Earlier today at a GDC 2014 session, Microsoft lifted the veil on the next iteration of DirectX, DirectX 12. While the presentation was sadly not streamed live, PC Perspective live-blogged the event, which is where all the images below come from.
DirectX 12 (DX12), or more specifically, Direct3D 12 (D3D12), "provides a lower level of hardware abstraction than ever before, allowing games to significantly improve multithreaded scaling and CPU utilization." As a result, not only will high-end gaming PCs benefit from DX12, but low-end machines too. In fact, all Microsoft devices will have DX12 support moving forward, including Xbox One and Windows-powered mobile devices.
The good news for PC gamers is that new hardware won't necessarily be required – both NVIDIA and AMD confirmed DX12 support for existing cards, with NVIDIA specifically listing Fermi, Kepler, Maxwell, and beyond. Of course one of the most burning questions was not answered – which version(s) of Windows will support DX12? Microsoft put up a slide that broke down the support as: "100% of new desktop GPUs", "80% of new gamer PCs", and "50% of all PC gamers when we ship". That latter percentage is a bit alarming and could indicate that Windows 7 will not be supported. That being said, at least it seems unlikely that Windows 9 will be a requirement.
If you want to read a lot of the technical mumbo jumbo, be sure to check the MSDN Blog post linked below, but one thing I will mention is that Microsoft is reporting "a 50% improvement in CPU utilization, and better distribution of work among threads," in a D3D12-ported version of 3DMark compared to the current D3D11 version. As many PC gamers and computer enthusiasts know, CPUs are currently severely underutilized, so DX12 could be a major boost to overall PC performance, not just GPU performance.
Another interesting facet of DX12 is the claim that it brings "console-level efficiency on PC" thanks to its lower-level access. To illustrate that, developer Turn 10 ported its "Xbox One Direct3D 11.X core rendering engine to use Direct3D 12 on PC," to show off a silky-smooth, 60FPS-stable PC tech demo of its newest racing game, Forza Motorsport 5. Does this mean that the long-time Xbox-exclusive franchise could make its way to PC as a DX12-exclusive? Let the rumors begin!
DX12 definitely seems like a huge change from the current DirectX 11.2, but it'll still be awhile before we see games utilizing it. DX12 has a targeted release of Holiday 2015 with a preview release planned for later this year.