Is Vista Good for Gaming?

Three reasons Windows Vista is terrible for gaming ... and six reasons why it's great

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In some ways, debating whether or not Windows Vista is good for gaming is a moot point. A futile argument. Water under the bridge.

That's because, like it or not, Microsoft Corp.'s shiny new operating system is here to stay. By the end of 2007, a whole new generation of games for Windows Vista will be here as well. At that point, if you're a Windows gamer, you'll have no choice but to upgrade to Vista -- unless you're ready to throw in the towel on PC gaming and buy an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii instead.

In the meantime, Vista will continue to polarize the masses, generating tons of high-octane comments and flames on its numerous strengths and failings, both for gaming and more-productive endeavors. Truth be told, despite the flak Microsoft has taken for removing planned features from Vista and missing its target launch date by years, this is an ambitious new operating system in numerous categories, including 3-D graphics and gaming.

But is the new operating system good for gaming? To answer this question, we explored Vista's gaming strengths and weaknesses in depth. What we found at the end of the day was fairly surprising. Read on for answers, detailed explanations, and several suggestions that will help you get the most out of Vista gaming.

Three reasons Windows Vista is no good for PC gaming

1. Hardware incompatibilities. It's no huge surprise to anyone that the upgrade to Windows Vista has created numerous instances of driver incompatibility and dissatisfaction -- these kinds of issues arise whenever there's a major operating system upgrade. What has been surprising is the frustrations gamers have experienced in getting their existing hardware -- 3-D graphics cards and the like -- to work with their existing games library in Windows Vista at the same performance levels as in Windows XP. The Internet is rife with reports of games such as World of Warcraft and F.E.A.R. running at 20% to 40% slower frame rates.

Not surprisingly, the chief culprit is 3-D card drivers, particularly for DirectX 9 (DX9) and lower-caliber video cards. (DirectX is a Windows API designed by Microsoft to allow software developers standardized low-level access to PC peripherals such as the video graphics processor. The newest version is DirectX 10.)

Windows Vista includes a new driver model that taps the graphics processing unit (GPU) to perform memory scheduling, which is useful for allocating memory and other system resources to each open application. The operating system also uses the GPU to create and maintain multiple instances of 3-D graphics use at both the interface and application levels. As an example, each open window in Vista -- be it a folder, game, or otherwise -- is considered a separate application, and the graphics involved in displaying this application are controlled by the GPU.

With Windows XP, the operating system itself, not the GPU, performed these functions. More specifically, drivers for XP were written to and resided in kernel mode -- the base layer of Windows. In order to allow the GPU to maintain the aforementioned instances of 3-D applications, on the other hand, drivers for Windows Vista operate at a more localized layer of the operating system known as user mode.

The good news is that this architecture shift should result in increased stability under Vista. Because the driver is localized and exists in multiple instances, a crash that is caused by or otherwise affects the graphics driver will have no adverse impact on other 3-D applications.

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