Sabrent Clarifies SSD Firmware Requirement For Microsoft's DirectStorage

hero sabrent rocket 4 plus g
If you're not a gamer and not particularly technical, you may feel slightly let down by your new NVMe SSD. After all, the newest game consoles from Microsoft and Sony came along with big promises as to the potential benefits of their solid-state storage subsystems. Integrating the same type of storage technology for PC games should offer similar benefits, right?

Part of what allows the Xbox Series and PlayStation 5 consoles to have such staggering I/O performance is the API that they use to access their storage. Sony's is certainly proprietary, as is the integrated SSD itself. Microsoft, however, is bringing its "Velocity Architecture" secret sauce to Windows, by way of its DirectStorage API.

Put in simple terms, DirectStorage is a Windows API that is built from the ground up to allow modern applications -- like games -- to access solid-state storage in an efficient way. Currently, file access is generally done through an ancient API that was designed for hard drives and doesn't allow today's fastest NVMe SSDs to fully stretch their legs.

directstorage flow
The ultimate goal of DirectStorage is to skip the CPU entirely.

The fully-realized version of DirectStorage will allow applications (including game software) to bypass main memory when loading assets from storage. That's not here yet, but it's supposedly on the way soon. You can read more about DirectStorage over here, and find out how to see if your system can support it here.

As far as we are aware, the only requirements to support this final version of DirectStorage are a recent version of Windows, a fast NVMe SSD, and a DirectX 12 Shader Model 6.0-capable GPU. However, Sabrent is getting ready to release a new SSD, known as the Rocket 4 Plus G. This is an improved version of the Rocket 4 Plus, itself an upgrade on the Rocket 4 that we reviewed awhile back.

The main differences between the Rocket 4 Plus and the new "G" model are that the new model clocks its TLC NAND flash interface higher—up to 1600 MT/s—and that it includes firmware updates specifically to enhance DirectStorage. It would be easy to assume that these are straightforward firmware optimizations to improve performance with the kind of workloads that DirectStorage requires, but speaking to PC Gamer, Sabrent stated that the new firmware is required for DirectStorage to work.

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This chart, from our Rocket 4 review, implies that the old drive should just about do the job.

Upon seeing this, we reached out to a few contacts in the industry who assured us that DirectStorage should work on an adequately fast NVMe SSD which can consistently provide >2.5 GB/s for extended periods with a constant stream of 32K random reads. Certainly not all NVMe SSDs can do this, but there are plenty which should be able to as long as they're cooled properly. That includes Sabrent's own Rocket 4 Plus, we'd imagine. We haven't tested that drive, but the original recipe Rocket 4 was able to maintain right about 2.5 GB/sec on a 32K random read test in ATTO.

To try and clear up the confusion, we spoke with William Harmon ourselves. He's the Senior Technical Marketing Specialist at Sabrent, and the fellow that PC Gamer talked to. Harmon says that "not all drives will work" with DirectStorage, even with firmware updates. But he also notes the new O2 firmware, in conjunction with the Rocket 4 Plus G's faster interface, results in much better, more consistent performance with demanding DirectStorage workloads. He clarified, however, that there is no specific firmware requirement to enable DirectStorage, so if you've already got one of the higher-performing NVMe SSDs currently on the market, you may be ready to go once Microsoft and game developers begin rolling out DirectStorage and games that support the technology.