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Using Vulkan can result in a noticeably higher frame rate for many games, but DirectX 12 tends to provide a more stable experience. You should test both and choose the one that works best for the game you want to play.

More PC games than ever allow players to choose between DirectX 12 and Vulkan. But it isn’t always obvious what the difference is, nor which one will provide the best gaming experience. The answers aren’t completely straightforward, but we’ll tell you what you need to know.

What Are Vulkan and DirectX?

Vulkan and DirectX are APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and offer two different solutions to the same problem: ensuring software, such as a videogame, can communicate with your PC hardware, and vice versa, in the most efficient way.

SCUM game using Vulkan API

Vulkan is a dedicated graphics API, whereas DirectX is a collection of APIs that includes a graphics API (Direct3D.) They both feature standardized tools, making it much easier to develop software that will work with the wide variety of graphics cards and other hardware inside our computers. Without standardization of this type, software developers would be required to provide individual drivers for every possible GPU and hardware configuration.

DirectX was developed by Microsoft and was originally called the Windows Games SDK (Software Development Kit) when released in 1995. It has been included in the OS since that time. The first game to use DirectX was iD Software’s Doom 95, published in 1996.

Vulkan was developed by the Khronos Group, a consortium of more than 150 companies responsible for OpenGL, WebGL, Anari, and several other APIs. It was originally based on an API called Mantle, developed and then abandoned by AMD. Vulkan is considered to be the successor to OpenGL, a graphics API that has been around since 1992.

RELATED: OpenGL vs. DirectX: Which Is Better for Gaming?

Is Vulkan Faster Than DirectX?

Vulkan is a low-overhead API and can require fewer system resources, such as CPU computation, memory, and bandwidth, than DirectX. This makes it a potentially better option than DirectX 12 on lower-spec computers. Or at least, computers with a less capable CPU.

Most benchmark tests put Vulkan ahead slightly on frame rates, but with more frequent FPS fluctuations. As you can see in the Red-Dead Redemption 2 comparison video below, the frame rate for DX 12 is a bit lower but marginally more stable.

Visually, you should see little difference between a game running on Vulkan and DirectX 12. If identical in-game graphics settings are applied, a game like Red Dead Redemption 2 will look the same using Vulkan as it does with DirectX.

Vulkan Does Have an Advantage in Compatibility

The main difference between Vulkan and DirectX is in the area of cross-platform compatibility. DirectX has been developed for Windows and Windows only. That means a game developed for the Microsoft operating system has to be ported to a different API before it can be released for game consoles, for example.

Vulkan is a cross-platform API, compatible with Linux, Android, Nintendo, MacOS, and many other operating systems. This makes it quicker and easier for developers to make a game for multiple platforms, without having to completely rewrite it for each one.

In the long term, this could be a winning factor for Vulkan. As gaming continues to move away from the more traditional PCs or consoles to include mobile and cloud-based gaming, focusing on Vulkan could become much more appealing to developers.

Vulkan vs. DX 12: Which is Best?

Many modern games and applications can use either DirectX 12 or Vulkan. You will be offered the choice between them before the software is loaded. Which one is best relies on several factors, including your PC hardware, the type of game, and whether you give more weight to visual effects or a high frame rate.

choosing between APIs in Steam

It also depends on how well the game developer understands and has implemented each API. DirectX 12 is more difficult to develop games for, but the API has been around longer than Vulkan and might be more familiar to the devs.

On paper, DirectX 12 (and DX 12 Ultimate) seems the better API for CPU and GPU-intensive games. And if your computer can run a game smoothly in DX 12, there is no reason not to use it. But it always makes sense to test your games using different APIs if given the option. You might find that Vulkan works better for some, while DirectX is better for others.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Graphics API?

An API (Application Programming Interface) is software that allows two programs to efficiently communicate. Graphics APIs are used to allow software such as games or 3D rendering tools to fully access the capabilities of the GPU.

What Is Vulkan 1.3?

Vulkan 1.3 is, at the time of writing, the latest stable version of the API. It was released in January 2022 and arrived with several improvements over version 1.2, including support for Raytracing.

Is Vulkan for AMD or NVIDIA?

Vulkan can be used with both AMD or NVIDIA graphics cards. However, it was derived from an older AMD API called Mantle, so it isn’t uncommon for Vulkan to work a bit better with AMD GPUs than with NVIDIA cards.

Should I use Vulkan or DX12 in RDR2?

Red Dead Redemption 2 works well with DX12, but Vulkan has been shown to provide a better gunslinging experience. Depending on the hardware you are using, Vulkan can improve FPS rates by 10% or more with no loss of visual quality.

RELATED: How to Monitor Your FPS in UWP Games on Windows 10

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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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