Windows 7: To Upgrade Or Not To Upgrade?

By Alec Meer on May 6th, 2009 at 5:55 pm.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to inflict a blow-by-blow technical details post on you. This is more to point out that the Release Candidate 1 for Microsoft’s next operating system is now free to all comers, and to address the question of whether we gamers should care about it a lot, a little, or not even slightly.

Personally, I’m going full-pelt for a yes, whether you’re running Vista or good ol’XP. It’s free from a lot of the bloat and associated chugginess of the former, but adds in a spot of whizzbang and the DirectX 10 support (and 11 too, in theory) that that the latter lacks. Best of all, RC1 will continue to run until July 2010. So if you haven’t yet moved from XP to Vista and have a DX10 card, you now get to try it (and DX10’s) best bits without spending a penny or breaking any laws. I’ve been running an earlier version 7 as my main OS for a while now, and I can honestly say I’ve been a lot happier with it than I ever was with XP or Vista. It’s definitely a better option for a laptop or other lower-spec system than any version of Vista, as it’s far less memory hungry.

A Release Candidate, incidentally, is just that – a fundamentally finished version that Microsoft hopes is fit for release. The major wrinkle with it is that you’ll not be able to simply upgrade to the final, final version come July 2010 (or whenever you end up buying Win 7, which is due for release later this year), but rather will have to do a whole new install. So this is probably a second-hard-drive job, unless you subscribe to the philosophy that giving your Windows a thorough clean every now and again keeps performance tip-top.

For all Microsoft’s bally-hoo, there aren’t really any gaming-specific features worth trumpeting in either Vista or Win 7 (bar the fact that a 3D card driver crash doesn’t usually require a system restart, but can instead recover itself), but it’s definitely a nicer desktop environment than, arguably, any other Windows to date. If I get the chance, I’ll run some comparative benchmarks to see gaming performance stacks against XP and VIsta in hard numbers. Grab RC1 (in either 32 or 64 bit flavours) from here – it’s only 2.5Gb, surprisingly.

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101 Comments »

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  1. Real Horrorshow says:

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I haven’t had any issues with Vista as long as I’ve had it. Everything works fine, so I’m not going to complicate things by upgrading OS’ just for a snazzier interface.

  2. prowlinger says:

    We have it installed here at work on 2 systems…

    As far as a home system… works great… business minded systems… still chock full of bloat.

    We tested out Creative Lab drivers (hacked unofficial Win7 since Creative refuses to ever update their drivers for non new cards) and are testing Geforce 9 drivers.

    Games so far seem about -15% to -25% slower than on regular XP.

    Why? Win7 uses aero and still has a mash of junk that isn’t always needed.

    If you want pure speed on a non new system… stick with XP for another year… ;)

  3. Schmung says:

    I’ve stayed away from Vista with an almost religious fervor since it’s release, but Win7 seems like it might be worth looking at. It does silly in some ways that I’m here using a 32 bit OS with a 64 bit processor and 4gb of RAM, but I just know that there’s going to be a ton of stuff that doesn’t work properly with it, so I’m a bit tentative. If I can find the cables for my power supply I may just whack in another hard drive and give it a go. Hopefully some clever sorts will fix it so you can upgrade from the RC when the full version comes out.

  4. ack says:

    And after you’ve tried it and installed XP again you’ll have to buy new games ’cause you’ve passed the number of allowed re-installs…

    (see there, I managed to squeeze in DRM in a discussion about something totally different. woo! look at me!)

  5. The_B says:

    The major wrinkle with it is that you’ll not be able to simply upgrade to the final, final version come July 2010 (or whenever you end up buying Win 7, which is due for release later this year), but rather will have to do a whole new install.

    This has been the only thing preventing me from literally upgrading my current installation and abandoning Vista altogether. I have it installed on my second hard drive for now, and the fact that all my programs are on my Vista – in addition to only recently getting everything back to normaility after a massive hardware failure at Christmas – means I’m reluctant to rely on it and then having to mess around again come the full version.

    However, I dare say Windows 7 will be a purchase for me when it comes out as I do rather like it. It’s literally just circumstances meaning Vista remains my primary OS for now. I’ve not tried the new XP mode that wasn’t in the inital beta, but I have heard good things…

  6. Novotny says:

    I’ve been using it for 6 months over three builds and love it. Haven’t booted to XP since about day two.

  7. El_MUERkO says:

    i’m tempted to stick it on my netbook … but not until i have confidence scummvm will work with it

  8. Nero says:

    I might try it, or not. Still using XP and right now I see no reason at all to upgrade. I will probably skip Vista all together and possibly upgrade to 7 when there’s something I want that only works there.

