NVIDIA Releases First Set of DirectX 12 Ultimate Drivers, Enables GPU Hardware Programming

NVIDIA this morning sends the news that the company has released its first DirectX 12 Ultimate compatible driver. Released as version 451.48, the first driver in NVIDIA’s new branch of Release 450 drivers, the new driver is the company’s first release to explicitly support the latest iteration of DirectX 12, allowing support for features like plotting DXR 1.1 and Level 2 variable speed shading. Furthermore, this driver also enables hardware accelerated GPU programming.

As a quick update, DirectX 12 Ultimate is Microsoft’s latest version of the DirectX 12 graphics API, with Microsoft using it to synchronize the state of the API between current-generation PCs and the next Xbox Series X console, as well as to establish a well -Base of defined characteristics for the future development of the game. Based on the capabilities of current-generation GPUs (namely: NVIDIA Turing) and Xbox Series X’s AMD RDNA2 GPU, DirectX 12 Ultimate introduces several new GPU features at a new feature level (12_2). This includes an updated version of the DirectX ray tracing API, DXR 1.1, as well as level 2 variable speed shading, mesh shaders, and sample feedback. The software foundation for this has been established in the latest version of Windows 10, version 2004, and is now being enabled in GPU drivers for the first time.

DirectX 12 Feature Levels
(DX12 Ult.)
12_1 12_0
GPU architectures
(Introduced from)
NVIDIA: Turing
Intel: Xe?
NVIDIA: Maxwell 2
AMD: Vega
Intel: Gen9
NVIDIA: Maxwell 2
AMD: Hawaii
Intel: Gen9
Ray tracing
(DXR 1.1)
yes Not Not
Variable speed shading
(Level 2)
yes Not Not
Mesh shaders yes Not Not
Sample Comments yes Not Not
Conservative rasterization yes yes Not
Raster order views yes yes Not
Mosaic Resources
(Level 2)
yes yes yes
Resources without resources
(Level 2)
yes yes yes
Typified UAV cargo yes yes yes

For recent NVIDIA video cards, Turing’s underlying architecture has supported these features from the start. However, its use has been partially restricted to games that rely on NVIDIA’s exclusive feature extensions, due to a lack of standardized API support. Overall, it took most of the past two years to add the full feature set to DirectX, and while NVIDIA doesn’t hesitate to use this moment to proclaim its GPU superiority as the first provider to ship DirectX 12 Ultimate support, until A certain point is undoubtedly the claim for the investment that the company made to incorporate these characteristics into Turing.

In any case, enabling DirectX 12 Ultimate support is an important step for the company, though it’s primarily about laying the groundwork for game developers and ultimately for future games. At this point, no previously announced games have confirmed that they will be using the DX12U, although this is only a matter of time, especially with the launch of the Xbox Series X in a few weeks.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this version of the driver, while only tangential to DirectX 12 Ultimate support, is that NVIDIA is enabling support for hardware accelerated GPU programming. This mysterious feature was added to the Windows display driver stack with WDDM 2.7 (included in Win10 2004), and as the name alludes, it allows GPUs to more directly manage their VRAM. Traditionally, Windows itself has done much of the VRAM management for GPUs, making this a distinctive change in business.

At a high level, NVIDIA claims that hardware-accelerated GPU programming should offer minor improvements to the user experience, largely by reducing latency and improving performance through more efficient handling of video memory. I wouldn’t expect anything too significant here; otherwise NVIDIA would be heavily promoting performance gains, but it’s something to watch out for. Meanwhile, in the absence of other details, I find it interesting that NVIDIA bundles video playback here as a beneficiary as well, since video playback is rarely an issue these days. In any case, changes in the handling of video memory are being implemented at a low level, so hardware programming is not only for DirectX games and Windows desktop, but also for Vulkan games. and OpenGL.

Speaking of Vulkan, the open source API is also receiving attention with this version of the driver. 451.48 is the first GeForce controller with support for Vulkan 1.2, the latest version of that API. A major cleanup update for Vulkan 1.2 is promoting a number of previously optional feature extensions at the core of the Vulkan API, such as timeline semaphores as well as improved cross-portability support by adding full support for shaders HLSL (i.e. DirectX) within Vulkan.

Finally, although it is tangential to today’s driver version, NVIDIA has posted an interesting note on its customer support portal regarding the selection of Windows GPUs worth considering. In short, Windows 10 2004 has removed the “Run with graphics processor” context menu option within NVIDIA drivers, which was previously a shortcut method of forcing which GPU to run an application on an Optimus system. In fact, it appears that control over this has been completely removed from NVIDIA drivers. As noted in the support document, control over which GPU is used is now handled through Windows itself, which means that laptop users will have to get used to entering the Windows Settings panel to make any changes.

As always, you can find all the details about the new NVIDIA GeForce driver, as well as the associated release notes, on the NVIDIA driver download page.