Windows 8 upgrade diary: gaming and performance

It's been a brisk and mostly enjoyable two weeks since the launch of Windows 8 and the start of this diary. Whereas my last entry was all about productivity, there's now been ample opportunity to relax with the new OS, play a few titles in Steam, and run some general performance benchmarks. These not-so-onerous tasks were completed using an AMD FX-based triple-monitor gaming rig upgraded from Windows 7 Ultimate to Windows 8 Pro, with all games running at 5,760 x 1,080 and max detail settings, and all the hardware was kept constant to allow a before-and-after comparison. You'll find the results after the break, along with a few broader impressions of what Windows 8 might mean for an early-adopting desktop gamer.

Windows 7
Ultimate

Windows 8 Pro

PC Mark 7

4,045 3,699*

3D Mark 11

8,275 8,673

SunSpider 0.9.1 on Internet Explorer

190ms (IE 9) 138ms (IE 10)

ATTO storage read at 1,024KB (write)

98MB/s (99MB/s) 108MB/s (112MB/s)

Cold boot time (shutdown time)

60s (12s) 58s (16s)

Wake-up time (sleep time)

11 (18s) 7s (12s)

Just Cause 2 average fps

57 54

Metro 2033 average fps

24 22

XCOM: Enemy Unknown average fps**

72 76
*Futuremark warns that PCMark 7 may under-score Windows 8 performance, so take this figure with a sprinkle of caution. Other sites have found that PCMark 7 actually scores higher in Windows 8 with different hardware configurations.
** This game -- the only game I want to play right now -- runs upside-down on Eyefinity. Aaargh.

A glance at the table will corroborate what other benchmark comparisons (see More Coverage below) have already shown: Windows 8 doesn't currently do much for gaming other than preserving it. If we ignore PCMark 7 for now, which currently comes with a health warning, then gaming-relevant performance is broadly even. Personally, I just carried on running my existing Steam games as normal, and I was pleased that my hardware -- including an ASUS Xonar sound card and Xbox 360 wired controller -- was recognized without issue. But few people will spend money on an upgrade merely to experience what they already had with Windows 7.

Windows 8 upgrade diary: gaming and performance

Of course, there was that whole Gabe Newell "catastrophe" saga recently, and it had little to do with hardware issues. The Steam founder was mainly worried about the new Windows Store potentially becoming the only way for Windows users to buy and install new games. Politics aside (at least for now), I did explore the Store and a couple of game demos, but I lost interest pretty quickly. For the time being, Microsoft is putting the emphasis on tablet games and cross-compatibility with ARM-based RT tablets, with the result that the selection of games for desktop users is limited and often inappropriate (Fruit Ninja, anyone?). When I'd finally confirmed that it's possible to have a launch-day roster of 40 Xbox Live games and yet not include classics like Fez, Braid or Super Meatboy on that list, I made a polite exit.

Microsoft is putting the emphasis on tablet games

Anyway, returning to the table, the more general indicators of performance show some significant gains as a result of the upgrade -- gains which do seem to make the system snappier when it comes to racking up a game. The FastBoot feature we've seen on some recent Windows 8 laptops was never going to work with my particular motherboard and graphics card, but the wake-up and sleep times were both significantly reduced -- and since I hardly ever switch my PC off, those two measures are more useful to me. ATTO showed a 10 percent gain in storage read and write speeds, running on a 750GB Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive. Internet Explorer 10 also deserves a mention for being blisteringly fast compared to IE9 -- and there's no final version of IE10 for Windows 7 coming any time soon. In large part, this brings me back to the main conclusion of my last post: Windows 8 does some genuinely good things for all-round productivity. But for other, more leisurely pursuits, I don't yet see any compelling reason why the desktop user should upgrade.

My rig, for the record: AMD FX-8350 CPU (tested at stock speeds to keep things simple), Gelid Tranquillo Rev. 2 CPU cooler, AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition graphics card (also at stock speed), ASUS CrossHair V Formula motherboard, ASUS Xonar Phoebus sound card, 8GB Corsair XMS3 RAM, 750GB Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive, NZXT Phantom 410 chassis, three ViewSonic VX2336S 1080p LED monitors.