Microsoft has pushed out a new DirectX update that includes Feature Level 12_2 and a selection of new API-level functionalities. If the term Feature Level leaves you glossy-eyed, fret not, you’re not alone. Fortunately, it’s not all that complex.
Put simply; feature levels are a fancy name for a subset of graphics card capabilities that inform developers and applications of what a specific GPU is capable of handling, allowing them to make use of new graphical features if the hardware allows it. Each GPU is assigned one, meaning applications know from the outset exactly what techniques it can chuck its way. As a newly-penned Dev Blog from Microsoft explains:
“In Direct3D, a “feature level” is the name we use to describe a bunch of graphics card capabilities. “Feature level” is a property of your graphics card. You might visit a computer hardware store or friend you borrow all your hardware from, and find two graphics cards both compatible with your Windows 10 desktop machine. But they could have different feature levels. Or, you might have a multi-GPU system where the two GPUs are different. They might also have different feature levels between them. Games and applications are expected to be programmed to detect which feature levels are available on the system and use a set of features accordingly.”
The idea is to make it easy to determine whether a specific GPU has the chops to handle new capabilities without tedious capability checks.
DirectX Feature Level 12_2 introduces support for several significant capabilities in what Microsoft describes as a ‘huge’ jump from the previous 12_1 feature level. As long as a GPU supports the new level, users can look forward to ‘big-ticket’ features such as DirectX raymtracing, mesh shaders, variable rate shading, and sampler feedback. Though, the update also introduces a wealth of other rendering techniques and flags. Here’s the full list according to Microsoft:
- Shader Model
- Variable shading rate
- Mesh shader tier
- Sampler feedback
- Resource Binding
- Tiled Resources
- Conservative Rasterization
- Root Signature
- MaxGPUVirtualAddressBitsPerResource 40
- MaxGPUVirtualAddressBitsPerProcess 40
Many of these features aren’t exactly new, but DirectX support is excellent news for both players and developers. More interestingly, Microsoft let slip an important tidbit regarding supported hardware platforms.
“Q: Which hardware platforms will support feature level 12_2?
A: We’re absolutely pleased to inform that:
– Feature level 12_2 is supported on NVIDIA GeForce RTX and NVIDIA Quadro RTX GPUs.
– AMD’s upcoming RDNA 2 architecture-based GPUs will include full feature level 12_2 support.
– Intel’s roadmap includes discrete GPUs that will empower developers to take full advantage of Feature Level 12_2.
– Microsoft is collaborating with Qualcomm to bring the benefits of DirectX feature level 12_2 to Snapdragon platforms.”
Support for NVIDIA’s feature-rich RTX Turing GPUs shouldn’t surprise anyone, but news that Feature Level 12_2 support for AMD’s next-gen RDNA 2 is surprising. What we know about AMD’s upcoming GPUs is defined by rumors and speculation, so to have firm confirmation of some major features from a reputable third-party like Microsoft is unusual.