A Month of Gaming With Windows 8

Windows 8

By on November 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm

On the 26th of October, I made a rash decision. I picked up a Windows 8 upgrade and said to myself “Let’s get dangerous.

I returned to my desk and planned my evening in my head, centred around the installation of a brand new, contentious operating system, on my primary gaming rig, in place of the perfectly stable build of Windows 7 that I was totally happy with. Suffice it to say, I felt justifiably concerned, but I allowed my concern to fall beneath the weight of my aversion to boredom, and a spanking new commission from our Editorial Overlord.

I then proceeded to leave my upgrade disk on the bus, like some kind of moron.

The resulting delay in my plans gave my concerns a chance to resurface. “This is crazy, right? I’m about to become an early adopter of Windows 8, which — traditionally speaking — could land on the wrong side of Microsoft’s awesome/atrocious release schedule.” Let’s look at the trend for the past few Windows releases: Windows 95 was widely liked, Windows ME was a joke. Windows 98 was incredibly popular, Windows 2000 was a confused mess. Windows XP was rad, Windows Vista was the literal worst. Windows 7 was the most popular version ever, having sold more than 525 million copies as of January 2012. Now Windows 8 stands bright-eyed before us with its feature list in hand, like a hopeful child presenting their report card to parents who are unabashedly most proud of their older offspring.

What follows is a journal of my first month of gaming with Windows 8, an experience that has been surprising in more ways than one.

Week 1

With priorities clear, I started Steam. I grimaced my way through the connecting dialog, but the expected BSOD did not present itself

I argued with myself about whether I was going look into performing a clean install of Windows 8, or try an upgrade for the first time ever on a critical machine. In the end, limited time made the decision for me. I backed up some critical files, copied the installation files to a local hard disk in order to speed up transfers, and clicked ‘Yes’ when offered the lazy upgrade route.

Installation was painless, surprisingly so. Not only did the installer gracefully handle the fact that I was running the files from a hard disk, rather than the DVD or a bootable USB drive, but it was over in the space of about twenty-five minutes. I logged in, using my pre-existing Windows Live account, and clicked through from the Start screen to the desktop. I was struck by the fact that I felt as though I had never left. My backgrounds, desktop icons, preferences, and ALL of my applications were still there. They all seemed to run without any issues. I had expected to be bombarded with a series of incompatibility messages on login, as now-unsupported background processes failed to start, but there was nothing.

With priorities clear, I started Steam. I grimaced my way through the connecting dialog, but the expected BSOD did not present itself. All of my installed games were still listed, so I impetuously ran Dishonored. Suddenly I was Corvo, once again silently stabbing all obstacles between me and my next objective marker. The game seemed to be performing as it was before the upgrade, there was no perceptible improvement or degradation.

Next, I futzed around with the Start screen. Here some of my expected snark and derision found a home. Sure, it is pretty. The smooth lines and bold, open typefaces are definitely appealing, but it is clearly designed to be a touch interface first. There is precious little to be gained here for mouse and keyboard users, a point that is most keenly felt when considering common design elements and aesthetic decisions. The default font DPI setting for Metro oh I’m sorry Microsoft, “Windows 8-style” applications, is insultingly large when displayed on a PC monitor, which only serves to waste inordinate amounts of precious screen real estate. Twitter applications are the most obvious example of this, to my mind. The Windows 8-style version of the ever popular MetroTwit only shows eight tweets per column on a 1080p display.

Suffice it to say, the Start screen failed to impress beyond its capability to act in place of Windows 7’s Start menu indexed search. As you may or may not be aware, Windows 8 has ditched the Start menu in favour of the new Start screen. Though, given that the only use I ever had for the Start menu was as a way to quickly launch applications via keyboard input, I don’t miss it. In this capacity the Start screen performs admirably.

When using the desktop, my first impression of Windows 8 was that it was a smoother, snappier, more modern version of Windows 7. Which, as it turns out, is because that’s exactly what it is.

Week 2

I didn’t have much time for games during week 1, so week 2 was going to be all about stretching Windows 8’s legs. I spent time with a varied group of games and installation methods, hoping to surface some incompatibilities. I lost a part of myself to a blood soaked, drug-like trance in Hotline Miami (Steam); I was reminded just how amazing Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit looks on PC at more than sixty frames per second (Steam); I clicked on every damn thing in Torchlight 2 (Steam); I could never seem to place enough benches in Theme Hospital (GoG); I fought, looted, and crafted my way through a few hours of Guild Wars 2 (disk install); I flirted with the risky alpha of Prison Architect (downloaded executable); and I stabbed Redcoats and Patriots alike in Assassin’s Creed III (disk install with Uplay).