  9. Dave says:

    Isn’t there some kind of restriction on the RC version where it forces a reboot every 2 hours after May? Something like that, anyway.

  10. Ginger Yellow says:

    I’ve just about got Vista to a state where I’m happy with it, so I’d rather not upgrade to something uncertain with built-in obsolescence. I’ll almost certainly be switching to it when it’s properly released, though.

  11. 357SIG says:

    I’ve been using vista for a couple years now and I admit it had its flaws but try using XP without service packs. I’m currently happy with vista and awaiting release of win7
    i can cite my specs if needed but i have a relatively affordable machine and i play crysis smoothly in DX10 maxed at 1920×1080

  12. Sirtuin says:

    I have had beta as primary OS since January and just did clean RC install and IMO Win 7 is the best Windows ever. Desktop use feels much more comfortable and games I’ve tried have run as well or better than on XP, especially strange hiccups with Crysis and Company of Heroes seem to be gone.

  13. Axess Denyd says:

    I had the Beta on my MSI Wind for a few weeks and was impressed at how well it performed. I ended up getting rid of it since it wouldn’t run the games that the Wind is capable of.

    Both Civ3 and Bullet Candy would refuse to do anything at all when launched from Steam–hopefully this can be addressed in a patch or with different settings, but if I’m gonna have a netbook I’m gonna need it to run old games.

  14. bluedino says:

    Any one else notice a significant loss of performance in games, say compared to xp? I’ve been thinking about upgrading my main computer so I can use DX10 when I start clear sky, but STALKER games aren’t exactly optimized…

  15. Chris Evans says:

    I grabbed the Win7 beta as soon as it came out and I haven’t looked back since. I have a dual boot on my desktop with Win7 beta and Vista. Haven’t touched Vista since a couple days after get Win7.

    I won’t be getting RC1 quite yet, I think a new hard drive is in order soon enough, 250GB just doesn’t cut it for me now. I think bigger HD with Win7 RC1 is the way to go personally.

    To those XP users, I don’t know how you can still be using that. As soon as I could put Vista on my desktop I did, I think the bad press about Vista did it in. Yes it is bloaty, but not as bad as everyone thinks.

    Here is to Win7 *raises a glass*

  16. Cigol says:

    Vista was relatively awful to begin with but it’s definitely usuable now. Win7 on the otherhand blows it out of the water, so if you have been put off by Vista don’t assume it’s the same deal with Win7 – it’s not. You’ll be getting rid of WinXP before long.

  17. pepper says:

    I’d say your in good water when upgrading the rig closely to the win 7 release or afterwards, from what ive seen its doing quite well. But i wouldnt know for sure since i havent given it a try yet on any of my own system.

  18. Bhazor says:

    Reply to Dave
    “The RC will expire on June 1, 2010. Starting on March 1, 2010, your PC will begin shutting down every two hours. Windows will notify you two weeks before the bi-hourly shutdowns start.”

    So thats a no then.

  19. Piso Mojado says:

    I agree with Real. Vista’s been good for me so I’ll just wait for the official release of Win7 in the fall. Also note:
    “The Release Candidate will stop working on June 1, 2010, but starting on March 1, 2010, your PC will begin shutting down every two hours.” – Wired.com

  20. Theory says:

    Surprised to see these reactions. I got rid of 7 after about a week because it wasn’t enough of an improvement over Vista to justify porting all my settings, DRM etc. to it.

  21. Hax Meadroom says:

    The problem is that Windows 7 is great if you liked the idea of Vista but not the execution. I, however, loathed Vista and I do not see any real feature-based improvements in 7; you still have a start ‘orb’ (whose idea was this anyway), still have UAC and Administrative privilege issues breathing down your neck much of the time, still have one hell of a memory hog, etc.. As with Vista, the only real appeal for me is DirectX but again as with Vista, that is no incentive at all (until DX11 anyway). And for the record, I used the beta of 7 for about three weeks and switched back when I didn’t see the point in using it any longer.

  22. ErrantConstruct says:

    “Starting on March 1, 2010, your PC will begin shutting down every two hours”

    The usability of the RC is slightly shorter than mentioned in the article. Seems a rather draconian way to get people to upgrade, and its a whole 5 months before they cut it off. I guess it becomes a sort of time locked OS demo at that point. Although I wouldn’t think someone would want to go through the trouble of installing it just to try it out for 2 hours at a time. Why not just have it end in March?

  23. hitnrun says:

    @Real Horrorshow

    You realize that’s generally the argument *against* using Vista, right?

  24. Wacky says:

    I’ve tried to install it for 2 days now and it always restarts unexpectedly right near the end,and I have to rollback the installation,so my “experience” with WIndows 7 has been sort of unsatisfactory.

