can be found, but the engine and tech itself is designed for platform compatibility. Which ironically means not all of the features of the newer DirectX versions are exploited. As I said before, DirectX 11 is more than just a simple upgrade to the API, it’s also a new way to do things. But since the older hardware still has to be supported, compromises have to be made. There are probably no AAA titles exclusively for the PC, so even if PCs all around were to have DirectX 11 support, it’s not until the consoles catch up will you see all the cool things the newer API has to offer come to the fore.
There is little doubt that version 11 of will make games look better. But there is so much more to the API than just improving looks for games. Many of the features in the new API mirror hardware changes that have taken place, like moving away from the fixed function pipeline, the evolution of GPUs as massively parallel compute devices. All this does mean that DirectX 11 is an API to look at seriously. But how quickly will games start using all these features? I guess only time will tell.