Samsung Gaming Monitor at CES 2023
Josh Hendrickson / How-To Geek
Usually, DirectX 12 will give you a better gaming experience. This can include better frame rates and advanced visual effects. But if you're playing games on older hardware, you might find that DirectX 11 improves game stability.

The version of DirectX you choose to use when gaming on a PC can make a significant difference in performance. But just because DirectX 12 is newer, does that mean it’s always the best choice? Let’s look at the differences between DirectX 11 and 12, and explore which version is better for gaming.

What Is DirectX?

DirectX is a collection of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) created by Microsoft and included as part of the Windows OS. The API suite includes Direct3D, DirectPlay, DirectSound, DirectDraw, and several others. It was designed to help game developers ensure their software works with as many different hardware configurations as possible.

Instead of being required to provide individual drivers for multiple graphics, video, and sound hardware components, game developers can concentrate on programming for DirectX compatibility and know that their software will work. No matter if the end-user has, for example, a Radeon RX 7900 rather than a Geforce RTX 3060.

This standardization of the interface between software and hardware is the key to the boom in PC gaming over the last 20+ years. Although other API suites are available, including Vulkan and OpenGL, almost every successful game of the past two decades uses or supports DirectX.

DirectX 11 vs. 12: What is the Difference?

The main, and perhaps the most important difference between DX 11 and DX 12 is the level at which they interact with your hardware.

DirectX 12 uses low-level APIs, which operate in a software layer close to the hardware. That means it has more direct control over the GPU and can work more efficiently. DirectX 11 is a high-level API, which means that although it still has access to the GPU and other hardware, it is more removed and only has more generalized control over optimizations.

That low-level access to hardware optimization makes DirectX 12 more difficult and time-consuming to work with. This is likely why, despite DX 12 being released in 2015, games are still being developed for the easier and often more stable DirectX 11.

Choosing directx version for Icarus in Steam
Games like Icarus will ask you to choose between DX11 and DX12.

The second difference to consider when looking at DX 11 vs. 12 is CPU core utilization. For a long time, gamers had little reason to choose a CPU with more than four cores because game developers had a hard time developing games that could efficiently use more than that. With DirectX 12, Microsoft resolved that problem by building support for multi-core processing into the API. When playing a game using DX 12, more cores equals better performance.

The ability to access multiple cores is combined with another new feature in DX 12: Parallel Compute. In DirectX 11, operations are performed in a linear queue, with functions such as texture compression, physics simulation, shadow generation, and CPU data uploads occurring one after another. DirectX 12 allows these types of operations to be executed in parallel and across multiple threads, resulting in a noticeable improvement in efficiency.

DirectX 12 also introduces Asynchronous Compute. This allows operations to be executed without waiting for the previous one to complete. For example, the procedure to generate in-game shadows can be executed before the texture compression operation has finished.

The tiny optimizations achieved by using parallel and asynchronous computing, perhaps hundreds every second, all add up and form the core of the difference between DX 11 and DX 12. DirectX 12 is, to put it simply, much more efficient at communicating between game software and PC hardware.

Is DX 11 or DX 12 Better for Gaming?

In general, you will see better game performance when using DirectX 12. It is a big step up from DirectX 11 in terms of optimization and efficiency between the software and the compatible hardware, and any game that has been programmed to take full advantage will run better than it would when using the older API.

You might not see the same level of increased performance with every game, mainly because not every game requires or can use the kind of low-level optimizations DX 12 offers. NVIDIA suggests that using DirectX 12 with an RTX 3090 could increase the framerate of Assassins Creed Valhalla by as much as 24% and Cyberpunk 2077 by 20% over DX 11. Yet Far Cry 6 and The Division 2 only get a 5% boost.

DirectX 12 also supports a wider range of advanced GPU features, such as Ray Tracing and VRS (Variable Rate Shading.) If the game and your graphics card can use these effects, choosing DX 12 will undoubtedly give you a better visual experience.

Which DirectX Should I Use?

Not all games let you choose between using DirectX 11 and 12. In fact, the number of games that do offer the choice is still pretty low. And even the games that are compatible with DirectX 12 will often default to DirectX 11 when first installed. DirectX 11 might even be the better choice on older PC hardware, purely to avoid issues with compatibility.

the DirectX Diagnostic Tool in Windows 10

But most PC gamers will see a performance improvement, particularly frame rate, by switching to DirectX 12 when available. If there is the option to choose within the in-game settings, it is worth trying out both versions to see what works best.

Frequently Asked Questions

What DirectX Do I have?

If you’re using Windows 10 or 11, you should have DirectX 12 on your computer. It is included with both operating systems. You can check by opening the Run dialog and typing “dxdiag” to open the DirectX Diagnostic Tool.

Do I Need to Install DirectX 12?

No, you normally won’t need to install DirectX 12 manually as it comes with Windows. If a game requires a particular version of DirectX 12 to run, you will be prompted to install it when installing the game. You can also update DirectX when new versions become available.

Does DirectX 12 Increase Frame Rates?

As long as DirectX 12 has been implemented correctly by the game developer, using it should result in a higher frame rate. You are unlikely to see a magical doubling of the FPS, but an increase of 20-25% over DX 11 is not uncommon.

What Is DirectX 12 Ultimate?

DirectX 12 Ultimate is the latest version of DirectX 12, released in 2020. It is designed to be a unified API library across Windows and Xbox consoles and introduced several new features, including DirectX Raytracing and Mesh Shading. Not all graphics cards support DirectX 12 Ultimate, so availability is dependent on your hardware.

RELATED: What Is DirectStorage on Windows 11, Windows 10, and Xbox?

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Russ is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about technology. He loves exploring and figuring out how complex things work, and sharing that knowledge with others, something he has been doing online and in print for more than 15 years. When not writing for How-To Geek, Russ can usually be found planning his first novel or taking something apart to see how it works.
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