Microsoft Confirms DirectX 12 Lives, Will Showcase Technology At GDC

Buzz has been building for the last week that Microsoft would soon unveil the next version of DirectX at the upcoming Games Developer Conference (GDC). Microsoft has now confirmed that its discussion forums at the show won't just be to discuss updates to DX11, but that it's putting a full court press behind the DirectX 12 brand and concept.

This is something of a reversal for Microsoft, which has previously been mum on its plans for the API. It responded sharply over a year ago, when an AMD executive claimed that future versions of the API were essentially dead, but it's been over four years since DX11 debuted. Since then, we've seen point updates released and attached to Windows 8... and that's about it.

Given that Microsoft has refused to port these updates back to previous versions of Windows and Windows 8's total market share is just 10.68%, the chances that developers will start taking major leaps to introduce new DX11.2 features into modern games is... well, infinitesimal. One could fairly argue that DirectX 12, which will likely debut with Windows 9 in 2015, is a desperate move by Microsoft to create an API that might actually drive people to upgrade.

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To date, Microsoft has only revealed a few details of the next-generation API. Like Mantle, it will focus on giving developers "close-to-metal" access and reducing CPU overhead. Like Mantle, the goal of DirectX 12 is to give programmers more control over performance tuning, with an eye towards better multi-threading and multi-GPU scaling. Unlike Mantle, DirectX 12 will undoubtedly support a full range of GPUs from AMD, Intel, and Nvidia -- and speaking of "Supported GPUs," look what popped up on the MSDN landing page for this announcement.

Qualcomm's presence on this page is no accident, though it's been quite some time since the company said much about any serious plans around Windows 8. With Windows RT all but moribund, Qualcomm's interest in that market has seemed incidental. The fact that the company is involved with the DX12 standard could mean that the handset developer is serious about the Windows market in the long term, though heavy hitter Imagination Technologies is notably absent from this chart.

As for whether or not this announcement is a "win" or a "loss" for AMD, we'd suggest not viewing the issue as a zero-sum game. Even if DX12 implements all of Mantle's features, AMD has a working software solution today, not coming at a later date. It can also claim its own work on Mantle was the impetus for these announcements -- while there's no hard proof of such statements at the moment, it's certainly true that Microsoft hadn't breathed a word about Mantle-like features before AMD started talking about its own API.

Alternately, what we're seeing here may be the result of Ballmer's departure. Satya Nadella has been CEO of Microsoft since February 4 -- just long enough to make some executive decisions about the future of the company's flagship 3D API and to decide on a GDC launch window. AMD maintains that it's devoted to the long-term success of Mantle and has plans to launch the API on Linux and OS X (something Microsoft presumably isn't willing to do with DirectX).