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Microsoft adds a new DirectX 12 feature level for next-gen graphics technology

Wonder what next-gen graphics developments Microsoft could possibly be preparing for... hmm...

Microsoft DirectX 12 Ultimate

In only a few days we should all be getting some concrete information on what next-gen graphics and GPUs are all about. Nvidia is set to announce its “latest graphics innovations” on September 1, and we shouldn’t have to wait too long to see some AMD RDNA 2 GPUs either – these will power both Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles. It looks like Microsoft got the memo and is preparing its API for all these impending next-gen graphics developments.

The company recently announced a new feature level for DirectX 12, this being level 12_2. Feature level 12_2 includes “big-ticket graphics features worth exposing in Direct3D 12, and important enough to be represented in a feature level” – things like “DirectX ray tracing, mesh shaders, variable-rate shading, and sampler feedback”.

A feature level is a handy way of grouping together different graphics capabilities, so that, for instance, a less powerful graphics card might use feature level one but more powerful graphics card will use feature level two, this latter level including all the features of level one but adding on a few extra.

Microsoft says, “Feature levels allow streamlining of application code while encouraging adoption of new hardware capabilities. They’re a convenient way for applications to make sense of generational improvements to GPUs which occur over time. A coarse grouping of GPU capabilities is something that applications can easily base their rendering paradigms on, rather than lots of permutations of individual capabilities.”

Microsoft includes a table of capabilities that comprise feature level 12_2, re-drawn here:

12_2 minimum
Required driver model WDDM 2.0
Shader model 6.5
Ray tracing tier Tier 1.1
Variable shading rate Tier 2
Mesh shading tier Tier 1
Sampler feedback Tier 0.9
Resource binding tier Tier 3
Tiled resources Tier 3
Conservative rasterisation Tier 3
Root signature tier 1.1
DepthBoundsTestSupported TRUE
WriteBufferImmediateSupportFlags Direct, Compute, Bundle
MaxGPUVirtualAddressBitsPerResource 40
MaxGPUVirtualAddressBitsPerProcess 40

So, next-gen graphics API tech is separated into a new feature level in DX12, and Microsoft says there are a few hardware platforms that will support this feature level: Nvidia GeForce RTX and Quadro RTX GPUs, AMD RDNA 2 GPUs, Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs, and upcoming discrete Intel GPUs (this serving pretty much as confirmation, as expected, that Intel Xe GPUs will have high-level DirectX capabilities).

The coming month should be monumental for graphics technology, and it looks like Microsoft knows this. It seems to be preparing DirectX for Nvidia RTX 30-series and AMD RDNA 2 GPUs, and all the graphics tech they’ll be able to power. Lovely.