DirectX 12: Unlocking the Xbox One

(Image Credit: CD Projekt Red)

Yesterday we posted an article with details about the key benefits of DirectX 12, and we've since received a lot of questions regarding what features apply to Microsoft's console and to what extent the latest collection of graphics APIs will provide a boost to its capabilities. 

The Xbox One uses an architecture by AMD, and therefore the benefits we detailed yesterday will apply to the console. DirectX 11 has been a limiting factor in development for Microsoft's console as developers have been forced to use it, whereas on the PC (and PS4) other options have been available such as Mantle and OpenGL. 

Async Shaders have been enabled in DirectX 12, which were not available in its predecessor. A few PS4 titles have gone to the trouble of implementing the feature (such as Infamous: Second Son and Battlefield 4.)

DirectX 12 aims to make this easy to implement, and therefore most large game developers are likely to use it for increased performance in their titles. Some of the biggest games this year won't ship with DirectX 12, but could be added via a post-release patch. MSI originally spoke of Witcher 3 and Batman: Arkham Knight as being two of such titles in this post.

The above example is from a LiquidVR demonstration by AMD, but shows the performance benefits Async Shaders can have under certain conditions. In this scenario, we can see a 72 FPS benefit when the developer opts to use Async Shaders in tandem with a post-processing effect.

Such large performance gains are achieved through allowing the graphics queue to be spread across multiple threads to compute simultaneously and reduce the time in which hardware is left idle from having to wait for other parts of the graphics queue to finish before starting the next job. 

This will help to deliver more solid framerates on the Xbox One, and close the performance gap between multi-platform titles. There is a chance that resolution will also be improved, but at the least it will allow more effects to be used in games thanks to more headroom to implement them. 

If a resolution bump is to be delivered, it's more likely that it will be due to DirectX 12's ability to efficiently break-down the "command buffer" into smaller tasks and spread them across multiple cores to process faster and relay to the GPU much quicker.

In yesterday's post, AMD highlights "new 'bandwidth' on the CPU allows for higher peak draw calls, enabling more detailed and immersive game worlds" which is how the Xbox One was designed and one reason behind the decision to use ESRAM.

In an interview with Digital Foundry, the Xbox One's architect Andrew Goossen spoke about the decision to increase the clock speed instead of increase the number of compute units: "The primary reason that the 6.6 per cent clock speed boost was a win over additional CUs was because it lifted all internal parts of the pipeline such as vertex rate, triangle rate, draw issue rate etc"

"The relationship between fill-rate and memory bandwidth is a good example of where balance is necessary. A high fill-rate won't help if the memory system can't sustain the bandwidth required to run at that fill-rate," said Goossen.

PS4 developers tend to use OpenGL, of which a spiritual successor called 'Vulkan' was announced at GDC back in March. Vulkan is cross-platform, but is not as "low-level" as PS4's own APIs. Developers who want to target just the PS4 (mostly first party studios) will continue to use the console's own APIs for performance. Few other developers will want to learn or use this due to the difficulty of then bringing their title to other platforms such as PC.

Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, said: “If I can just learn Vulkan then I can get to a lot of platforms, I don’t want to have to learn Sony’s special API, even if I would gain a few frames-per-second in doing so.” 

We've seen plenty of tests showing the huge benefits of DirectX 12 - including the one below comparing against both 11 and Mantle.

Microsoft has a close partnership with all the major graphics manufacturers who are working to ensure DirectX 12 delivers every last ounce of performance out of their hardware, but Vulkan will likely offer similar results.

Wardell said at GDC: "I've had a lot of meetings with Microsoft, AMD, and a little bit of NVIDIA and Intel - they really need to hit home the fact that DirectX 12, Vulkan, and Mantle, allow all of the cores of your CPU to talk to the video card simultaneously". 

"But everyone's really iffy about that, because that means acknowledging that for the past several years, only one of your cores was talking to the GPU, and no one wants to go 'You know by the way, you know that multi-core GPU? It was useless for your games.'" 

