Choosing the right graphics API is one of the most crucial factors while using your computer, especially for gamers.

It has a great impact on your machine’s performance and it’s not always clear which one to choose. In this guide, we’ll try to help you decide which is the best one for you and your performance in gaming.

First of all, we should start off by explaining what graphics API actually is.

The abbreviation itself stands for Application Programming Interfaces. But what does it do exactly? To put it simply, graphics API acts like a sort of highway connecting your software and hardware.

We have to understand that 2D, as well as 3D graphics, can be displayed on our screens thanks to some standardized methods provided by graphics API.

These methods have become extremely essential for gaming development over the past few decades.

Thanks to advanced engines like the well-known Unity we can choose different APIs but it’s not always easy to choose the one that will boost your performance in gaming.

We’ll try to make that choice easier by explaining the main features and differences between OpenGL and DirectX.

In general, OpenGL and DirectX share some qualities. Both technologies use basically the same graphics channels. Even though both APIs use points known as verticles that are used to build advanced graphics elements.

Every vertex stores its own, unique coordinates but the way of storing them in libraries differs significantly. On paper, they do the same thing but we can see some differences in performance while using OpenGL and DirectX in similar scenarios.

The History of OpenGL

Before we dive deeper into their differences, let us look back to the history of graphics APIs.

The need for more advanced graphics APIs arose in the early 1990s together with an introduction of more advanced, dedicated graphic cards. As developers were given access to powerful at the time graphics accelerators, they needed a way to maximize the potential of these pieces of hardware.

This was the moment they started to work on the first graphics APIs, that is OpenGL and Direct3D.

OpenGL was introduced in 1992 by Silicon Graphics Inc. It was a multiplatform graphics API specially designed to provide an interface for rendering 2D, and more complex, 3D graphics.

What is OpenGL?

OpenGL stands for Open Graphics Libraries and it is a graphics API designed solely to deal with graphics meaning it thrives only in 2D and 3D visuals. It offers a good performance and is used most commonly on non-Windows platforms. It is praised for its open-source constructions making it an easy tool for developers.

Because of the fact that it was created purely to deal with graphics, it is simpler than DirectX by nature. Its flexibility is one of the best features, greatly appreciated in the gaming industry. OpenGL is primarily used for multiplatform development so if you want to create games for PlayStation, Nintendo Switch, etc, it’s a good choice to work with that particular API.

What about DirectX?

It was introduced by Microsoft in September 1995 to satisfy the need for a more standardized graphics API for their operating system – Windows.
DirectX is not only a graphics API but a combination of graphics, networking, sound, and other hardware APIs that work together, and it is slightly more complex than OpenGL.

DirectX works mainly on Xbox and Windows systems. It allows the developers to manage the hardware on their own, allowing them to allocate the resources as they need them.

Because of the fact that DirectX was developed especially for Windows Operating System, it gives the developers huge possibilities when working on Windows and Xbox games. Moreover, DirectX is not just graphics API, but a collection of various APIs allowing one to create truly amazing things.

Graphics APIs in gaming

It’s not easy to simply decide which API is better for gaming. DirectX and OpenGL have their unique qualities, pros and cons and none is superior.

Additionally, neither of them has significant performance differences, despite common online claims that OpenGL works smoother and more efficiently. Performance-wise it is safe to say that a well-written game will work almost equally sufficiently using OpenGL, or DirectX.

There are a number of well-written and optimized games created on both, OpenGL, and DirectX APIs. Here are some of the most iconic and prised games created with OpenGL:

  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
  • Wolfenstein (2009)
  • Left 4 Dead (2008)
  • Far Cry (2004)
  • Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (2007)

A short list of the most known games created with the help of DirectX:

  • World of Warcraft (2004)
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (2010)
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization V (2010)
  • Stalker: Call of Pripyat (2010)
  • Alien vs. Predator (2010)

Advantages of using OpenGL

As mentioned before, one of the biggest advantages of using OpenGL is its simplicity and open-source structure. It is worth remembering that OpenGL is not platform-limited. It can be used on any mainstream platform like Windows, Android, and consoles, making it a more efficient API because developers can use the same code base to create graphically demanding software on multiple platforms.

Advantages of using DirectX

The most significant advantage that DirectX has over OpenGL is its compatibility with Windows operating systems. It was designed especially for this environment and this is where the API thrives. Microsoft’s support for their API is a huge advantage during the development of games. It’s safe to say that in most cases, Windows applications created using DirectX will perform better

Conclusion: Which API is better for you?

There are several factors that we should take into consideration when choosing the right API. DirectX is most commonly used nowadays as many games are first created for Windows and Xbox, and later on ported to other platforms.

However, if the game is being created for platforms other than Windows, you should consider OpenGL as a better choice.
According to multiple tests, performance-wise the differences are fairly negligible, especially when using the Unity engine.

In conclusion, while OpenGL and DirectX have distinct characteristics and cater to different ecosystems, both APIs contribute to the advancement of gaming technology and will continue to coexist, each fulfilling specific roles in shaping the future of gaming.

Developers will choose between them based on factors such as target platforms, performance requirements, and compatibility needs, ensuring a diverse and dynamic gaming ecosystem for players worldwide.