Windows 7 vs Windows XP gaming performance Part 1

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As many who follow tech news already know, Microsoft has released the public beta of Windows 7. This new Operating System is supposed to bring forth more speed and GUI enhancements while keeping the good parts of Windows Vista. Microsoft knows that Vista has tarnished the Windows name and is trying hard to reverse that effect with Windows 7. Read on to see if they are on the right path to achieving that goal with PC gamers.

For many PC gamers Windows Vista brought DirectX 10, but a lot of driver headaches and performance issues along with it. The end result was that many PC gamers stuck with Windows XP if they wanted to get the most performance out of their computers. Those who wanted nothing more but their games to look as pretty as possible went with Windows Vista regardless of the performance hit. Then came the fact that not many games used or even required DirectX 10.
Due to the performance and numerous driver issues, I decided to stick with Windows XP Professional for my gaming rig. However, I would like to upgrade to a new Operating System eventually to take full advantage of my hardware. I have a 64bit processor, a motherboard that can handle more than 4GB of RAM(4GB of RAM is the limit on 32bit Operating Systems like Windows XP) and a graphics card that is capable of rendering in DirectX 10.

To help decide if I should upgrade to Windows 7 once it is released, I decided to benchmark it against XP Pro on the same hardware. Now I provide my findings of this online only to help those trying to make a similar decision. Your results may vary and this should not be used as concrete evidence that any particular Operating System is faster than the other considering that Windows 7 is not yet finished.
For my first test I threw one of the most demanding games I have at Windows 7, the mighty Crysis.
There have been benchmarks done by others in the past that proves that Windows XP runs Crysis faster than Windows Vista even if your run both in DirectX 9 mode since the DirectX 9 rendering engine has a performance advantage over the DirectX 10 rendering engine. Now I would like to see if Windows 7's performance can match up with that of Windows XP (reigning champ of Windows gaming performance).

    The Hardware Setup:
  • CPU: AMD Athlon X2 4800+ EE
  • RAM: 2GB DDR2 800 (1GB x2 in Dual Channel Configuration)
  • Motherboard: ECS Black Series A780GM-A AM2+
  • Video Card: GeForce 8800GT with 512MB of GDDR3
  • Sound Card: Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum

Further system details can be viewed on my xfire profile page:

The only difference in hardware was the hard drive used for each Operating System. Windows 7 was installed on different hard drives.

The Drivers:
At the time of testing I used the most up to date WHQL certified drivers available for each Operating System.
For Windows XP that is 181.20 and for Windows 7 it was a 179 series driver. Keep this in mind when looking at the results as the 180 series driver claims to give performance enhancements for some games, including Crysis.

The Tests:
Crysis comes with a GPU benchmark utility in the folder it is installed in. This was the utility used for testing on both systems.
The utility does a pass over the island on which the game takes place 4 times. To limit the impact of the difference in hard drives on the test results, only the fourth pass is taken into account as by now all of the required information needed to render the scenery should already have been read off the hard drive and stored in system and graphics card's RAM.
On Windows 7 64-bit I tested 32-bit DirectX 9 performance, 32-bit DirectX 10 performance and 64-bit DirectX 10 performance.
On Windows XP Professional 32-bit DirectX 9 performance was tested. To achieve Very High settings on Windows XP a common hack was used. The developers of Crysis decided to have the executable of the game not allow anything above the High setting to be selected on any Operating System lower than Vista. This is easily rectified by going into the files of the game and copying the engine parameter values from Very High and paste them over High. This in effect turns the "High" setting to that of "Very High". So now picking "High" in the system settings of the game will cause it to render in "Very High" mode.
All tests were done with the resolution set at 1280x1024.

The Results:

    Windows 7 32-bit DirectX 9 results:
  • Minimum FPS: 4.89
  • Maximum FPS: 18.13
  • Average FPS: 14.27
    Windows 7 32-bit DirectX 10 results:
  • Minimum FPS: 0.75
  • Maximum FPS: 17.93
  • Average FPS: 13.63
    Windows 7 64-bit DirectX 10 results:
  • Min FPS: 0.00
  • Max FPS: 19.41
  • Average FPS: 14.28
    Windows XP Professional 32-bit DirectX 9 results:
  • Min FPS: 8.83
  • Max FPS: 24.46
  • Average FPS: 20.57

Results Analysis:
Well it does not take a rocket scientist to tell who the victor is. The average FPS on Windows XP far exceeds what Windows 7 is capable at this point with the current nvidia driver release. What is interesting to me is the performance of Windows 7 with a 64-bit executable. DirectX 10 is more taxing on GPUs than DirectX 9 at this point, but the Crysis 64-bit executable was able to match and slightly beat the performance of the 32-bit exectubale in both rendering modes. This is promising as many gamers are starting to use machines with 4GB of RAM and motherboards that can handle more. For this a 64-bit Operating System is needed as 32-bit Operating Systems can only address up to 4GB of RAM.
The future looks promising, since many PC gamers will most likely choose the 64-bit version of the Operating System for future system builds or purchases. This makes the 32-bit test almost irrelevant for future purposes as many will not be using 32-bit executables if there is a 64-bit option in the years to come. At this early stage of Windows 7 development it looks as if it can get close or perhaps exceed the level of performance that is only available with Windows XP at this point. If Microsoft can further optimize RAM and CPU usage and if the GPU manufacturers can get their drivers just right then it is possible that Windows 7 will become the version of Windows that every PC gamer wants and recommends.