In the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8, Microsoft has implemented scads of changes to improve the operating system's performance and responsiveness. To wit: The DirectX programming interface adds more robust 2D functionality, and in Windows 8 it helps render all desktop windows, and even accelerates the new Start screen.
We applaud windows that pop up faster, and we appreciate how applications like Word scroll more smoothly. But what do all the under-the-hood Windows 8 changes mean for PC games? Although my subjective gaming experiences have been positive, I wanted hard data. So I took a moderately high-end (and home-made) gaming PC, played some games, and ran a bunch of performance tests to determine the differences in gaming performance between Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Hardware and software setup
The system I used is a current-generation PC carrying an Intel Core i7-3770K Ivy Bridge processor running at the default speed of 3.5GHz (3.9GHz maximum Turbo clock), 16GB of DDR3-1600 memory, and an Asus GTX 680 graphics card, based on Nvidia's reference design. I built all of that on an Asus P8Z77-V Premium motherboard and a Corsair 850W power supply. Note that the hard drive is a standard, 7200-rpm 1TB drive, rather than an SSD.
Next up was installing the games and benchmarking software. I ran the following tests.
Futuremark benchmarks: These included 3DMark 2011 (DirectX 11), 3DMark Vantage (DirectX 10), and PCMark 7. The last benchmark offered a quick sanity check for any dramatic differences in system performance.
Unigine Heaven: I jacked up hardware tessellation to extreme to hammer the GPU a bit.
Game benchmarks, using Crysis 2, Shogun 2: Total War, Metro 2033, and Dirt 3: I recorded all of these results at 1920-by-1200-pixel resolution with 4x multisampling antialiasing enabled. All of the games I used for the benchmarks were installed via Valve Software's Steam service.
Other games: I installed and ran several other games, including Civilization V, Mass Effect 3, and Bioshock 2, for extended play sessions to check out compatibility and subjective performance.
I ran a first pass of benchmarks using Windows 7 (Service Pack 1 installed), along with the latest Windows 7 drivers. After that, I installed the Windows 8 RTM plus all updates and drivers, and then reran all the tests.
Before diving into the performance results, though, I should talk about some issues I encountered while installing and running the games and benchmarks.
Users who transitioned from Windows Vista to Windows 7 saw some performance gains in games, but those gains were fairly minimal. Although the initial shipments of Windows Vista had some serious bugs and other problems that adversely affected game performance, updates to Vista over time fixed most of them. The underlying rendering technology in Windows 7 differed in only minor ways.
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