Will Windows 7 Improve Your MMO Experience?

Microsoft's new Windows 7 finally hit store shelves last week with record sales. But does the new OS really offer more benefits than XP and Vista for MMO gamers?

This week was a big one for about 90 percent of all computer users. That is to say; 90 percent of those computers users are running Microsoft's Windows operating system, as opposed to an Apple or Linux OS. And unless you've been living in a cave lately, you've heard that Windows 7, the highly-anticipated next-generation OS from Microsoft launched last week, with record-breaking sales. But what does this mean for gamers? Specifically, as an MMO gamer, is Windows 7 something you should be interested in, if given the choice? Is it really worth shelling out the cash for Microsoft's newest OS, when your copy of XP or Vista seems to run your MMOs just fine?

The short answer is yes; there are incentives to upgrade. Of course, as any level-headed consumer, you should do a little research and weigh the pros and cons, especially as they apply to your personal computing experience. Since most of us don't use our PCs exclusively to play MMOs, there are other factors (productivity, for example) to consider. But for an MMO gamer, Windows 7 does offer improvements and benefits from the aging XP operating system, if your hardware can support it. Users of the newer Vista OS will also notice improvements, as Windows 7 is its natural successor, or "what Vista should have been in the first place," as many have said. Let's take a look at the viability of upgrading to Windows 7 and, more importantly, why it matters to fans of the MMO genre.

WINDOWS 7: A QUICK PRIMER

Rather than preface this editorial with a long-winded explanation of Microsoft's OS history and Windows 7's development cycle, I'll cut to the chase; this isn't a PC technology website and you aren't here to learn about those aspects of the new OS anyway. There are plenty of better resources for that sort of info online. Instead, let's jump straight into the thick of it and help you decide whether Windows 7 will make any difference in your gameplay experience, whether you're killing 10 rats or leading a massive PvP zerg with 100 players on the battlefield.

However, it might be a little negligent not to mention the basics of Windows 7, in case you haven't been following the news lately. Officially launched to retail on October 22, 2009, Windows 7 was originally imagined as the true successor to XP. Instead, Microsoft released Vista as an "interim" OS, based on many of the new principles and architecture it imagined for Windows 7.

Microsoft's aim with Windows 7 was to provide a more user-friendly experience to the end-user, while delivering higher performance and a slew of new features. Straight out-of-the-box, even the least discriminating users will notice a moderately-redesigned UI, meant to provide more conveniences with fewer hassles. New features like Jump Lists, the redesigned taskbar and upgraded Aero interface are all meant to improve on previous Windows versions, learning from mistakes of years past and adding a bit of MS innovation as well.

Under the hood, Windows 7 offers upgraded core programs and features, like its new Media Center, Home Networking and Security platforms. Laptop users will appreciate Windows 7's smarter power management, and control freaks will like the overhaul to the previously-annoying User Account Control. More importantly for gamers, the new OS offers greater stability and system performance across the board; from your hard drive and RAM to your CPU and graphics card, Windows 7 promises to squeeze out that performance more efficiently—and elegantly—than ever.

IS YOUR PC COMPATIBLE?

But before we delve into its potential for MMO gamers, it's important to consider whether or not your hardware can even handle the new OS. Unfortunately, you can't just throw it into any old PC and expect it to work its magic; just like an MMO or any other piece of software, Windows 7 has its own "minimum system requirements." According to Microsoft's Windows 7 website, your computer must have:

  • 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

Luckily, those specs include pretty much any PC or laptop manufactured within the last three-to-five years, and two of them can be easily upgraded (RAM and hard drive space). The final spec, a "DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver" describes a low-level, discreet (or "integrated") graphics card, which you most likely have at least if you're playing an MMO like World of Warcraft. Do your research if in doubt—but if you're playing modern MMOs at even semi-respectable frame rates, your PC hardware is almost certainly able to handle Windows 7.

HARD DRIVE PERFORMANCE

Obviously, we can't just take Microsoft's word on marketing claims of increased performance, so there's been a lot of independent verification ever since the beta version of Windows 7 went live. One example of a popular third-party benchmark is a ZDNet blog post in which the author compared a variety of memory-related tasks in the Windows 7 beta environment with XP and Vista, and the results were impressive; Windows 7 outperformed the previous operating systems in almost every test. Another popular benchmark tested Windows 7's read/write speeds on both traditional and solid-state hard drives compared to Vista, showing a substantial performance gain.

