The showdown: DX9 vs DX10

We'll hold our hands up on this one - we got overly excited about the potential of DirectX 10 (DX10).

We saw what it could do, what it would enable programmers to do, and did a convincing impression of a coachload of school kids on far too much fizzy pop. We not only believed the hype, we wanted everyone else to believe it too.

There is some good in DX10

We had seen, and in fact still see, enough gawp-inducing goodness behind closed doors to convince us that with DX10 we were on the cusp of one of the most important advances in PC gaming. An advance that would render worlds where water looks and acts like the wet stuff, where plants sway and are ripped apart by bullet fire, and mists would swirl as you walked through them.

The promise of DX10 is still there, and to be fair we still think that at some point we will see some amazing DX10-only games. It still promises to lift the bar on our gaming, and if you look in all the right places, there are demos of such effects. The problem is, as far as actual gaming is concerned, we're a long way off.

At the time of writing there are simply no DX10-only titles, and definitely no killer game to show it off. In fact, have a guess at how many DX10 supporting games there are available. 100 maybe? How about a more realistic 50? Try again... try... eight.

Is DX10 worth the upgrade?

The list of DX10-only titles is made up of Crysis, Bioshock, Company of Heroes, Lost Planet, World in Conflict, Call of Juarez, and the latest arrival Hellgate: London.

Not too impressive for a year that has seen some of the biggest games in the PC's history released. World in Conflict and Bioshock are both important games, but they're also available in DX9 guises (as in fact are all these titles), which begs the question, what difference does DX10 actually make? And at what cost?

The question aimed at any new release of DirectX is whether it's worth the upgrade. Generally the answer is yes; at least it is once the developers and hardware vendors have been given enough time to iron out the bugs. This is helped along by the fact that the software side of things (the actual DirectX API) is but a short download away, so it tends to get upgraded with the minimum of fuss.

This means that the vast majority of PC owners have access to the API even if they don't quite have the requisite hardware to make use of it.

Windows Vista or nothing

This accessibility goes out of the window for this newest release though. DirectX 10 won't sit atop any old OS - you'll need to be running Vista. And, as those that have used Vista for any length of time will testify, it's a stunning resource junkie in a way that continues to surprise.

While we appreciate some of its graphical thrills and a few of its nicer tools, as far as a launch pad for gaming, there's no reason that, we can think of that, would make the leap worthwhile. Unless, of course, you think Halo 2 and Shadowrun are worth migrating for - in which case you need professional help.

This means that as far as gaming is concerned, there are two distinct camps - in the shiny new corner we have the latest DX10 hardware married to Vista, while the other is home to DX9 and Windows XP.

And it's that clear cut; it's almost as though the two machines are incompatible - which in gaming terms isn't too far from the truth, with quite a few of the more recent games we've seen refusing to play ball with Vista - full stop.