Microsoft has taken the wraps off its latest graphics API and it's all about performance and unifying graphics across all devices.

Oh, and two other things: it will be compatible with most recent graphics cards and it makes AMD's Mantle API look a bit pointless.

Instead of the usual spiel about fancy visual effects we've had with previous iterations of Direct X, the pitch for DirectX 12 at a launch event at GDC 2014 focused on performance and multi-platform support.

The first half involves a big reduction in CPU overheads when running games, with Microsoft insisting DX12 will cut CPU loads by 50 per cent, which is frankly an epic number.

The second half concerns pushing DirectX out across PCs, mobile devices including smartphones and the Xbox One console. One graphics API to rule them all.

If Microsoft's claims come true, it will be very good news for PC gamers. It's great that the new API is compatible with existing graphics cards, although exactly which graphics cards is not yet totally clear.

DX12
Much better load balancing across multicore CPUs is a big part of the DX12 proposition

Nvidia has said all its existing DirectX 11 GPUs will also be compatible with DX12. There's no word as yet from AMD, but it seems likely that all cards with AMD's GCN or Graphics Core Next will be compatible at the very least.

After all GCN is the technology in Xbox One and that console is part of the DX12 adventure. However, the other AMD-related aspect of DX12 involves Mantle, AMD's own API.

Much of what Microsoft has been saying about DX12 sounds exactly like the claims AMD made for Mantle: lower CPU overhead, better threading, getting 'close to the metal', all that jazz.

Why did AMD announce Mantle?

What's really odd is that AMD must have known DX12 was coming down the line as it announced Mantle, but if DX12 delivers on Microsoft's claims, you have to wonder what the point of Mantle is.

OK, Mantle may be even more efficient at getting beneath those performance-sapping abstraction layers, but it's also surely a case of diminishing returns. And more to the point, Mantle is an AMD-only where DX12 includes AMD, Nvidia and Intel GPUs on the PC and yet more in the mobile space.

That's a huge advantage when it comes to the critical game developer-support angle. Unless Mantle has a spectacular technical advantage over DX12, it's very likely dead in water.

Like Mantle, DX12's true potential is untested so perhaps AMD knows something that we don't and that's why it pressed ahead with Mantle. Time will tell.