Microsoft just announced DirectX 12, the latest version of the company's graphics APIs, at the 2014 Game Developers Conference. The reveal wasn't a surprise. What's surprising is that Microsoft says that existing computers, smartphones, and the existing Xbox One game console will see boosts in performance when the new tools arrive. Typically, new versions of DirectX have triggered hardware upgrade cycles, promising gorgeous new graphics for your games if you pony up cash to buy the latest chips. But with DirectX 12, four major chipmakers — Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and Qualcomm — announced that the new APIs would run on their existing chips. It's still possible that Microsoft could use DX12 to drive gamers to purchase Windows software, though, as the company declined to answer whether DX12 would support Windows 7, and the company may have a Windows 9 to sell by the time DX12 is released.
What wasn't made clear at the company's GDC 2014 announcement is just how much of a performance improvement we might see in our Xbox One games, or on smartphones, or even really the PC. Microsoft showed a packed audience that the APIs could halve the time a single CPU core spends on a task by offloading it to the GPU, and claims that DX12 can lead to less power-hungry graphics processing on smartphones as well. When we spoke to Microsoft's Anuj Gosalia after the announcement, though, he downplayed the importance of DX12 for Xbox One titles. The Xbox One and PS4 have difficulty running the latest games at 1080p resolution, and Gosalia suggested that DX12 won't necessarily change that or offer any particular new graphical effects. "This just lets you exploit a little bit more of what the hardware can do."
Microsoft says the first DX12 games will arrive in holiday 2015, though there'll also be a preview available later this year.