Hard drive data transfer rate is an important factor in PC gaming, because it's often one of the biggest performance "bottlenecks," behind your graphics card, CPU and RAM. From the perspective of your hard drive alone, enhanced memory management and transfer speeds means smoother gameplay in your MMOs, with less loading time, in-game "hitching" and other client-related performance issues. If Windows 7 is able to perform faster read/write speeds, that's one less issue you have to worry about when you're trying to squeeze an extra 10 frames per second out of your favorite MMO.

CPU and GPU PERFORMANCE

CPU (processor) speed and graphics card performance is a bit higher on the list when it comes to running your MMOs in all their glory. Processor speed is more important for gaming than many people think, especially when coupled with a lower-end graphics card. So, does your CPU perform any better in Windows 7 than in XP, or Vista? Yes and no. With older and semi-modern CPUs, the difference between clock speeds in a Windows 7 environment vs. Windows XP is negligible, as reported in many benchmarks, like this one. Interestingly, both Windows 7 and XP performed better than Vista, according to that particular benchmark. It's worth mentioning, though, that the aforementioned enhanced energy efficiency in Windows 7 applies to your CPU as well as other hardware components, so laptop users might find more appeal than desktop users, in that regard.

When newer chipsets enter the picture, though, users should begin seeing more optimized performance from Windows 7. A blog post at Tom's Hardware explains new technology in Windows 7 that utilizes modern CPUs like new Core i7 so efficiently that they can actually run PC Direct X 10 games like Crysis without a dedicated graphics card. Granted, it's just a proof-of-concept test and it doesn't mean graphics cards will become obsolete any time soon. But it does illustrate that gamers will probably begin receiving bigger gains from Windows 7 if they're using newer chipsets. But if you're using older hardware, Windows 7's overhead might be more than it's worth; in other words, the power required to run Windows 7 could be more taxing on your system's resources than just sticking with XP.

When it comes to graphics cards, the advent of Direct X 10 in Vista, and Direct X 11 in Windows 7, is a substantial reason to consider ditching Windows XP (again, if your hardware supports it). The majority of modern MMOs use the DirectX 9 API, as opposed to the open-source OpenGL technology. Microsoft launched Vista with Direct X 10, offering higher-performance graphics possibilities; but in order to take advantage of it, you need a newer, Direct X 10-compatible graphics card. The same is true with Windows 7's new Direct X 11, which offers even higher performance and complex rendering.

In a nutshell, this means that if you already have a Direct X 10-compatible graphics card, or you're planning on buying a Direct X 11-compatible card in the future, you'll definitely want to use Windows 7 to take full advantage of your hardware.

ARCHITECTURE AND RAM

You might have noticed that Windows 7 is available in both "32-bit" and "64-bit" versions. This terminology refers to the architecture of your PC's processor; 64-bit processors are newer, and offer higher performance than 32-bit architecture. It's pretty simple; if you have a 64-bit processor, you'll want to get the Windows 7 64-bit edition. If you have a 32-bit processor, you'll have to get the regular Windows 7 32-bit edition, because you can't run a 64-bit OS on 32-bit hardware.

Also, as many frustrated 32-bit users know, the amount of RAM you can install is limited to 3.3GB on 32-bit architecture. Supposedly, there are some pretty sketchy and complex tweaks to get around this, although I haven't bothered seeking them out. The long and short of it is that unless you have a 64-bit system, Windows will only recognize 3.3GB out of the 4GB of RAM you've installed in your PC. Luckily, this idiotic issue was finally remedied under 64-bit architecture; Windows 7 64-bit recognizes up to 192GB of RAM. However, in typical Microsoft fashion, the varying editions of Windows 7 64-bit have varying limits on the amount of RAM you can utilize. The "Starter" edition allows up to 8GB, "Home Basic" allows 8GB, "Home Premium" allows 16GB and "Professional" and above all allow 192GB. For more information on the differences between the versions, check out the Microsoft website.

Although we won't need anywhere close to 192GB of RAM for our PC games and MMOs for some time, the option to have more than 4GB of RAM is important. Aside from upgrading your graphics card, adding more RAM to your PC is one of the cheapest and most effective things you can do to boost your gaming performance. Considering Windows 7 will use around 1GB of RAM itself, you'll want to give your MMO all the physical RAM it can handle, and then some. If you have a 64-bit system, make sure you get a 64-bit version of Windows 7 so that extra memory doesn't go to waste.