  25. Rich_P says:

    Pros: Elemental War of Magic might ship with a 64-bit exe that allows you to create huge maps. That’s the only gaming-related motivation to upgrade, at the moment at least.

    Cons: I don’t feel like reinstalling Windows on my duel-boot Linux machine.

  26. Markoff Chaney says:

    Until a few months back Vista was a good 10-15% slower when gaming as opposed to XP. I’m still running XP mainly when I game for just that reason (that + laziness and no desire to rebuild a machine with a few hundred gigs of installs for something that just caught up to what I’m still using). Snazzy and Sexy don’t mean anything when I just want my stuff to run the best it can. But I started off my game optimizing career by changing the order that QEMM loaded stuff from config.sys so I don’t mind sticking with the older stuff, especially if it offers stability and speed increases.

    That being said, Vista (since SP1) really isn’t bad at all. I’ve been playing with different betas of 7 and this RC is nicely polished (for being a RC, doubly so for being a MicroSoft OS RC). I’m planning on overwriting my Vista partition with 7 sometime this weekend. I’m leery of the restrictions, but I’ll be more than ready for a reformat within a year anyway (laziness or not). At least I’m not doing my 6 month reformat cycle anymore. It does help speed things up, but there is such a thing as a law of diminishing returns eventually and XP isn’t as bad as the 9Xes (and priors) were.

  27. Butler` says:

    My yearly reformat is due after my exams, so I’ll give this a try.

    If it isn’t up to scratch I’ll be performing an impromptu second reformat this year.

    Be nice to see some opinions on those actually play games in W7, from CS, to WoW, to whatever.

  28. Tom says:

    I’m installing it this weekend. Can’t wait!

  29. Dominic White says:

    I loathed Vista, but the Windows 7 beta (I dual-booted – made a seperate W7 partition and put it there so I wouldn’t lose XP) impressed me no end. It starts up faster, it does things quicker, and there’s almost none of the HD/memory/pagefile churn that XP is laden with. Plus, it uses my 64bit dual-core processor pretty damn well.

    The best thing is that it’s free until next year. I’m a little short on disposable income, so couldn’t afford an OS upgrade, but being able to install and use it now, and pay a year later is pretty great.

  30. jackflash says:

    I’ll probably stick with XP for gaming needs and OpenSUSE with KDE for having an OS I actually like.

  31. The_B says:

    Seems a rather draconian way to get people to upgrade, and its a whole 5 months before they cut it off. I guess it becomes a sort of time locked OS demo at that point

    I wouldn’t really call it draconian – for a start by the time it even kicks in Windows 7’s Real Thing should have been out for a good few months anyway, and if you’re using it as your be all and end all without intending to upgrade later you’re either a bit silly or incredibly short sighted.

    It’s an OS so to the general public at large they’re probably barely going to notice anything futher thanwhat they might discover in those first two hours before they’re launching a game or program with the thing anyway.

    And to those that say it’s not hugely different from Vista – while that may be true on some levels, I dare say the question for the majority isn’t going to be whether they should update from Vista, but from XP. To those, it’s looking like a solid yes.

  32. Acosta says:

    I must say that I’m really happy with Vista 64, very stable, fast, no compatibility problems. I have a basic rule with windows about not getting it until SP1 is released, and it has worked fine for me.

    I won’t install it, I will get a proper Windows 7+SP1 when I get my next PC in one year or so.

  33. copperfish says:

    I switched to Ubuntu because of Vista. Not because of any anti Microsoft fervour, I do own an Xbox but just because it was better than both Vista and XP. XP just wasn’t cutting it in features and Vista was afwul. Windows 7 seems to be getting things right and I’ll be happy to get back into PC gaming with Windows 7. That said, I won’t be abandoning Ubuntu either.

  34. Joshua says:

    I have had Windows XP installed on my comp since I built it (in early 2006) and amazingly have not wiped. But now its unbearably slow and in a couple weeks I was planning to wipe it and start clean. I figure I’ll go with this, I am planning to buy a Win7 license when it comes out anyway.

    The only thing is, my comp is older, uses DDR1 RAM, and I only have 2 gigs. I don’t want to tack on another 2 gigs to this ancient machine (ancient = 2006) but I don’t really to build another computer.

  35. jalf says:

    I’ve been running the Win7 beta since it came out, and upgraded to the RC yesterday. It’s so much nicer to use than Vista, and on the whole, comparable to XP. In some ways it’s vastly improved over XP, but it has also inherited a handful of annoyances from Vista (Why is it that Explorer, in particular, becomes more and more unusable with every Windows release?)

    The main reason I switch from XP to 7 was, ironically, better driver support. My motherboard wasn’t really happy with XP, and I got terrible harddrive performance (ingame movies were choppy and froze for seconds at a time)

    7 is not perfect, but unlike Vista, it offers a good number of new improvements as well as annoyances (the latter mainly originating from Vista).

