During yesterday evening Nvidia presented the new RTX 3070, 3080 and 3090, the first to take advantage of the Ampere architecture. The event was certainly very positive, as the company has finally unveiled GPUs able to record a clear generational leap while maintaining the same prices adopted for the current line.
But the new GPUs weren't the only protagonists of the presentation: Nvidia has in fact raised the veil also on RTX IO technology, thanks to which it will finally be possible to make the most of the performance of SSDs. It almost seems to hear the mantra that has accompanied the media campaign of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X so far, however, behind these proclamations there is really some substance and Nvidia has shown it to us with RTX IO.
So let's try to understand how the new technology announced by the Santa Clara company works, when it will arrive and why it has the potential to be – together with DLSS 2.0 – one of the most important innovations that the PC world is about to receive.
- DIRECTSTORAGE API: IT ALL STARTS HERE
- RTX IO: HOW IT WORKS AND WHAT IT IS FOR
- BUT WHAT DO CONSOLES HAVE TO DO?
- WHEN AND ON WHICH GPU
SSDs have been present in the PC field for over a decade, however their effect on the gaming world has always been quite limited. Of course, the presence of a good SSD guarantees lower loading times and favors the silence of the machine, but these factors alone are not enough to make its presence essential. But things are about to change (below we will explain exactly how) and also in the PC field the presence of a very high speed storage memory is about to become fundamental, but there are still problems to be overcome: direct access to those resources by the GPU.
In order to solve these problems, Microsoft has started working on the Windows 10 version of the DirectStorage API, born thanks to the work done on the Xbox Series X Velocity Architecture. Without going into the technical details of their operation – which you can learn more on the dedicated page in Microsoft website -, the DirectStorage API will change the way in which the system and components will interface with the mass memory (strictly NVMe type) of the PC, going to exploit more parallel accesses to data and allowing the assets to reach the GPU directly without having to carry out intermediate steps.
In this way the speed of NVMe memories is exploited to the maximum (remember that SSDs of lower categories are not supported), however something is still missing: the data obtained must be decompressed and this involves a huge use of resources. Microsoft is therefore working to the base scaffold, but for everything to work you also need hardware capable of speeding up these operations and simplifying them: this is where RTX IO and Nvidia RTX GPUs come into play.
With RTX IO, Nvidia introduces what could be considered in all respects the DirectStorage engine: Nvidia and Microsoft have in fact collaborated closely in the development of RTX IO. As we have seen so far, in fact, it is necessary that a hardware component takes care of the data decompression task and that it does so without burdening the general performance of the system.
RTX IO has precisely this role, as it allows you to move the decompression work within the GPU, maximizing the use of the available bandwidth of the SSD memory. Also in this case we are talking about NVMe type memories and Nvidia goes into even more detail by constantly mentioning the most recent fourth generation NVMe SSDs, even if it is plausible to believe that the Gen3 are also supported by RTX IO.
The increase in I / O performance, according to Nvidia's tables, is about 100 times compared to what can be achieved with traditional methods based on HDDs, therefore on mechanical drives. This will allow you to access instant uploads, calculate huge open world environments very quickly, take advantage of very high quality textures, significantly reduce effects such as stuttering and object pop-in and even reduce the weight of games.
RTX IO technology, in fact, allows you to efficiently exploit compressed data, all without loss of quality, since the DirectStorage APIs will be used to bring the still compressed assets to the GPU; all decompression work and subsequent calculations will take place within the video card.
Unfortunately Nvidia has not yet revealed which component will do this work, but it is not difficult to imagine it. RTX family GPUs consist of three main elements: shaders, RT cores and Tensor cores. The latter are used for all Machine Learning calculations (such as those necessary for DLSS to work, for example) and their use does not affect the graphics performance of the GPU. We therefore expect the Tensor Cores to come into play and do the decompression work.
The title of this article is deliberately provocative, but not for this far from the scenario that lies ahead. For months we have seen continuous statements about the importance of SSD-type memory on next-gen consoles coming later this year – Epic has also gone into detail – and how this element can change the way of developing the next video games.
If you have followed the discussion closely you will have already realized how the union of DirectStorage and RTX IO leads to exactly the same benefit that has been attributed exclusively to next generation consoles for months. The possibility of directly accessing the assets present on the SSD will allow each machine (at this point we include PC and console in a single set) to begin to really exploit the potential of super-fast memories even for aspects that go far beyond the simple speed of uploads . The presence of an NVMe type SSD as standard guarantees that:
- data redundancy is eliminated (necessary to speed up access to information on mechanical disks) and, consequently, the weight of the games is reduced
- the video memory is used only for loading immediately useful assets, thus allowing a qualitative increase of the same
- new gameplay dynamics can be adopted only possible in the presence of fast memories (the instant warp of Rathcet & Clank: Rift Apart or The Medium are an example)
So let's expect that not only the SSD-type memory will soon become a minimum requirement also in the PC field – with WoW Shadowlands starting to lead the way – but that it is necessary (or in any case highly recommended) to adopt a good level.
Nvidia hasn't released an official date regarding the availability of RTX IO and its implementation on upcoming titles, however its fate seems to be deeply tied to that of Microsoft's DirectStorage API. The official website of the Redmond house suggests that we are still in a little advanced stage of the project, given that the development preview of the API will be presented to developers in the course of 2021. It is therefore possible that the timing of RTX IO are similar.
As for compatibility, however, this time it is the intervention of an Nvidia moderator to give us a hand: RTX IO will be supported by all RTX GPUs based on the Turing and Ampere architectures, so even the current 20 series will allow players to make the most of your NVMe SSDs.
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