SUMMARY

I've used every version of Microsoft Windows since 3.1, in the early-90s. Up until recently, I swore by XP as the gamer's OS of choice, providing Direct X 10 wasn't a factor. Don't get me wrong; I'm not one of those "XP snobs"—I liked many of the changes Microsoft introduced in Vista. But when came to gaming, I usually fell back to my "gaming" hard drive with good-old XP installed.

When the beta version of Windows 7 launched, I was excited to see how my favorite MMOs would perform on the new OS, as opposed to Vista. From my subjective viewpoint, I saw a definite increase in performance over Vista, and even XP, with MMOs like World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online and Champions Online. In some games, I saw increases of 15 to 20 frames per second (even after my hard drive started to fill up and become fragged). Of course, everyone's mileage will vary.

When trying to decide whether or not Windows 7 will boost your MMO performance, it depends on your hardware and the OS you're currently using. For example, if you're using Vista, you don't have much to lose by switching to Windows 7. In fact, you'll most likely see increased performance across the board if you're moving from Vista to Windows 7.

If you're using XP, it depends on your hardware. If you're PC or laptop is more than four or five years old, and it isn't a high-end gaming rig with a top-notch graphics card, you might be better off sticking with XP until it comes time to buy your next system. Then again, I tried out using Windows 7 on my old Dell e1505 laptop, which has a measly ATI x1400 GPU, a 1.83Mhz Core Duo processor and 4GB of RAM—and I was still able to run older MMOs like WoW smoothly, at around 50 frames per second.

To some extent, it's all going to be relative on your own hardware. Generally speaking, Windows 7 will provide a higher-performance environment for your MMOs, especially from this moment on. It won't be long before Vista is completely phased out; new PCs are being shipped with Windows 7. And as the hardware advances, Direct X 10 and 11 GPUs will eventually render Windows XP obsolete, from the modern gamer's perspective.

Comments

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Improvement
# Nov 30 2009 at 1:22 AM Rating: Decent
1 post

Yes, mines also improve after upgraded to Win7 Home Premium from Win Vista Home Premium, I play World of Warcraft (with current patch and Expansion WotLK 3.2) and Aion Online, these 2 games have built-in fps information, on WoW i notice it is increase by around 5 to 10 fps with same spec, same setting on Audio/Video details and resolution on Dalaran peak hour and 25 man Ulduar, compare when it was on Win Vista, i have no idea what happen, im not a technical guy, im happy with it, i heard from my friend, he said, because Win 7 has a better Graphic Driver compatibility than Vista,
Exclusive pc
# Oct 27 2009 at 8:11 PM Rating: Decent
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Hm...

I would not blame Lagaran on Win XP... I am running around in Dalaran on 60fps and 300ms on 28" LCD with highest video settings. But yes, I am one of those people that has a dedicated pc for playing WOW. There is absolutely nothing else installed on that pc except for wow, curse and vent. I am running on Vista 64bit. Should I upgrade to Win7? I don't know. I am happy with the performance now... More important is yr videocard and cpu imo...

About the so-called 'failed' vista upgrade u all talk about... Remember that Vista was also hailed as the biggest and best upgrade over XP when it came out... Which is exactly the same as Win7 now... I am very happy with Vista and have absolutely no issues with it all regarding performance or user friendliness compared to my old XP box. And yes, we all will have to change as Ms will simply stop supporting older versions...

Anyway, just my thoughts...
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Exclusive pc
# Oct 28 2009 at 7:00 AM Rating: Decent
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I differ... Vista came out to nearly universal boos and hisses. The only reasons it survived was MicroSquish made deals with all the computer suppliers of note requiring Vista, not XP, be installed and later by announcing the discontinuation of support for XP (to more boos and hisses).

This is why W7 is the true successor to XP. Nary a boo or hiss heard and W7 ran perfectly from initial install, not after service pack googleplex+1.


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3.3 GB on a 32bit system
# Oct 27 2009 at 7:01 PM Rating: Decent
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Just a slight correction on a statement made about 32 oses limited to 3.3gb. 32bit oses address 4gb of physical memory, but the amount left for addressable RAM is going to be 4gb minus whatever is taken for mapping hardware addresses. Thus someone with a 256mb memory card might have 3.3 while somone else with a 128mb memory card migh have 3.5. The more hardware that needs to be accessed, the less usable RAM.
Good to know
# Oct 27 2009 at 11:09 AM Rating: Good
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I won't be upgrading anytime soon, as my hardware is pretty old and I can't afford a new system. XP works for me, so I'm sticking with that until the ole girl kicks the bucket.

glad the new 7 seems to be working out for folks.
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Windows 7
# Oct 27 2009 at 11:05 AM Rating: Good
I know the news story is spread out over all of the forums, but here is the thread talking a little bit about Win7 in the WoW forum.

http://wow.allakhazam.com/forum.html?forum=21;mid=125587671996223778

Microsoft has said that at some point in the future (very distant, probably) they will stop supporting XP.

