DirectX 12 (DX12) was officially unveiled last Thursday at GDC, and of course it has every PC gamer excited. Even though it's not scheduled to release until Holiday 2015, the biggest concern with any new major API release is whether it'll require new hardware to support it. During the GDC presentation, both NVIDIA and AMD took the stage to confirm DX12 support for existing cards, but just how true is that?
I had a chance to speak with representatives from NVIDIA today, who reconfirmed that all Fermi, Kepler, and Maxwell cards will support DX12. In other words, 100% of GeForce DX11 GPUs will already support DX12! You may recall that AMD didn't provide specifics at the GDC presentation and now I know why – according to NVIDIA, like AMD's Mantle, DX12 requires AMD's GCN architecture, which means only 40% of AMD DX11 GPUs will support DX12 (the same percentage that supports Mantle). Not the best news if you're a member of the red camp.
Also not the best news for the red camp is that Mantle seems doomed to fail now that DX12 has been officially unveiled. Proprietary graphics APIs have simply never been able to compete with the likes of DirectX because their footprint is much smaller. This is no more apparent than looking at the current breakdown from the recent Steam Hardware Stats. DX11 GPUs account for 78% of the total discrete GPU install base, with DX10 at 21% and DX9 at 1%. Of those DX11 GPUs, 79% support DX12, while only 14% support Mantle. How many developers will care to focus their efforts on Mantle when DX12 will have a much larger install base at launch?
So why does it seem NVIDIA is much better equipped to handle DX12 from the onset than AMD? While I am unsure of AMD's relationship with Microsoft, NVIDIA stated that DX12 is a "result of four years of collaboration between Microsoft and NVIDIA." Clearly that long-term collaboration and commitment is paying off. In fact, it was NVIDIA that provided Microsoft with a working DX12 driver to show off the world's first DX12 game demo, Forza Motorsport 5, which was running on a GTX Titan Black.
The good news for NVIDIA DX11 GPU owners is that we don't have to wait until Holiday 2015 to see some major performance improvements. A brand new NVIDIA driver will be publicly released in April that will improve performance dramatically across all DX11 games. Details are not yet available, but NVIDIA did release two benchmarks (one synthetic and one game) that show significant improvement, which can be seen below. Of course those should be taken with a grain of salt, considering the source, but it's certainly promising nonetheless.