DirectStorage on Windows 11: Next-gen gaming performance, with PC requirements

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Ars Technica 24 June, 2021 - 02:05pm 49 views

Will Windows 10 users get Windows 11 upgrade?

You'll be able to upgrade to Windows 11 for free if you're already a Windows 10 user. ... So long as your PC meets the minimum requirements, you'll be able to update to Windows 11 the same way you usually update to new versions of Windows 10, once it starts rolling out during the 2021 holiday season. CNETWindows 11 will be a free update. Here's how you'll download it (if you're eligible)

When will Windows 11 roll out?

Upgrades to Windows 11 will begin to roll out late in 2021 and continue into 2022. During this time, we will be doing some behind-the-scenes testing and validating for your specific PC. Windows Update will provide an indication if and when your PC is eligible. You can check by going to Settings/Windows Update. microsoft.comUpgrade to the New Windows 11 OS

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Like many of Microsoft's PC-specific announcements over the years, today's sprawling Windows 11 unveiling included some gaming-specific elements—and at least one with major, next-gen performance in mind.

Today, we've learned that this API will land as a Windows 11 exclusive and will require substantial hardware to toggle on. First, your gaming PC will need a compatible SSD, which Microsoft describes as "1 TB or greater NVMe SSD to store and run games that uses the 'Standard NVM Express Controller' driver." However, NVMe is a protocol, not a speed rating. And while we hope this means NVMe PCI 3.0 drives will be compatible—since they're cheaper and more commonplace—we're still waiting for clarification on that point. (The Xbox Series X/S both rely on drives rated for PCI 4.0 speeds.)

Second, you'll need a GPU compatible with the DirectX 12 Ultimate spec. That means nothing lower than the likes of the RTX 2000 and RTX 3000 series by Nvidia or the RDNA 2 line from AMD.

While the latter is a particularly intense PC requirement in our chip-shortage world, it does line up with next-gen console performance. The asset-streaming power of the PlayStation 5's Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is the best SSD showcase on either next-gen console at this point, and it ticks both of the above hardware-requirement boxes to deliver instant-loading dazzle when the game's heroes warp from universe to universe. (PS5 and XSX have very similar hardware, even if the APIs leveraged by their games differ.) And on Windows 11, DirectX 12 Ultimate will likely leverage other perks that come by default with Xbox Series X/S, including a more efficient texture-loading technique dubbed "Sampler Feedback Streaming."

As more computer owners connect their PCs to higher-end displays, particularly those with HDR compatibility, gamers will benefit hugely from one of the Xbox Series X/S's niftiest party tricks: Auto HDR. This system relies on Microsoft's machine-learning data set to automatically tone map the color and luminosity data from older software so that it renders at an appropriate level on TVs whose brightness reach 1,000 nits and beyond. Having already tested the feature at length on Series X's older Xbox 360 games, I can report that the results generally look phenomenal (but are also easily disabled).

In great news, a video game on Windows 11 can fall back as far as the DirectX 11 API to tap into this system. Unlike the DirectStorage API, Auto HDR has no listed hardware requirements beyond "an HDR monitor." The announcement doesn't specify the spec, but we assume it's the simpler HDR-10 spec—which lacks the scene-by-scene metadata adjustments found in standards like Dolby Vision. But that's a small nit to pick for a system that automatically updates older games with bolder colors, brighter highlights, and superior contrast ratios.

Today's news about Windows Store upgrades is welcome, especially for people who have to use that store to access Xbox Game Pass software. At this point, though, the changes don't appear to be Windows 11-specific. Game Pass will work on Windows 11 the same way it works on Windows 10, either requiring the PC-specific subscription tier at $10 per month or the "Game Pass Ultimate" tier at $15 per month. (The latter adds game downloads on consoles and unfettered access to Xbox Game Streaming.)

New executable formats are going live on the current Windows Store, so we get immediate access to Win32 versions of games via Microsoft's interface. Software and game makers don't have to wait for Microsoft to reduce its take on sales percentages, which already dropped earlier this year to 15 percent for apps and 12 percent for games (thus reaching parity with Epic Games Store).

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Microsoft announces Windows 11, with a new design, Start menu, and more

The Verge 24 June, 2021 - 05:16pm

A new version of Windows is officially on the way

The first thing you’ll notice about Windows 11 is that it includes a new Start menu and updated Start button that are both centered on the taskbar. This UI is very similar to what we first saw in Windows 10X, a project originally planned for dual-screen devices that Microsoft eventually canceled. A lot of the UI work that went into Windows 10X is appearing in Windows 11.

The new Start menu drops the Live Tiles that were originally introduced with Windows 8 and opts for more of the typical launcher you’d find in Chrome OS or Android. There are apps, recent documents, and a separate search interface. Much of the centered appearance is clearly influenced by macOS and Chrome OS, and Windows 11 also includes the rounded corners we’ve seen in both Android and iOS.

Windows chief Panos Panay says “the team has obsessed over every detail.” Windows 11 will also include updated dark and light modes that look a lot better than what we’ve seen in Windows today.

It looks like a useful way to support multiple monitors and ensure that apps always open on the correct screen. That’s particularly helpful if you’re using a laptop hooked up to a monitor or a traditional desktop machine with multiple displays.

Performance is also a big focus for Windows 11. Windows updates are 40 percent smaller and more efficient as they now happen in the background. Hopefully that will mean Windows 11 doesn’t disturb you in the middle of work.

