Windows 7, Gaming, and Why You Should Care

October 22, 2009 is almost here and with it, the official release of Windows 7. Gamers are a tight knit community that always makes their voices heard when it comes to their computing needs. With the pain and suffering inflicted by Vista fresh in the minds of millions, Microsoft needs to hit a home run to have any chance of winning those hearts back. This time, the heavens will part, the angels will sing, and the world will be comforted in an eternal blanket of peace. All right. Maybe the release of Windows 7 shouldn't *quite* be hailed as the second coming, but gamers around the globe should rejoice nonetheless and I'm here to tell you why. Read the rest of Windows 7, Gaming, and Why You Should Care here!

October 22, 2009 is almost here and with it, the official release of Windows 7. Fortunately for all of us, the ensuing cacophony won't be from a million computer users crying out at once in utter despair again.

No more will the screams of frustration drown out the loudest metal bands in the land. This time, the heavens will part, the angels will sing, and the world will be comforted in an eternal blanket of peace. All right. Maybe the release of Windows 7 shouldn't *quite* be hailed as the second coming, but gamers around the globe should rejoice nonetheless and I'm here to tell you why.

The Simple Answer


In a nutshell, the answer is speed, speed, and more speed. Everything in gaming depends on the ability of your computer to process everything fast enough to keep you from having to deal with hitching (pauses) in your game. The more powerful the computer, the better textures, particle effects, and distances your system can render. Sounds like a tall order for an operating system (OS) to pull off, but Windows 7 is ready to step up to the plate.

With the introduction of DirectX 11, default system settings that don’t bog your system down, and a design built for speed and efficiency, Windows 7 will give you a better gaming experience just as it is.

That’s the quick and dirty version of why upgrading to Windows 7 will improve your gaming experience, but read on, because there’s oh so much more.

The Current Regime


There are three main types of people using Windows-based PCs these days (in any modern sense):

1) Those that are happily using XP.
2) Those that have lost all sense of hope with Vista and have "downgraded" to XP (or upgraded to the Windows 7 release candidate).
3) Those that are happy using Vista.

Types 1 and 2 don't have to give up their operating systems, though they'll probably be happy if they do, if for the added speed boost if nothing else (we’ll get to that later). Type 3 is nothing more than a fairy tale concocted by Microsoft to fool little children, old people, and advertisers. It wasn't the destruction of Alderaan that made Obi-Wan nearly faint from a great disturbance in the force; it was the release of Vista. Like the eventual redemption gained by Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) for the slaying of Emperor Palpatine, Microsoft is hoping to receive the same with the release of Windows 7.

Spec It Out for Me


The minimum requirements for running Windows 7 are as follows:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

Let's be honest with ourselves here for a minute before we go any further. If these are the specs of your gaming rig, you have bigger problems than which OS you’re using. Unless, of course, you're running Vista, in which case you should just run. I'm sensing a pattern here, are you? In any case, even at your low end, you should be running at *least* a 1.6 gigahertz processor though, obviously, the faster you can afford, the better.

My personal recommendations for minimum specifications:

  • 2+ Ghz (x64) processor
  • 4 GB (DDR2 533) RAM
  • 64 GB available hard disk space
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver

The Installation Smoothie


In this particular aspect, no other OS has come as close to delivering a completely painless installation process as Windows 7 has. Aside from being asked to adjust the current date and time after choosing (or adjusting) the drive and partition I wanted to install on, and entering my wireless network information (*such* a great feature), Windows 7 handled the rest of the installation from beginning to end.

Windows 7 comes with an array of modern day display drivers, so adjusts your screen immediately upon first booting up for great viewing. The days of scrolling at the speed of squat as you try to get to your network connections set has been done away with and it’s about damned time.

Not only does Windows 7 have a number of useful drivers already built in, but the update process will also find optional drivers for various devices. For example, when beginning the update process on my laptop, it found updated drivers for both my wireless network controller and my touchpad mouse.

The Windows 7 installation process is not only a breeze, but is also far, far faster than both XP and Vista. Where the prospect of doing a fresh install with an older OS meant clearing your calendar for at least half a day (driver installs, updates, etc), you’ll now be amazed at just how quick and smoothly a fresh install can go.

