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Quantum Break PC is better on DirectX 11

New Steam release gives Nvidia GPU owners a huge performance boost over the existing DX12 code.

Quantum Break on Steam brings a much-needed performance boost to the game thanks to the use of DirectX 11 - an API the developer has stated it is much more comfortable using. This comes six months after the Windows Store version, a controversial DirectX 12 release that sadly shipped with a slew of bugs, optimisation quirks and stability issues. For the best experience at the time, Xbox One offered a better-optimised package with fewer grievances, while Windows Store customers were forced to wait some time for patches to rectify certain issues - but to this day, issues still remain.

The move back to DirectX 11 in this Steam release is great news for older Windows users of course, where previously it was exclusive to Windows 10's online store. Curiously, it's confirmed there's no DirectX 12 executable included at all on Steam right now - a surprising move, but justified in part by Remedy's confidence that DX11 is better optimised for most machines. We can confirm visuals are identical at the top 'ultra' settings on either API, but it's Nvidia GPUs in particular that benefit from higher frame-rates on the Steam re-issue.

We look at the GTX 970 first, a card that had serious issues with stutters and freezing when we first tested the game on DX12. With the latest GeForce 372.90 drivers installed, we run both the Steam and Windows Store versions on a Windows 10 machine, paired with an i7 4790K and 16GB RAM. In terms of visual settings to tax this hardware, we set it to 1080p, ultra settings, and use the game's upscaling mode too. This constructs a full HD framebuffer using temporal supersampling from a base 720p image.

The result? A vastly smoother ride on DirectX 11, and with higher frame-rates across the board on the Steam release. In terms of the raw stats, DX11 turns in an average of 44fps, as compared to 33fps on DirectX 12. This veers far away from the top 60fps mark we're looking for, but that's still a 33 per cent boost in performance due to a switch in API and a move away from the universal Windows platform. And not only that, but the erratic frame-times this card continues to suffer from on DX12 - with spikes to 83ms and over - are evened out entirely on DX11. It's a massive upgrade for this card; not just in the frame-rate metrics, but also in the reduction of stutter overall.

Quantum Break runs better on the DirectX 11 version used by Steam. Compared to the Windows Store release, it offers up to a 33 per cent boost on cards like the GTX 970, and we see similar gains on the newer GTX 1060 too. Curiously, AMD's RX 480 shows zero signs of improvement on this Steam release.
1080p/Ultra/Upscaling DirectX 11 (Steam) DirectX 12 (Windows Store)
Radeon RX 480 8GB 43.4 43.4
GeForce GTX 970 44.7 33.0
GeForce GTX 1060 47.5 39.5

It goes one better, because the freezing is also eradicated. Even six months after its Windows 10 store release, our GTX 970 retest on Direct X 12 eventually resulted in a crash caused by an Nvidia driver recovery (notably after 30 minutes of play, where hitching rose in severity over time). Despite numerous driver and game updates since, Quantum Break still freezes for us on our GTX 970 on DX12, while the Steam version has absolutely zero problems by comparison. Clearly, we had hoped this issue would be solved by now, but Remedy has stated we've seen the last update for the Windows 10 Store version, via a tweet that distances itself from the release. It's a shame for those that bought it and still have problems like us, because the Steam re-issue completely solves it.

It's a frustrating state of affairs, but it is worth noting the newer GTX 1060 shows no issues with freezing and hitches on that original Windows Store release - suggesting the scale of the issue may be limited to select cards. Once again we set this GPU to 1080p with ultra settings, and with upscaling on, there's a sizable upswing in performance with the move to DirectX 11. If we're talking averages, DX11 gives us 47fps overall across this test, compared to 39fps on DX12. It's not as big a jump forward as we saw on the GTX 970, but still, that's a 20 per cent performance boost if you've opted for the Steam release here.

Fortunately, the GTX 1060 has no major stutters or crashes on in the first place on DirectX 12, and frame-times are as smooth as ever for the Steam release too. The improvement really is with that simple uptick in performance, rather than solving any overarching stability issues. It's again good news for Nvidia card users here, but what about AMD GPUs?

The last time we looked at Quantum Break on PC, we noted some improvements over the launch version of the PC game, but work still needed to be done. The issues are now fixed, but owners of the original code don't get the fixes.

Launch code analysis: What went wrong with Quantum Break on PC?

Using the same max settings at 1080p on the RX 480, it's curious to find there are absolutely zero performance gains between DX11 and 12. It's a decimal divide for average frame-rates on either side, with both turning in 43fps - and a .02fps lead on our Direct X 12 runthrough. Obviously that's entirely margin of error stuff, and you can reasonably say there's no advantage either way you look. The Steam and Windows 10 Store releases give you the same level of performance on the RX 480, and frame-times are solid either side too.

This creates an interesting situation. If you'll remember, AMD cards already put in the stronger performance at launch with Quantum Break. But with frame-rates remaining fixed in place for the RX 480 on DirectX 11, and Nvidia cards making up ground, this advantage disappears. With all three cards mentioned so far running the DX11 Steam release, both the GTX 970 and 1060 pull ahead of the RX 480 by varying degrees. The newer 1060 leads the pack by a consistent margin of four frames per second compared to the AMD card, and with the older Nvidia card sitting between them.

This performance gain for Nvidia cards gives the GTX 1060 a better shot at 60fps playback. Of course, running the DX11 version at 1080p, ultra preset, with no v-sync shows us moments where the card tips above that 60fps line, but these points are fleeting, and even with the performance boost on GTX 1060 we're still a ways off during intensive shootouts. The overall performance level sits between 40-50fps at top settings, and even turning all settings down to 'high' doesn't fix the situation, with performance on the RX 480 dipping into the low 50s. That said, this is still a really solid level of performance at ultra, if you wanted to simply play with a 30fps cap on either of these cards.

What's so special about Quantum Break anyway? John Linneman's original breakdown highlights the game's many technical strengths. It's based on the Xbox One version but applies equally to the PC release too.

To get a tight lock on 60fps playback, we need to go one lower with the medium setting. We turn everything from volumetric lighting to global illumination quality down while retaining 1080p, all which broadly matches the visual settings we'd get on Xbox One. However, the good news here is we're no longer constrained to 30fps - and both cards are capable of soaring far north of 60fps.

In fact, at medium settings the divide between GTX 1060 and RX 480 only amplifies, and Nvidia's card takes a massive lead in the same suite of tests. It's an average of 102fps on the GTX 1060 at medium, compared to 73fps on the RX 480. Both are perfectly serviceable for a 60fps lock of course, and the AMD card is hard pressed to dip below that number, even if it is closer to it. No doubt there's a bigger safety margin for the Nvidia card to work with though, and it's enough of an overhead to make some of the higher visual settings viable, if you wanted to mix and match between medium and high presets.

To cut a long story short, this Steam release is without a doubt the better way to play if have an Nvidia card. DirectX 11 fixes the stability issues we had before on our GTX 970, while boosting frame-rates by a respectable margin on newer GPUs. For the AMD side it's less of a revelation in metrics, and with our i7 at least, we're getting identical performance regardless of version on the RX 480 - it may well be the case that CPU overhead reduces on DX12. However, based on our testing, right now, the choice is clear: Quantum Break on Steam opens up the game to owners of all modern Windows platforms and boosts Nvidia performance, sometimes dramatically. For most PC gamers, it's the better way to play an impressive game.

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About the Author
Thomas Morgan avatar

Thomas Morgan

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry

32-bit era nostalgic and gadget enthusiast Tom has been writing for Eurogamer and Digital Foundry since 2011. His favourite games include Gitaroo Man, F-Zero GX and StarCraft 2.