DirectX 11 vs DirectX 12: What’s the Difference?

DirectX 12 is Microsoft’s latest implementation of their graphics API. This graphics API facilitates direct access to the hardware, making the job of game developers much easier. Its predecessor DirectX 11 was first released when Windows Vista came out back in late 2009. The newer DirectX 12 API was released in 2015, intrinsically designed to be a lower-level API with major improvements.

You might be wondering about the performance difference in games that support both APIs. These include the likes of Witcher 3, Ready Or Not, Fortnite, and Path Of Exile, among others. In today’s guide, we have compared DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 APIs.

DirectX 11 vs DirectX 12: Feature Differences

DirectX 11 was introduced more than a decade ago, which makes it quite old. Still, it is highly regarded among developers and used in many modern games. There was increasing demand for a lower-level API, which is what Microsoft intrinsically designed DirectX 12 to be. Thanks to this, the developers gain more granular control over hardware resources like the CPU and GPU and how they are used with DirectX 12.

As Uncle Ben from Spiderman taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. Developing a game on DirectX 12 can have additional complexities. It is up to the developers to optimize things correctly so that users benefit from using the more modern graphics API. But if a developer wants to make a game with the latest graphical advancements, they would need to use the modern DirectX 12 API instead of the older DirectX 11 API.

ray tracing

Overall, DirectX 12 also facilitates more efficient use of hardware resources. The newer API lets developers get “closer to hardware” than what was previously possible. In games that support both DirectX 12 and DirectX 11, the latest API can give better performance as long as it is implemented correctly. Of course, DX12 graphics are better than DX11 because of the various advancements that we’ve made in the last few years. Let’s talk about some of these:

  • Ray Tracing is one of the major features of DirectX 12. It facilitates realistic reflections, lighting, and shadows. Games with ray tracing can look amazing, especially when you consider how awesome Cyberpunk 2077 looks with DLSS 3.5 turned on, an RT-specific enhancement by Nvidia.
  • DirectML is an addition only found on the DirectX 12 API. This facilitates game development with machine learning and can increase graphical fidelity. In this detailed overview shared by Microsoft, a super-resolution technique utilizing DirectML was shown to have better quality than traditional bilinear upsampling.
  • Variable Rate Shading (VRS) is another upgrade made possible with DirectX 12. With this, developers can selectively reduce the shading rate in a certain area in order to improve overall performance. Certain parts of the game won’t have a visual fidelity downgrade with lower shading rate, so with VRS, the performance in-game can be increased.

DirectX 11 vs DirectX 12: Performance Comparison

Generally, if you have older hardware, choosing DirectX 11 in the game could result in better performance as opposed to selecting DirectX 12. In many implementations, such as Tom Clancy’s The Division, better performance is facilitated across most systems when using DX 12 over DX 11. Still, your experience as well as overall stability when using both APIs can vary.

We compare the performance of DirectX 11 vs DirectX 12 in some popular games where gamers wonder which API is better to use. The test system here is a budget gaming laptop from Acer, the Nitro V, with Core i5-13420H processor, RTX 4050 graphics, and 16GB DDR5 RAM.

Path of Exile: DirectX 11 vs DirectX 12 vs Vulkan

path of exile directx 11 vs directx 12 vs vulkan api performance comparison

In Path of Exile, the best results were produced when using DirectX 11. I got 82.1 FPS on average and 90.9 FPS with DX11. However, this is the oldest graphics API available to use in the game.

When switching to DirectX 12, the performance got worse with 55.5 FPS on average representing a 32.3% decrease in performance. Vulkan worked pretty well for me and is overall the best choice in Path of Exile, but keep in mind that many gamers have reported good performance with DirectX 12 as well.

Fortnite: DirectX 11 vs DirectX 12

fortnite directx 11 vs directx 12

In Fortnite, DirectX 12 was introduced in 2019. As long as you meet the minimum requirements of the game, you can use the newer API. The settings were set to High for this test, with Nvidia DLSS set to Quality.

The performance was much higher with DirectX 12 in Fortnite, and I got 151.4 FPS on average. The minimum FPS was also higher at 96.4 FPS and overall the game felt much more stable.

Using DirectX 11, the experience was noticeably worse. I got an average of 112.1 FPS, which is 35% lower than DirectX 12 performance. This drastically lower average FPS could be due to me being in a different area, but I am sure that it wasn’t going to increase since I tested the gameplay in various indoor scenarios.

At worst, performance dipped to 56.7 FPS on DirectX 11. There is also a performance-centric setting in Fortnite when selecting the graphics API. This could yield better FPS for some people.

The Importance of DirectX

Today, when developers have to make a game for Windows, they rely on the operating system for driver support. DirectX serves as a backbone with newer versions having more features such as ray tracing. Of course, there are also specialized software frameworks called game engines, like Unreal Engine. Imagine the situation if all that wasn’t there in the first place.

This was exactly the scenario before DirectX came along. Developers preferred making games for DOS and gaming consoles. But after a certain point, DirectX became an industry standard and essentially paved the way for “PC gaming” to become a proper, competent platform.

Still, it is generally easier for developers to make games for PlayStation or Xbox. Some people really do feel console gaming is the way to go. Find out why one of our resident gamers ditched his gaming PC for a PS5 here!

Helldivers 2 new warbond
Helldivers 2 is a new game made with DirectX 12 | Image Courtesy: Arrowhead Studios

Still, PC gaming has its advantages. Everything from high-fidelity ray tracing, 8K resolution, ultra-wide monitors, and smoother refresh rates make for a worthwhile experience. DirectX, along with other graphics APIs, will continue to evolve. Remember that because of these graphics APIs, we can enjoy PC gaming in its current form. There is a limitless variety of PC hardware available today; that too at varying price points. But all modern PCs work in the same manner to play PC games, which is made possible with DirectX.

What are your thoughts on DirectX 11 vs DirectX 12? Let us know in the comments below.

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