The Hardware Hound Presents: Windows 10, A Gamer’s Perspective
The rumors have been floating around for some time but we finally have a preview version of Windows 9….I mean 10….Windows 10! Maybe skipping a number doesn’t make a ton of sense, but let’s face it: Windows 10 is way better than calling the iWatch the Apple Watch! The real mystery isn’t a number, but whether Windows 10 is going to be worth it and the greater mystery is whether you should risk installing the preview on your system, particularly if you don’t have one to spare. Thankfully, the Hardware Hound is crazy enough to try it out (on my main system none-the-less), and I’m ready to give you some highlights to help you decide whether you want to make the plunge or not. The good news is, it looks like Microsoft is heading in the right direction so far!
Let’s begin with the painful part of any operating system and that’s the installation, which, really wasn’t that painful! Having been an habitual reformatter most of my life, I was used to popping the CD in the drive (after a several hour ISO download), clicking on the upgrade tab instead of the advanced tab, and being told that I needed to load Windows and run the CD from there. So I did that, and roughly 15 minutes later, Windows 8.1 was upgraded to 10 with all my settings in tow. I also ran a fresh install on a spare workstation I had with an i5 CPU and once again, the install was quick and painless as far as OSes go. Also, I typically hate doing upgrades and highly prefer fresh installs. That being said, the upgrade from 8.1 to 10 seems as good as a fresh install which I was quite impressed with. Fearing upgrade versions could become a thing of the past, but at the same time I didn’t have to upgrade from Windows 7 either.
The aesthetic of Windows 8 was very appealing to me when I first saw it. Before you hunt me down and torch my rig, it was mainly due to the modern looking interface, but I felt no such attachment to the start screen. Also, I never used the apps because I hated that they ran full screen all the time. I may not have minded the start screen quite as much as others, but when I first saw the Windows 10 desktop, it felt like opening that Playstation for Christmas all over again. Seeing an app run in a window was great! There was absolutely no reason for keeping them from running in windowed mode and now that I can size/minimize them, I see myself using apps for the first time. The modern UI combined with tiles in the start screen wasn’t a terrible idea, but having a start menu back was a wonderfully refreshing vibe. Being able to find programs and folders in traditional start menu style is so much easier than trying to find things through the start screen. The two combined form a new excitement while maintaining a comforting presence that makes that first reveal absolutely amazing. I kinda feel like a wine taster talking about fruity/nutty stuff, but hey, it was a pretty life altering experience for me!
Windows 10 is mostly a mash-up of the best features from 7 and 8, but one feature that belongs entirely to 10 is the virtual desktops (well, and Linux…maybe Apple…3rd party?). At first, I couldn’t find them. I tried a windows search for virtual desktops with no avail, clicked around in everything I could think of, even went to the “Welcome to Tech Preview” shortcut on my desktop without any luck. Having stripped myself of any sense of pride in computer knowledge, I begrudgingly went to Google and found out it was a button on the task bar called Task View, only two buttons away from the start button. My sorrow was quickly replaced with happiness once I got to playing around with multiple desktops. By holding the Windows Key + Tab you can easily switch between your desktops and the transitions are incredibly smooth. I think this is exactly the kind of feature Microsoft needs to use, rather than changing layouts, to move forward with their OS but I feel like there could be some improvements made. The first problem I found is that I couldn’t run two games on two different desktops without one or both crashing. Most likely, this is a driver issue that will need to be supported by GPU manufacturers, but I hope to see that working once said drivers arrive. Also, I couldn’t find any way to save an array of virtuals. While it’s pretty easy to add a desktop, I think it would be a nice bonus to be able to save certain desktops that not only start up with Windows, but also let you customize them so that each could have different schemes or wallpapers.
By now, if you haven’t started wondering what happened to me telling you about the gaming side of Windows 10, it might be a good time to get off the Xbox One and back on your PC and no, Destiny isn’t a good excuse! Going straight into the upgrade was risky business because while I was able to get a 2D side scroller to work on another computer, I wasn’t sure my main titles were going to work after the upgrade. Now before we go any further just realize that the preview is still on DirectX 11 so you’ll have to wait a bit longer for 12. The cool thing was, everything started working right off the bat. I wasn’t having crashes or problems and having done a good test run in Borderlands 2 while still running 8.1, I thought I was good to start the comparison. I tried running Borderlands 2 and the computer locked up. I could move the mouse but even the task manager couldn’t shutdown the game to get back into Windows. I was able to hit the power button which started the shutdown process saving me from having to do a hard restart, but that wasn’t going to save me from reformatting if my games kept crashing. Fortunately, I was able to re-install the 14.9 AMD driver which prompted me to tell Windows whether it should trust the software and I quit having problems after that.
The game play in Windows 10 was just as seamless as it was in 8.1. I chose to do a Borderlands 2 run in the Wildlife Exploitation area that involved loading into the game, running through the preserve killing enemies and finishing with the Son of Mothrakk before quitting the game. Both runs averaged just over 100 FPS but Frapps, in Windows 10, couldn’t distinguish between whether or not a game was running still after it had been closed which slightly skewed my results. With the averages being so close, it’s safe to assume that Windows 10 will have the same performance as 8.1 at the very least. Outside of benching, I’ve had a few game nights where everything has run smooth and I haven’t experienced a game crash since I re-installed the driver. I have to say I’m nothing short of impressed that upgrading to Windows 10 has been less problematic for my software than when I upgraded to Windows 8 from 7 a couple of years ago. In fact, the crashes in 8 were bad enough that I went back to 7 until the 8.1 update came out which solved the stability issues I had. Oh, and since 8 was a full release and 10 is still in preview mode, good job Microsoft!
So there’s your personalized preview of Windows 10! And by personalized I mean completely generalized preview aimed at a mass internet audience. If you asked me if I think it’s worth the risk installing the preview, I would say go for it, but as always, my good fortunes won’t necessarily be yours and mine could come crashing down to a horrible nightmare at anytime. The best case scenario would be if you can use a separate system/partition/hard drive to install Windows 10 on, then you wouldn’t have to worry about crashing or incompatibilities. For my first test run with 10, I actually shrank a volume in Windows 7 to give me space to install 10 on the new partition, and both OSes booted up just fine after choosing which one I wanted to run. So if you have enough hard drive space to spare, hop on to the Microsoft website and get that download started. Give Windows 10 a shot because I think you’re going to like it.
Overall, if I was giving ratings, I would give Microsoft the Editor’s choice award for Windows 10. Then I would take it away for making us go through Windows 8 first. While 8 isn’t as bad as Vista, I’m really hoping that Microsoft keeps heading in this direction by listening to their base and releasing genuinely useful products, rather than slamming something down the markets throat they don’t want. If they could manage to release two good operating systems in a row…I might just die of the shock, but that would prove that they were taking these changes seriously in long term rather than throwing the proverbial bone out when sales drop. Still, when it’s all said and done, Windows 10 seems like a great OS coming from Microsoft. I’m really enjoying everything about it right now, I have DirectX 12 to look forward to, and you can bet that I’m already saving to make sure I can buy a copy on the day it releases!