Sometimes things happen that are unexpected – just ask Ned Stark. In a far less fictional event, Microsoft has posted an update on their DirectX Blog announcing that they’ve brought a form of DirectX 12 to Windows 7, via official support for the latest DX12 version of World of Warcraft on Windows 7. Where do we even begin?

For some background, Microsoft’s latest DirectX API was created to remove some of the CPU bottlenecks for gaming by allowing for developers to use low-level programming conventions to shift some of the pressure points away from the CPU. This was a response to single-threaded CPU performance plateauing, making complex graphical workloads increasingly CPU-bounded. There’s many advantages to using this API over traditional DX11, especially for threading and draw calls. But, Microsoft made the decision long ago to only support DirectX 12 on Windows 10, with its WDDM 2.0 driver stack.

Today’s announcement is a pretty big surprise on a number of levels. If Microsoft had wanted to back-port DX12 to Windows 7, you would have thought they’d have done it before Windows 7 entered its long-term servicing state. As it is, even free security patches for Windows 7 are set to end on January 14, 2020, which is well under a year away, and the company is actively trying to migrate users to Windows 10 to avoid having a huge swath of machines sitting in an unpatched state. In fact, they are about to add a pop-up notification to Windows 7 to let users know that they are running out of support very soon. So adding a big feature like DX12 now not only risks undermining their own efforts to migrate people away from Windows 7, but also adding a new feature well after Windows 7 entered long-term support. It’s just bizarre.

Now before you get too excited, this is currently only enabled for World of Warcraft; and indeed it's not slated to be a general-purpose solution like DX12 on Win10. Instead, Microsoft has stated that they are working with a few other developers to bring their DX12 games/backends to Windows 7 as well. As a consumer it’s great to see them supporting their product ten years after it launched, but with the entire OS being put out to pasture in nine months, it seems like an odd time to be dedicating resources to bringing it new features.

Microsoft does say that DX12 will offer more features on Windows 10, which makes sense since the graphics stack was designed for it right from the start, but if you do play World of Warcraft on Windows 7, you’re going to get a free performance boost. You may still want to look into getting off of Windows 7 soon though, since this isn’t going to move the January 2020 end-of-support date back for gamers.

For Blizzard, the publisher of World of Warcraft, this is a huge win for their developers, since they’ll no longer need to maintain two versions of the game.

Overall, this an unanticipated and rather exceptional event for the state of Windows graphics APIs. And having reached out to one expert for commentary on Microsoft's announcement, they seem to agree:

"This is a big deal" - Ryan Smith, Editor-in-Chief of AnandTech

Perhaps they are also working on Continuum and Windows Store updates for Windows 7 as well. They do have nine months after all.

We've reached out to AMD and NVIDIA for responses on whether there are specific driver versions that are required. NVIDIA has responded letting us know that Windows 7 users will just need the latest Game Ready Driver for this.

Source: Microsoft DirectX Blog

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  • JeffFlanagan - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    >That's why you should never install anything via windows update on win7 post 2014 or around win10 "free upgrade" campaign.

    That's fine as long as that machine is never connected to the Internet. If you accidentally, or foolishly, connect to the Internet without updates, you're working to compromise your whole network.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    And again, if you read the article portions of DX12 are not present in this. It's feature limited to only what this game needs. Because while yes you could theoretically rip the entire video stack from Win10 and put it into Windows, its more work than is worth doing. Reply
  • CiccioB - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    I don't know "how much work it is" to bring a library and make it work with an existing run time.
    For sure it would be a big work making Win7 use DX12 natively for it's interface and internal renderings, which is not required, but for applications that use the added library (be it DX11 or DX12, Vulkan or OpenGL) I can't really understand all this big work needed to allow them to use it.

    What is sure is that the choice to not bring DX12 to Win7 was to try to improve the adoption rate for the new version of the OS, which is however so critically managed (with random and buggy updates every week, interface inconsistency which resemble a toy more than a modern UI, games added to even the pro versions) that is a fail also with DX12 exclusivity.
    Reply
  • weilin - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    Without more details, it's hard to say. In the [software] engineering field, very very rarely is the answer "impossible", It's just a matter of cost. Microsoft may have deemed the cost of refactoring everything to bring DX12 in any form back to Windows 7 to be too high. However, It's possible that Blizzard actually paid for this backport, in that case, if Blizzard was willing to front the cost (and possibly more...), Microsoft might change their tune. For Blizzard being able to EOL their DX10 or older codepath might be worth more. Without details, paths for speculation is way too broad... Reply
  • blppt - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    I personally was never under any illusion that it WASN'T trivial considering that the like minded Vulkan runs just fine on Win 7. Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    Good point. Reply
  • tk11 - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    Yeah, the restriction was imposed by corporate, not by any technical limitation. They just didn't bother making DX12 support WDDM 1.1 so 2.0 and with it windows 10 became a "requirement". This really became obvious when Vulkan although similar in functionality managed to support windows 7 just fine. Reply
  • Jorgp2 - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    If you read the blog you would know it's only the user's pace component.

    So it's like directx 11 on vista
    Reply
  • Mr. Fox - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    You're exactly right. The only reason they haven't done that is because DX12 was the dangling carrot for those dumb enough to take the bait. It wasn't enough of a reason for some to embrace the cancer OS, but it did lure some into drinking the Kool-Aid. Reply
  • boozed - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    Inconceivable! Reply

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