What is Microsoft Directx? What is DirectX anyway? Microsoft DirectX is a collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) for handling tasks related to multimedia, especially game programming and video, on Microsoft platforms. Originally, the names of these APIs all began with “Direct”, such as Direct3D, DirectDraw, DirectMusic, DirectPlay, DirectSound, and so forth.
The name DirectX was coined as a shorthand term for all of these APIs (the X standing in for the particular API names) and soon became the name of the collection. When Microsoft later set out to develop a gaming console, the X was used as the basis of the name Xbox to indicate that the console was based on DirectX technology. The X initial has been carried forward in the naming of APIs designed for the Xbox such as XInput and the Cross-platform Audio Creation Tool (XACT), while the DirectX pattern has been continued for Windows APIs such as Direct2D and DirectWrite.
Direct3D (the 3D graphics API within DirectX) is widely used in the development of video games for Microsoft Windows and the Xbox line of consoles. Direct3D is also used by other software applications for visualization and graphics tasks such as CAD/CAM engineering. As Direct3D is the most widely publicized component of DirectX, it is common to see the names “DirectX” and “Direct3D” used interchangeably.
What is Microsoft Directx?
DirectX is an application programming interface (API) developed by Microsoft for Windows and Xbox. A graphics API is a middleman that facilitates sending instructions from software to the hardware inside your PC. In the early days of computers, instructions went straight to the hardware. However, as games have become more complicated and security measures more direct, APIs have been the backbone of telling your GPU what to do.
In years past, game developers would need to write drivers for multiple graphics cards. APIs like DirectX are standardized, which allows your AMD or Nvidia drivers to do everything regardless of what graphics card you have. Graphics APIs also enable features like hardware-accelerated ray tracing, and they can boost performance through various optimizations.
DirectX isn’t the only graphics API, but it’s the main one you’ll encounter. It’s exclusive to Windows, however, while open-source APIs like Vulkan provide cross-platform support.
DirectX 12 Ultimate explained
The most recent version of DirectX is DirectX 12 Ultimate, which is available on Windows 10, Windows 11, and Xbox Series X/S. Microsoft describes it as “additive” to DirectX 12, bringing features like ray tracing and variable rate shading to Windows and Xbox consoles.
Here are all of the additional features in DirectX 12 Ultimate:
- DirectX ray tracing (DXR): An early version of ray tracing introduced in games like Fortnite and Battlefield V. Most titles that support ray tracing do so through DXR (though Vulkan has its own ray tracing support, as well).
- Variable rate shading (VRS): Allows the GPU to allocate different amounts of power to different areas in a frame. The idea is to boost performance by focusing on the most important areas of a scene, which saves resources in less demanding areas.
- Mesh shaders: Mesh shaders are a complex topic, but they essentially combine multiple shader steps into a single process. This avoids passing between your CPU and RAM when drawing meshes, which improves performance.
- Sampler feedback: Modern games stream assets into the game world, and the game is forced to predict what to stream next based on what the player is doing. Sampler feedback feeds samples of what could happen without actually executing the instruction, allowing games to make better decisions about what assets to stream in.
Although DirectX 12 Ultimate has many new features, you don’t need to worry about them. They’re mainly for developers to optimize games beyond what they could do in DirectX 12 or DirectX 11. The most important addition is DXR, which enables ray tracing not only on PC but on the Xbox Series X, as well.
How to install and update DirectX
You can’t install DirectX directly. It comes with Windows, and you can only update it with Windows. If you see an offer to install DirectX online, avoid it at all costs. Microsoft doesn’t make any installers available.
Installing and updating DirectX involves performing a Windows Update. Read our full guide on how to install Windows 11 if you’re starting from scratch. Before updating DirectX, you need to figure out your DirectX version, which you can do by following these steps:
- Right-click on the Windows icon in the Start bar and select Run.
- Type “dxdiag” into the box and select OK.
- Check for DirectX version under the System tab.
As long as you’ve kept Windows up to date, you should have the latest version. If you don’t, you can force Windows to check for new updates with the following steps:
- Use Windows Key+S to pull up the search box.
- Search for Check for updates and select it.
- Use the Check for updates button to search for new updates.
- Click Install now.
Which version of DirectX should you use?
DirectX is backward compatible, so it’s usually best to use the most recent version that the game you want to play supports. Most games only support one version, but there are a handful of titles that straddle the line between versions like Control, Civilization VI, and Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands.
More recent versions of DirectX bring better features and opportunities for developers to optimize performance. If you want to dig in deep on those optimizations, make sure to read our comparison between DirectX 11 and DirectX 12.
What is DirectX anyway?
DirectX is a series of application programming interfaces (API) that provide low-level access to hardware components like video cards, the sound card, and memory. If that sounded too complex, let’s break things down. At a basic level, DirectX allows games to “talk” to video cards. In the DOS days, games had direct access to video cards and the motherboard, and you could directly edit the configuration file to make changes.
But with Windows 95, Microsoft restricted access to low-level hardware as a security measure. That meant that games could no longer interact with low-level hardware features, and it was a problem. So to facilitate that access, Microsoft introduced DirectX — think of DirectX as a middleman that facilitates communication between a game and a video card.
DirectX isn’t the only API protocol that’s available today, but it is native to Windows — unlike the OpenGL standard — and that’s what gives it an edge. And with DirectX 12 Ultimate, Microsoft is blurring the line between the PC and Xbox Series X, making it that much easier for game developers to tailor games to each platform.
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