Windows Vista: Ready for Gaming?

Windows Vista is here, but the DirectX 10 games aren't. Find out how well Windows Vista plays your current DirectX 9 games.

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James Yu and Sarju Shah - Posted on Tuesday, January 30, 2007.

The general public may struggle with the decision over whether to move from Windows XP to Windows Vista, but there isn't much to agonize over for PC game fans--if you want to play games with advanced DirectX 10 graphics, you're going to have to upgrade to Vista. Windows XP owners will be left behind in the graphically inferior world of DirectX 9 once Vista arrives. The real debate for PC game fans is when to upgrade to Vista.

For PC gamers, Windows Vista is pretty much a next-generation gaming platform launch happening in slow motion. The operating system has been available since last year as a closed, then public, beta, and the hardware arrived last November, when Nvidia shipped the world's first DirectX 10 GPUs, the GeForce 8800 GTX and GeForce 8800 GTS. The cards themselves shipped with excellent Windows XP drivers, but Nvidia held off on releasing Vista drivers until now. The actual OS and hardware package finally came together today for the official launch of Windows Vista.

Vista's marquee DirectX 10 games aren't scheduled to arrive until later this year. Crysis, Crytek's visually stunning jungle shooter, has a summer launch window, and Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, an action adventure MMO, should be coming out this fall along with Hellgate: London. Supreme Commander has already gone gold, but the DX10 graphics game update won't arrive until March. Flight Simulator X and Company of Heroes will also get DX10 updates in the coming months.

We still don't know how the first DX10 games are going to look. Giving the graphics engine access to virtual memory will open the door for superhigh-resolution textures, and the geometry shader will make it easier for games to generate complexity; but many of the changes in DX10 will yield performance improvements rather than new graphical effects. The initial DX10 games will look better than DX9 games only if developers actually invest the newly freed power into additional onscreen clutter or more-sophisticated shader effects.

Mouse over the Age of Conan DirectX 9 image to see the DirectX 10 comparison shot.

All the DX10 game delays won't mean that early Vista adopters will be left playing Purble Place and Mahjong Titans this spring. They'll still be able to play World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade and Command & Conquer 3 just like everyone else, since Vista is backward compatible with DirectX 9 games originally made for Windows XP. The hardware manufacturers have been busy making new drivers to make sure all their products work with Vista.

We wanted to see how well games performed in Windows Vista compared to Windows XP. We tested four video cards, ranging from the high-end GeForce 8800 GTX down to the mainstream Radeon X1650 Pro, to see how Nvidia's and ATI's Vista drivers compared to their XP counterparts. We also compared the operating systems using different amounts of system memory because we wanted to see if Vista's increased memory usage hindered game performance. Note that we're only examining DX9 game performance in this feature, and we're in the process of testing OpenGL games for a future update. Visit CNET's complete guide to Windows Vista or our Windows Vista Hands-On preview for an overview of the new operating system.

Are you going to upgrade to Windows Vista? Have you already upgraded to Vista? Share your game performance results in the comments below.

3DMark06

Windows Vista comes pretty close to matching Windows XP in 3DMark06. Kudos to ATI and Nvidia for getting their Vista drivers competitive at launch. Hopefully, we'll see parity between XP and Vista after a few more driver updates. System memory size didn't affect performance until we got down to 512MB, when the XP installation outperformed Vista by about 6 percent in the 2048x1536 resolution test. Our Windows Vista test system used over 450MB of system memory while idling.


System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX, GeForce 7600 GT, Radeon X1950 Pro, Radeon X1650 Pro. Graphics Drivers: Catalyst 7.1, Forceware 97.46, Forceware 100.54.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), Corsair XMS Memory 1GB, Corsair XMS Memory 512MB, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX. Graphics Driver: Forceware 100.54.

Are you going to upgrade to Windows Vista? Have you already upgraded to Vista? Share your game performance results in the comments below.

World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Performance was close again in World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. Windows XP had a slight edge with most of our cards, but the GeForce 8800 GTX actually performed better with the Vista driver. World of Warcraft is already very tough on 512MB systems, but Vista's increased memory footprint reduced frame rates to unplayable levels.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX, GeForce 7600 GT, Radeon X1950 Pro, Radeon X1650 Pro. Graphics Drivers: Catalyst 7.1, Forceware 97.46, Forceware 100.54.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), Corsair XMS Memory 1GB, Corsair XMS Memory 512MB, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX. Graphics Driver: Forceware 100.54.

Are you going to upgrade to Windows Vista? Have you already upgraded to Vista? Share your game performance results in the comments below.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Our video cards put up similar numbers on both operating systems in Oblivion. Again, memory size affected Vista performance only at the 512MB level, and the performance hit was more significant at the higher resolution.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX, GeForce 7600 GT, Radeon X1950 Pro, Radeon X1650 Pro. Graphics Drivers: Catalyst 7.1, Forceware 97.46, Forceware 100.54.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), Corsair XMS Memory 1GB, Corsair XMS Memory 512MB, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX. Graphics Driver: Forceware 100.54.

Are you going to upgrade to Windows Vista? Have you already upgraded to Vista? Share your game performance results in the comments below.

Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes will get a DX10 patch in the near future, but it's still a DX9 game right now. Of all the games we tested, Company of Heroes showed the biggest frame rate difference between Windows XP and Windows Vista. The older Windows OS had its largest lead in the low-resolution 1024x768 tests, with frame rate leads ranging from 9 percent on the more powerful cards to 50 percent on the least powerful. You'll need at least 1GB of memory to get the game running smoothly in Vista.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX, GeForce 7600 GT, Radeon X1950 Pro, Radeon X1650 Pro. Graphics Drivers: Catalyst 7.1, Forceware 97.46, Forceware 100.54.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), Corsair XMS Memory 1GB, Corsair XMS Memory 512MB, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX. Graphics Driver: Forceware 100.54.

Are you going to upgrade to Windows Vista? Have you already upgraded to Vista? Share your game performance results in the comments below.

Neverwinter Nights 2

Performance was fairly even on Neverwinter Nights at 1024x768. Frame rates in Vista took a noticeable hit at 1600x1200 on the GeForce 8800 GTX. Windows Vista looks safe for gaming as long as you have at least 1GB of memory.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX, GeForce 7600 GT, Radeon X1950 Pro, Radeon X1650 Pro. Graphics Drivers: Catalyst 7.1, Forceware 97.46, Forceware 100.54.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 X6800, Intel 975XBX2, 2GB Corsair XMS Memory (1GB x 2), Corsair XMS Memory 1GB, Corsair XMS Memory 512MB, 160GB Seagate 7200.7 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP Professional SP2, Windows Vista Ultimate Edition. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX. Graphics Driver: Forceware 100.54.

Are you going to upgrade to Windows Vista? Have you already upgraded to Vista? Share your game performance results in the comments below.

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