Windows Widgets and touch gestures are also a big part of Windows 11. Widgets is a personalized feed, powered by AI, and it builds on the widgets we’ve seen Microsoft introduce in Windows 10. It slides in from the left-hand side of Windows 11, and you can also make it full-screen. Built-in widgets include a news feed, weather, and maps.

Interestingly, these widgets also include one that lets you tip local creators directly from within Windows 11.

Coupled with this are improvements to inking and voice typing. With certain pens, Windows 11 will also support haptic feedback here. That could mean we’ll see a lot of new hardware that will support these stylus changes in Windows 11.

Xbox is a big part of Microsoft, and we also got to hear from Xbox executive Sarah Bond about PC gaming with Windows 11. Auto HDR, a feature in Xbox Series X / S, will be part of Windows 11. Enabling Auto HDR will add high dynamic range (HDR) to a large number of DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 games as long as you have a compatible HDR monitor.

Xbox Game Pass is also being integrated into Windows 11, thanks to a new Xbox app that the company has been testing for months. This also includes xCloud integrated into this Xbox app, so you can stream games from Microsoft’s cloud, too.

Developers can use their own “commerce engines,” and Microsoft won’t take a cut; devs can even use their own payment systems if they want to. “Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators,” says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

The biggest news here is that Windows 11 will also run Android apps. Microsoft has partnered with Amazon and Intel to make this a reality, and Windows 11 will be using Intel Bridge technology to bring this to life. Microsoft demonstrated TikTok and other Android apps running alongside Windows apps on Windows 11, and the company plans to share more information on this “in the coming months.”

There’s no release date for Windows 11 yet, but Microsoft has promised to make it available as a free upgrade to Windows 10 users this holiday. We’re expecting Windows 11 to appear at some point in October, alongside new hardware running the operating system.

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3 reasons why Windows 11 is exciting for PC gamers

Windows Central 24 June, 2021 - 04:28pm

Watch the June 24Windows 11 event right here

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Recently, Microsoft made Windows 11 official in a livestream, revealing that the new OS will arrive sometime during Fall 2021 and will be offered as a free upgrade to existing Windows 10 users. Featuring significant performance enhancements for general computing, a snazzy new look, and more, Windows 11 is exciting for all PC users — including PC gamers that want to elevate their gaming experience to the next level. Here's a look at three features coming to Windows 11 that PC gamers should be excited about.

One of the most exciting features that will arrive with Windows 11 is Auto HDR, which will automatically enhance any game built on DirectX 11 or higher that previously only used standard dynamic range (SDR) by allowing them to render the much wider spectrum of colors and brightness levels provided by high dynamic range (HDR). This will make many modern SDR-only games such as A Plague Tale: Innocence look better instantly by adding more depth to what's on your screen, all without affecting performance.

Microsoft originally debuted this feature with the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, so it's awesome to finally see it arrive on PC with Windows 11. It will be fun to see how much better SDR games built on DirectX 11 or higher will look with Auto HDR, and I'm excited to test the feature out later this year.

Windows 11 is also bringing support for DirectStorage, which is another technology that Microsoft originally introduced with the Xbox Series X and S. The DirectStorage API can handle many more data requests at once than previous APIs could, resulting in the crazy fast loading times that have been experienced with the new Xbox consoles — even when playing massive open world games rich with oodles of high quality models, textures, and effects. This means that you'll be able to spend a lot less time staring at a loading screen and a lot more time actually playing your games.

To take advantage of Windows 11's support for DirectStorage, Microsoft says you'll need "a high performance NVMe SSD and the proper drivers." We'll have to wait until Windows 11 arrives before we can get the drivers, but check out our roundup of the best SSDs for some awesome NVMe drives you can get now in order to prepare for the arrival of DirectStorage.

Lastly, Microsoft is making some of the best parts of the Xbox ecosystem more accessible than ever with Windows 11. PC gamers will be able to experience Microsoft's all-you-can-eat style Xbox Game Pass for PC service through the Xbox app that will be built directly into Windows 11, making it easier than ever before to enjoy the 100+ games in its library. Xbox Cloud Gaming (also known as xCloud) will be available directly in the Xbox app, too, allowing players with entry-level rigs to enjoy high quality modern titles like the upcoming Halo Infinite. Xbox Cloud Gaming will also be available via browser if you're a subscriber to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

It's true that easier access to things like Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Cloud Gaming won't benefit every type of PC gamer, but more options are never a bad thing. And when you consider how much excellence there is throughout the Xbox ecosystem, I think it's awesome that Microsoft is making sure PC players can be a part of the fun.

What do you think of Windows 11's PC gaming-focused features and improvements? Let me know in the comments. For more on Windows 11, check out why Satya Nadella wants Windows 11 to be the center of an open tech ecosystem. Also, make sure to give Xbox Game Pass Ultimate a look, as it offers a ton of value for an affordable monthly subscription.

Xbox Game Pass gives you access to countless games for one monthly fee. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also adds Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass for PC to the package so you can play online with friends.

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Wondering if your CPU will enable you to run Windows 11? Well, wonder no more; Microsoft has published its official list of compatible processors.

AMD's FidelityFX Super Resolution, or FSR, is here. We ran it through its paces to see just how well it works and whether or not it's going to give NVIDIA DLSS some competition.

We're LIVE with the Windows Central Video Podcast today at 2:30pm ET, make sure you're there!

Age of Empires 4 is expected to release October 28, 2021, and you might be looking for a new PC that can handle the game. These are some of the best pre-built desktop PCs for that exact purpose.

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Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

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