I am running XP on a PC that I bought earlier this year. It came with Vista, but I downgraded (was it really a "downgrade"? Smiley: sly) to XP.

I am now waiting for the Windows 7 Home Premium Family Pack to arrive. I wanted to get the Professional version because of the XP compatibility mode, but considering I have three PCs that need Win7, I wasn't going to spend more money on the one license Professional version when I could get the Home Premium Family Pack that will work on 3 PCs for $50 cheaper.
windows 7
# Oct 27 2009 at 9:09 AM Rating: Decent
6 posts
I myself am still stuck with Vista unfortunally I cant afford to spend what they want to upgrade alas guess I will keep my lousy 3 FRS in Dal
Windows 7 is great!
# Oct 27 2009 at 12:55 AM Rating: Decent
I upgraded to Windows 7 on release day (never used the RC), and I've seen an improvement in my performance in WoW by about 10 fps, maybe more. The new task bar is currently one of my favorite features, as it makes switching through different tasks very easy. If you're a college student with a current @_______.edu email address, you can go to http://win741.com and purchase the upgrade for $30. This cemented the buy for me personally, and I'm very glad I made that decision.
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Windows 7 is great!
# Oct 27 2009 at 8:54 AM Rating: Decent
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I had my copy as well on 22. Formated the crap out of HDD repartitioned and installed whole thing on blank HDD. I must say i really loved vista 64 business buuuut, win 7 pro 64 just kicks ass!
I recommended upgrade to vista from xp but now i can say skip vista just hit 7 and you won't regret it.
Windows XP and still kicking
# Oct 26 2009 at 10:16 PM Rating: Good
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I'm still using Windows XP. It works just fine for everything I do. I don't see any reason to switch out of it. If its not broke why fix it?
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Performance
# Oct 26 2009 at 10:05 PM Rating: Decent
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I always liked using vista. The slow performance was it's downside and unfortunately was enough to make me go back to xp more and more until I used xp pretty much exclusively. Looking forward to the upgrade as, performance aside, I always prefered using vista.
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good to know
# Oct 26 2009 at 8:55 PM Rating: Decent
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The Windows 7 gaming improvements I've been reading about for a while is certainly tempting, but I'm not going to upgrade. I'm probably just going to wait till my XP computer (which is the one I primarily use for gaming) finally kicks the bucket, at which point I'll get a new computer. In any event, after the mostly-failed creation of Vista, I'm happy to hear reports that 7 is a big improvement. It will definitely hasten the day I replace my system -- and will probably keep me in the PC market, as I was considering an iMac as my next system.
good to know
# Oct 30 2009 at 1:18 AM Rating: Decent
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The gaming performance alone was worth my upgrade from XP.

Tested Fallout 3's outdoor area on High @ 1920x1080(9800GTX) and the framerate is absolutely flawless. Before the upgrade it was playable, but no where near as smooth. The only game that didn't see a huge improvement was GTA4.

I accidentally ordered "Home" instead of "Pro" but was anxious to play around and installed it anyway. Thankfully Home DOES include compatibility mode, contrary to the box and as advertised.

Only issues I ran into were:

Getting my internet working, took close to an hour. Had to use my netbook to download drivers until I found one that would work under 64 bit.

Compatibility mode was annoying at first. Most of my software wasn't working initially and i was constantly being prompted about how to proceed. Now the system seems to be handling it on its own and I am no longer being prompted. All the games and applications installed since just work.

Otherwise very happy with the changes.
good to know
# Oct 27 2009 at 7:40 AM Rating: Good
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I installed windows 7 64 bit over my old Vista 64 on Saturday night.

It gave me a few warnings, "xx might not work after the update", but everything worked just fine after the install. The whole thing took about 2 hours from start to finish, to patching via windows update.

I don't notice any improvements in game, but I was pretty well maxed out before the upgrade.

I'm very happy with windows 7 so far. I had one issue where ventrillo didn't want to recognize "Use Direct Sound" anymore. I just disabled that and all is well.

I'd say if you are using Vista, this is a direct upgrade that you should get. XP users have more of a choice.
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