DirectX 12 will have a huge benefit to Xbox One. It is, essentially, unlocking its potential being held back by an age-old API's lack of understanding in how to utilise multiple threads and cores simultaneously. Vulkan will offer the same to PS4 game developers, and it should be relatively simple to port between each set of APIs. Everyone is a winner.

Do you think DirectX 12 will “unlock” the Xbox One? Let us know in the comments.

Related Stories

Leave a comment


This will only be used to quickly provide signup information and will not allow us to post to your account or appear on your timeline.

24 Apr 2015, 4:48 p.m.

I hope that DX12 will "unlock' the Xbox One. Most games on Xbox One look "Last Gen" ! I don't feel Microsoft or Sony made a real big leap with Xbox One or PS4 ! I hope DX12 will be a big upgrade for Xbox One. I would like to see all AAA titles 1080p/60FPS minimum !


24 Apr 2015, 5:59 p.m.

I sincerely hope DX12 boosts performance across my multi-core X1 and PC. Otherwise, what good will it do? I enjoy my Xbox One and anything that Improves that console is great. I'm buying Witcher on PC and I hope it supports Mantle there until DX 12 releases with Windows 10.


24 Apr 2015, 6:12 p.m.

Brad Wardell, oh come on please. Even he is backing away from all his earlier statements.


24 Apr 2015, 11:05 p.m.

Anybody interested in the Xbox Preview Program? If so, message me on Xbox. Gamertag: TrilogyDG503

Its solely up to Microsoft if they accept the invite. Its a neat program. :-) looking forward to the day Microsoft pushes DX12 to the Xbox One!

Preview updates coming in waves folks. May update has been in preview for past couple weeks now.


Thomas Millner
24 Apr 2015, 11:49 p.m.

Yes it will,
but it depends on when the NDA expires on the second GPU.
Looking at late 2016 for when it's up and 100% unlocking.
But that was part of the Plan, appear to be weak 720-900p hardware,
then unlock in stages. The 2nd Layer unlocking bought more 1080p games and
7th Core Unlock.
Final layer will bring in the 8th CPU core and the 2nd GPU core.


25 Apr 2015, 5:59 p.m.

Thats cool, I'm fine with my xbox now, its not like I enjoy games less because of lower res, but improvements are always a plus.


25 Apr 2015, 6:01 p.m.

It will help Xbox one achieve 900p constant frame rate what a joke and run some games at sub par 1080p the fake 1080p PS4 & PC are still the way to go for gaming unless you want a entertainment console than you go for the Xbox one.


25 Apr 2015, 9:43 p.m.

Happy to hear that the Xbox One's potential is yet to be revealed.


27 Apr 2015, 2:32 a.m.

Anything that comes out on DX12 will be implemtented in the OpenGL library over the time. As always.


29 May 2015, 5:01 p.m.

All i want DX12 To do i stack Vram


13 Jun 2015, 9:11 p.m.

DX12 isn't going to do anything for Xbox One. It already has many DX12 features enabled and it uses a very efficient graphics API already, that may even be better than DX12. PS4 also uses Vulcan which is again an efficient API. DX12s main asset is eliminating CPU overhead, but because Consoles have practically no CPU overhead it isn't going to improve performance much, if at all. However PC stands to gain significantly from DX12.


18 Jun 2015, 1:47 a.m.

Let's be completely honest! Yes, DX12 WILL increase performance to the Xbox One. Why? It's Direct X12. Clearly, it will. The Xbox One and PS4 are on relatively the same hardware (other than RAM) which was noted in the article, although PS4 devs have a capability of using low-level API's, I doubt they will come close to how 'perfect' dx12 will get, as even AMD's Mantle (which is LITERALLY designed for this situation) is lower than the DX12 benchmarks (theres plenty of more besides this article). So will it increase performance? Yes. Will it achieve every title after at 60FPS and 1080P? Yes? Will the PS4? I doubt it. I am sure Microsoft will keep DX12 out of Sony's hands for competition purposes...which WILL make Xbox One look better for multi-platform games COMPARED to the PS4. And clearly, if you think the PS4 is on pair with PC gaming, you must not have great PC hardware, because my computer will DESTROY any PS4 games in resolution AND FPS in that resolution.