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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  • Gigaplex - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    What about DX12 on Win8?
  • Rudde - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    Is there still people on win8?? Ahem, I mean, good question.
  • D. Lister - Friday, September 20, 2019 - link

    Win8/8.1 are starting to feel like abandonware at this point. Even Nvidia's drivers for the new RTX GPUs are available for either Win10 or 7 (although win7 ones work fine with win8.1), not for 8/8.1. Same for ASUS, who are updating their various softwares for 10 and 7 only, since 2016 I believe.
  • C@mM! - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    I dont think its all that inconcievable. MS will benefit by devs moving to DX12, both as Windows as a platform, and Xbox.

    The limited nature of the Windows 7 release lets Microsoft encourage devs over to DX12 on a case by case basis without having to maintain it wholesale.
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    The weird thing is that Blizzard push for WoW to have DX12 on Windows 7 doesn't actually seem to be a sign they are going to standardize on DX12 any time soon. In fact, alongside the DX12 support they also released a new DX11 path that takes advantage of DX11-style multi-threaded rendering while also continuing to support their old DX11 path. So now they are maintaining 3 different rendering backends.
  • Samus - Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - link

    I wonder how much Blizzard paid them to do this.

    It isn't unusual for corporations to continue paying Microsoft for extended EOL support, this has been happening with Exchange, SQL and most notably Windows XP for at least a decade. So sure if you pay up they'll work with you. I guess it was a cost benefit for Blizzard to have the API\WDDM 2.0 or whatever hackjob MS did ported back to Windows 7 (and what about Windows 8.1?) instead of creating a DX11 version of the game.

    And obviously Windows 7 is of high interest to Blizzard: China has the largest installed base of Windows 7 and China is the largest WoW market.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    3DMark next please! Then we can compare...
  • ceisserer - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    Unbelievable how customer-friendly MS can behave when they are facing competition.
  • HollyDOL - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    I am not too happy about this. While it looks great for users, it takes lots of developer resources that might have been used to improve W10/Dx12, only to introduce single purpose "Dx11.99_for_WoW". Unless there was big enough Win7 WoW players & developers group in MS, it will be quite frustrating for the devs too, because they are fundamentally working on a dead platform.
  • Schmich - Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - link

    Shitty clickbait title that will spread false information due to people not reading the atricle.

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