Christmas rig building guide: Gaming with Windows 7
Christmas is just round the corner, how about rewarding yourself this holiday season with a Windows 7 preloaded gaming rig?
Gaming with Windows 7, that’s one of the more talked about phrases these days. In this editorial, we will be checking out Windows 7 and see if it can outpeform Vista in games. Also, we have come up with a gaming rig configuration for the Christmas buying season. This gaming rig isn’t the top of the line, but it is more than sufficient to run today’s games smoothly, and shouldn’t have problem with games in the near future either.
Windows Vista didn’t have a good time when it was out in the market. ‘Buggy’, ‘unstable’, and ‘slow’ being the most often heard, were just some of the words used to described Windows Vista. Compared to the venerable Windows XP, Windows Vista was sluggish, took a longer time to boot, and 3D gaming performance wasn’t up to the mark either. One and a half years later, even though Vista has been much improved since its launch, many are still avoiding Vista like the plague simply because of bad user experiences passed on by word of mouth.
The bad press given to Windows Vista saw a decline in market share for Microsoft – they had to produce an updated operating system that delivers, to prevent users from jumping ship, as well as attempt to reclaim lost market share. Most gamers and enthusiasts would be interested to know how much performance increase Windows 7 can give over Windows Vista. We’ll be touching on two aspects here – disk performance (which is the major stumbling block of Vista), and graphics performance.
Improving system performance
With Windows Vista’s startup times drawing much flak, much focus has been placed into improving startup time – parallelism and efficiency are required for a PC to boot faster, and that’s not quite easy to achieve. Startup can refer to a boot, or even resuming from standby, or resuming from hibernate.One of the goals of Windows 7 is to increase the number of computers that can achieve satisfactory boot times. In general, users can expect to see a 20% increase in boot, and when resuming from standby or hibernate.
One of the less-known features in both Windows Vista, and the new Windows 7 is Superfetch. What Superfetch basically does is to monitor applications over time, and then preload the most frequently used ones into system memory. Doing so is supposed to enable programs to load quickly whenever the user requires them. Unfortunately, this proved to be a major headache for users of Windows Vista because the first few minutes after a system boot were spent building this Superfetch cache, rendering many systems almost unusable due to high disk activity. However, in Windows 7, this feature has been further optimised to improve both efficiency in caching, and general system performance. Users no longer need to sit around for the OS to finish its business.
Support for Solid State Drives
Most gamers and enthusiasts are speed demons. They ‘need’ to have the fastest stuff on the planet, and naturally they will opt for solid state drives as long as their pocket allows. However, all’s not that rosy for those who go down the solid state route. These drives suffer from write degradeation over a long period of time, and operating systems are not tuned for solid state drives (Windows Defragmenter for your SSD, anyone?) as this is pretty much a new technology. But fret not, solid state drives are now better supported with Windows 7. The TRIM feature of Solid State Drives is implemented in this operating system. NTFS will send a ‘delete’ notification to the drive instead, which cuts down on the amount of data to be removed on SSDs. Wear leveling for these drives is enhanced by removing the merging operation for all deleted data blocks. These two features improve write speeds on solid state drives (more noticable on slower SSDs), as well as prolonging the lifespan of these drives as less writes are required now for the same set of operations compared to previous operating systems.
Also, when an SSD identifies itself as one, Windows 7 will automatically disable Superfetch and Disk Defragmenter altogether.
Refined User Account Control
Hands up those of you did NOT disable User Account Control in Windows Vista. No one? Although User Account Control was there for a good cause, we guessed it actually did more harm than good as it made people hurl profanities at the computer screen, or exhibit signs of violence such as cruelty to rodents? UAC was meant to prevent malicious software from tampering with the operating system, but it prompts the user for everything, be it trying to run an application, or simply changing a setting. Imagine you’re trying to change some settings for your gaming device, or simply trying to install games, or update drivers, and there you have the User Account Control driving you nuts with its incessant prompting. Most users just turn the whole thing off in Windows Vista, or are so used to going through the motion of dismissing prompts that they probably wouldn’t have realised if UAC really detected something amiss.
In Windows 7, there are two intermediate levels (the default is set to one of them). Windows 7 no longer pisses you off with UAC as the default level is set only to ask you what to do if a program attempts to make changes to Windows.
Sustained gaming performance and support for DirectX 11
No thanks to Windows Vista, gaming performance of Windows 7 ends up being heavily scrutinized. When it comes to drivers for a new operating system, more often than not, you get drivers that have a whole chunk of bugs in them, or are lacking in performance. Take Windows Vista for instance when it was first launched, blue screens were sometimes the way your Vista-loaded computer decides to greet you good morning. Again, although gaming performance of Vista has matched Windows XP finally with both Microsoft and graphics drivers teams getting things right, many people would still put Vista down. However, the good news is, there’s not one bit of deja vu with the launch of Winodws 7. Both the operating system and graphics drivers are surprisingly stable for games, and they perform as good as Vista, if not slightly better. Sometimes, even drivers for Windows Vista can be used for Windows 7 without any problems.
And yes, the next generation of DirectX, DirectX 11 comes as part of Windows 7. It has some major features such as improved multi-threading, tesselation and GPGPU support. With multi-threading, the application, driver and runtime calls can be distributed across multiple calls. Scalable and dynamic content are also supported with the tesselation feature.
There are also some other ‘hidden’ features that are not just for gamers alone. For those already on Windows 7, you might have noticed that your most of your video files have previews generated when you set to large icon display. This is so because Windows 7 now supports codecs like DivX, Xvid, and H.264 natively. Also, the reworked Windows Media Player is now faster and leaner.
Last but not least, Windows 7 supports the latest Intel Turbo Boost technology found on Intel’s Core i7 family of processors. Intel has mentioned that Turbo Boost has been designed and optimised for Windows 7, so gamers should see more performance boost when this technology is enabled, together with Windows 7, as compared to using previous Windows operating systems.