The State of DirectX 10 - Image Quality & Performance

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DirectX 10 (DX10) has been one of the hottest topics for discussion and news coverage since the first DX10 compliant hardware appeared in the second half of last year. Touted as the biggest milestone in games development since programmable shaders were introduced with DirectX 8, nearly seven years ago, DX10 has generated a lot of buzz. Unlike the older versions of DirectX which were each built on top of the previous version, DirectX 10 is a completely new beast. With Windows Vista, Microsoft fundamentally changed the way drivers are designed, and they also completely redesigned DirectX from the ground up.

Before DirectX 10, each new version of DirectX was an incremental improvement over the previous version and it was also backwards compatible. This meant that many of the limitations of the previous versions were carried forward to each new version of DirectX. Microsoft broke this cycle by completely redesigning DirectX 10. The overhaul of both DirectX and the way drivers work in Vista is so complete that Vista actually comes with multiple versions of DirectX in order to support DX10 while still remaining backwards compatible with older software.

While DirectX 10 has seen heavy coverage both in the press and in forum discussions across the 'net, most of the discussion has been centered around the potential of DX10 since, at least initially, no one had any actual real-world, reproducible performance data. Since the first DX10 game didn't appear until June, nearly seven months after DX10 hardware first hit the shelves, no one had any idea how DX10 hardware and software would perform until rather recently. Due to its reliance on Vista's new driver model, DirectX 10 is only available for Vista and there are no plans to make a version available for Windows XP. Thanks in part to the relatively slow uptake of Vista, especially in gaming circles, developers didn't have a huge incentive to implement DirectX 10 in their games and as a result, games with DX10 support have been somewhat slow in coming.

One of the biggest issues holding back the maturation of DirectX 10 is the need for DirectX 9 support for the immediate future. It will take years for DX10 hardware to be ubiquitous and until then developers will be unwilling to alienate the section of the market that still uses DX9 hardware by releasing a DX10 exclusive game. This forces developers to compromise between DX9 and DX10 and currently the logical choice is to lean towards DX9 since most of the hardware out there today doesn't support the newer API. However, it's been nearly a year since the first DX10 hardware appeared and there are now several DX10 capable games on the market.  And it looks like things are about to really pick up.

This holiday season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting for PC gamers in years with dozens of highly anticipated PC games set to be released. Hotly anticipated titles like Crysis, Hellgate: London, Unreal Tournament 3 and the PC version of Gears of War are all due to arrive in the coming months and they share another thing in common; they all feature DirectX 10 support. In fact, the holiday release cycle has already started and two highly anticipated DX10 games, Bioshock and World in Conflict, have already been launched. With all of these big holiday releases right around the corner, we think it's about time we looked at the current state of DirectX 10 and answer the big question; are we ready?

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