Much to my surprise, all of this went off without a hitch. I was gaining confidence in Windows 8 as a gaming platform, and as far as I could tell it was just as stable as its predecessor.

Late in the week, I sat down at my PC and reviewed my notes. Things were looking good! Suddenly, a blue glow washed over the page before me. A chill formed in the pit of my stomach as I looked up from my notebook to see Windows 8’s somewhat gussied up, but still contextually grotesque Blue Screen Of Death. My building confidence took a hit, but I put it down to teething problems. Early adopters take risks, and the odd BSOD during idle isn’t anything to freak out about.

Week 3

I preloaded Hitman: Absolution the day before it was due for release. The hands-on demo at EB Expo 2012 was enough to convince me that it was still my kind of crazy, despite what pre-release marketing and trailers would have me believe. On release day, I quickly discharged my evening house duties and sat down, eager to once again baldy and stealthily solve murder-puzzles as Agent 47. I made it as far as the main menu before my PC completely locked up.

The awful, giant, sideways sad-face was on the screen, once again calling out DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION as the cause of my ruined fun. This was the first time that I’d experienced a BSOD on Windows 8 while actively using the machine. Up until this point all previous examples had occurred while the machine was idle, giving me hope that the cause was in power-saving, or another non-essential feature. Alas, it seems that the problem is not so easily ignored.

Week 4

Multiple BSODs, all attributed to DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION, played across my monitors over the course of the week. Sporadic, lacklustre googling didn’t turn up any simple fixes. I looked into updating my SSD firmware, only to learn that it wasn’t simple if updating the drive containing my OS. I continued to put up with it, but couldn’t escape a niggling dissent, “Windows 7 was rock solid.”

“Jason, you have made poor choices.”

Conclusion

In conversation, I generally recommend Windows 8. Ignoring the Start screen (quite rightly), the user experience improvements are genuinely impressive if you’re into that sort of thing; it is shiny and clean in ways that no version of Windows before it has ever been. If you run with multiple displays, Windows 8 has also improved on Windows 7’s support. The task bar now extends across both displays, and the Start screen can be simply switched to a different display should you desire.

Windows 8 doesn’t include any features that cause it to stand far enough apart from Windows 7 to make it a must-have upgrade for non-touch devices

The instabilities that I have been experiencing on my gaming rig could well be a configuration or hardware issue. The fact that they weren’t a problem with Windows 7 at the helm is rather damning, however.  I should note that my work laptop is also running Windows 8, and has not missed a step. It does have the benefit of a clean install, thanks to a provided copy of the Enterprise edition.

When you really sit down and compare the two, Windows 8 doesn’t include any features that cause it to stand far enough apart from Windows 7 to make it a must-have upgrade for non-touch devices. Windows 8 is little more than a fresh set of curtains bordering a view that you’ve seen over your breakfast bowl every morning for the past three years. Sure they look nice, but ultimately they only really serve to remind you that you’d forgotten how much you used to enjoy that view, and how now maybe you want to hang the old curtains back up.

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33 comments (Leave your own)

DPC_WATCHDOG_VIOLATION is almost certainly caused by a poorly written device driver.

 

NFS Hot Pursuit is not on Steam. It’s on Origin.

 

I was a day one adopter. I live Windows 8. Generally speaking, I saw a boost on FPS with all my currently played games with F1 2012 having the biggest. Averaging an extra 20fps.

My real problem is flickering menus in F1 2012. Happens on the glossy car models and when transitioning through menus. Luckily it doesn’t happen in the pit garage or on the track, so it’s easily ignorable.

 

“Windows 8 doesn’t include any features that cause it to stand far enough apart from Windows 7 to make it a must-have upgrade for non-touch devices”

This was exactly my conclusion after using it on my laptop for a while now. I won’t be rushing out to buy this thing anytime soon.

That being said, on a Surface, it’s great.

 

You’ve at least dismissed most of my fears that it would be an automatic hell-hole. Even as an early adopter you seems to have relatively few problems.