Increasing Your Memory


The question of how much memory an OS can use has been a constant thorn in my side for a number of years now, so let me give everyone a simplified overview of why you (as a gamer) want to go with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 and not even bother with the 32-bit. With the insane price drop of memory over the last couple of years, you should be running a minimum of 4 GB of RAM in your system. If you're running XP, even though your computer sees all 4GB, Windows XP (minus the disastrous 64-bit release) will only recognize a little over 3GB.

It's not that XP is stupid, it's just mathematically unable to recognize more than that as a 32-bit OS. There are ways around it, but I'm willing to bet that less than 5% of the population utilizes them and even less than that actually understand how they work, so I won't get into them here.

By going with a 64-bit system you can install all the RAM your motherboard can handle and actually *use* it. More memory equals faster response times on virtually everything, especially gaming. No other argument for it needs to be made, but feel free to shoot me an email if you want more details and I'll be happy to talk about it.

Security


Tired of getting your MMO accounts hacked? Windows 7 has a number of security improvements over XP without a fraction of the insanely frustrating mother hen syndrome of Vista. Windows 7 has the heavy security of its devil spawn of a predecessor, but won’t ask you four and a half billion times if you're sure you want to install or uninstall anything. It won't tell you your children are going to be kidnapped by rabid coyotes in the Mojave Desert if you open this web page. It will still ask if you want to allow X program make changes to your computer when you go to install something, but it will simply ask once and leave it at that.

While you can adjust the circumstances Windows 7 will ask for various permissions, it's advisable to leave things at their default setting. It provides a solid layer of protection for your computer without being obnoxious about it.

Say Goodbye to the Word “Slow”


For me, the biggest advantage with upgrading to Windows 7 is in how it handles its own resources. Unlike XP and Vista (which is absolutely horrific in this aspect), if Windows 7 isn't actively using a particular system service it will automatically turn it off, only activating it again when necessary. This means more speed for gamers, all without having to alter any settings. If this new OS had made no other changes from Vista, it would almost be enough to justify the upgrade.

Though most gamers may not care about a Solid-State Drive (SSD) or what it can do for you, the technogeeks among us can finally be excited about them once again. Not only does Windows 7 interact with them better than XP or Vista, but also absolutely loves them. I've had colleagues tell me they've seen a better than 25% increase of speed after loading Windows 7. Remember… more speed equals better gaming.

Setting up your home network, whether it’s cabled, wireless, or both, is a complete breeze. As I mentioned previously, I set up my wireless network connection during the installation process, all in under a few minutes. Windows 7 will save you not only time, but a lot of headaches as well.

DirectX 11


A new DirectX means new graphical goodness for those that have had the hardware (or OS in the case of DirectX 10) to utilize it. For games that support DirectX 10 shaders, the shiny new results can be staggeringly awesome. Unfortunately, if I were to count the number of games that use DirectX 10 off the top of my head, I could do it on both hands.

Part of the blame for this oversight lies with Vista and the unmitigated hatred it garnered in the gaming community in general. As a result, developers have been lax in their efforts to bring DirectX 10 to both new and existing games. With any luck, this latest version should not suffer the same fate in the future. I'm hopeful the favorable reviews of the release client so far will make companies feel more comfortable about investing in DirectX 11 technologies. If they do, a new age of graphics could be upon us.

As mentioned in the specification section early, you do not need to have a DirectX 11-compatible video card to run Windows 7. If you hear differently from anyone, be sure to ignore any and all further advice from said "computer guru".
 

The Bottom Line


If you have ancient hardware (such as scanners and printers) that you're worried won't work with Windows 7, check your manufacturer's website to find out just to be sure. The majority of computer gamers should not have this issue but better to be safe than sorry. Personally, I have yet to find a piece of my hardware that isn’t perfectly happy with the new OS.

In case you haven't guessed yet, I'm all about the release of Windows 7 on October 22nd. I've been using the release client on all my systems for a few months now and love it. I've got it running on a netbook (yes, I actually said netbook), a laptop, and my desktop gaming rig. In the case of all three, it starts up and runs everything faster and cleaner than either XP or Vista. The speed increases alone make this a gold mine for gamers everywhere.

Stay tuned next week when Ten Ton Hammer puts Windows 7 to the test. Which games will come out on top? Will any OS be able to challenge the new contender? We’re about to find out.

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