But if it’s as much like Windows 7 as you say, well, I only upgraded to Win7 with my new rig, so I probably won’t bother, unfortunately!

Great article, though! Very informative! GG!

 

Jess Colwill,

Thanks Jess! Yeah it’s fine, but that’s it. I guess “fine” is in itself an achievement, given the track record I mentioned at the top of the article. I kind of wanted it to be exemplary, though.

 

Jason Imms:
As you may or may not be aware, Windows 8 has ditched the Start menu in favour of the new Start screen. Though, given that the only use I ever had for the Start menu was as a way to quickly launch applications via keyboard input, I don’t miss it. In this capacity

Nice to see the Start Menu actually put in perspective. It is 99% useless to a proficient user.

This seems to have gone pretty well for an upgrade. I’ll definitely be going clean install when the time comes.

 

When I need to reinstall I’ll probably be looking to use win8, assuming all the driver / program problems are fixed by then (I believe wacom drivers were giving some people issues). Main benefit seems to be the performance improvements.

 

ooshp: Nice to see the Start Menu actually put in perspective. It is 99% useless to a proficient user.

Right? It makes Gaben’s freak out over not being able to get game shortcuts onto the Start screen seem a little weird. Anyone that has used Steam before is still going to be using Steam to buy their games. I understand that new customers will be immediately presented with the Windows Store first, but have some faith Gaben. Even if you lose a few initial sales to the Windows Store, you can be confident that anyone that buys more than a couple of games in a year will eventually end up on Steam.

 

That pretty much mirrors my experience with Windows 8, but without the BSOD errors. I didn’t use the start menu much on Windows 7, preferred to use the taskbar as well as just clicking start and typing. To this extent while the Start Page looks different, the behaviour really isn’t much different for me.

To get the most out of Windows 8, I personally believe you need to learn how to use at least the basic hotkeys. Being that I was already a heavy keyboard user, the effectiveness of hotkeys (such as Win+x) came as a pleasant surprise.

 

About the only issues I’ve had so far is getting into SWTOR and having ridiculously bad lag (used to be 50ms, now 500-7000), and I’ll put it down to Windows 8 as I’ve 2 machines running it with the same problem, yet the Win7 one at work seems perfectly fine

 

Stupid lack of edit button.

Turns out I was confusing Hot Pursuit with Most Wanted. Ignore my previous comment.

 

Having said that, I don’t know why you didn’t test BF3 or another Origin game.

 
James Pinnell

I’ve had a pretty rock solid experience with Windows 8. Not a single BSOD, much quicker and fluid than Windows 7, almost zero contact with the start screen and an actual IMPROVEMENT in FPS.

Plus all the other lovely things like native .ISO compatibility, a proper task manager, a working, accurate file transfer dialog, independent monitor config and a host of other improvements.

Def wouldn’t go back to Win7.

 

I get calls from people asking where their start bar is on their new windows 8 laptops.

No need to upgrade so i wont be using it. Its the exact same situation as vista to xp except worse.

 

palzer0: NFS Hot Pursuit is not on Steam. It’s on Origin.

If you own it on Steam, EA will let you download it through Origin… I imagine that’s where that came from.

 

I quite like Win 8 I upgraded a comp still running Win XP so it was a big and very cheap upgrade.

Would I upgrade from a Win 7 system to Win 8? No Win 7 performs admirably and is a good system to use and WIn 8 isn’t that big an upgrade to warrant that purchase.

I don’t mind Win 8 at all though the Metro feature is heavily orientated to the current phone/portable computing clientele who love their “apps”. Takes all of half a second to bring up the desktop and do tasks as usual from there. I’m finding it easy enough to perform the tasks I want on both systems without hassle.

 

palzer0:
NFS Hot Pursuit is not on Steam. It’s on Origin.

It’s on my steam?

 

just a note on window timeline, ME came out after win 98 not before and Win 2000 was a great release but it wasn’t consumer it was a replacement of NT and aimed at the business market.

Originally, if memory serves me right, Win2000 was to be version that brought together the win 9x & NT codebases and be both consumer and business but this was scrapped at some point during development and they released ME as a quick fix for the consumer market – Win XP would be the version to combine consumer and business (client side) functionality.

And really Vista wasnt that bad as long as you had a new/relatively recent pc, i moved from xp to vista as soon as it was released and never felt any compulsion to go back to XP.

 

scarfaceau,

Check my retraction.

 
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