  36. monchberter says:

    I like it, i’ve been running the 64bit beta for a couple of months and the RC since yesterday although it does seem a bit flakier than the 32 bit.

    My biggest surprise was having Crysis run better in DX10 maxed out than it did in DX9 in XP! Although the extra gig and a half of memory (XP RAM restrictions) may have something to do with it.

    Not going back now. Too comfortable.

  37. Solar says:

    Too busy to fiddle with my OS atm. Running Vista x64 Home Premium since release and only had problems in the first month or two with graphics and wireless drivers. After that nil problemo, minus an actual blue screen of death two months ago…

    Don’t have any benchmark comparisons and haven’t looked at Win 7 RC but really don’t want to go through the driver problem at this moment in time. Due for a rig upgrade some time Q4 I reckon so might as well wait for win 7 release (not that I feel any way inclined to leave visa, web updates have left it stable as a Tall-nut, om nom nom).

    Tinker away little OS monkeys and let me know what you find.

  38. jalf says:

    @Solar: There aren’t really driver issues with Win7. Vista drivers are compatible with it, and NVidia in particular are producing drivers like crazy, presumably to avoid the trouble they ended up in at Vista’s launch.

    Not saying you should upgrade though. If you’ve got a working OS, why change? :p
    Just pointing out that you’re not likely to encounter driver issues with Win7 now or at launch. Microsoft has learned that lesson from Vista ;)

  39. Sam says:

    I must say, I’m perfectly happy with OSX + Ubuntu Linux as my main OSes.
    (I do think, btw, that it’s a bit odd to go on about bringing DirectX 10 to the masses – it’s not like it gives you anything that OpenGL 2.x does, from a gamer’s perspective. And XP drivers support OpenGL 2.x just fine…)

  40. Krondonian says:

    I seem to remember some speed tests of older versions of Windows 7 matching XP for speed/framerate.

    For a complete beginner to this stuff, how easy is to set up a partition and dual boot XP and Windows 7? I have a 500GB hard drive, with about 350 free if that makes a difference.

  41. Steve says:

    I’m really irritated by the irrational and uninformed hate for Vista. With SP1 it runs perfectly well provided you have sufficiently good hardware. I’ve certainly experienced no “sluggishness” with my moderately equipped PC.

    I’ll probably upgrade, providing there’s good driver support for the 64bit version.

  42. Nelson says:

    It’s sad that advances in gaming tech have been hampered by OS issues. I’m still rocking XP and very glad of it. I don’t feel any need to have DX10 since there are (still!) only a handful of games that require it.

    Unless the industry starts requiring DX10 (& 11) to run games -or- offers some kind of tremendous discount on products to urge gamers to buy, I don’t think most gamers will care about a new OS. :( What I’d love to see, is an OS version dedicated to gaming–that would show me that Microsoft still cares about us!

  43. The_B says:

    What I’d love to see, is an OS version dedicated to gaming

    Insert your own ‘XBox 360′ joke here.

  44. Steven Hutton says:

    I upgraded to RC1 in the hope that refomatting my PC would fix the crashes I was getting with Demigod and World in Conflict. Short answer: It didn’t. Long answer: It didn’t and I’m never buying another PC game.

  45. jalf says:

    @Steve: Yeah, and Crysis ran perfectly well when it came out provided you had sufficiently good hardware too. A much more relevant question is “does it run perfectly well on *common* hardware? Or even more relevant, how does its performance compare to other OS’es *running on the same hardware*? Of course it is possible to get *good enough* hardware to satisfy Vista. But if Vista requires twice as hefty hardware as XP, OSX or Linux, then it is still a problem. Vista runs slower *on the same hardware* than both XP and Win7. That could be acceptable, if it offered anything interesting in return. But as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t.

    Apart from that, performance is, and was, always the least of my complaints with Vista. So I’d say the irrational and uninformed defense of Vista is far more annoying. Somehow, it doesn’t matter what you criticize about Vista, its defenders are going to talk about a completely different issue. “I hate how they removed the ‘up’ button in Explorer” / “Yeah, but I have no performance issues on my PC”. Well done, good for you, it just doesn’t answer my complaint.
    Or “Performance in Vista sucks” / “Well, I’ve had no bluescreens since I installed it”

    Or “Vista just bluescreened for me” / “Well, it has Aero, it looks much nicer”.

    I can think of plenty of criticisms for Vista. Some of them have been resolved over time, but most are as valid today as they were at launch, because they were by design. The performance has gone from horrendous to acceptable, but most of the other issues have not changed. I dislike Vista *as a product*. Not because of performance or lack of polish, but because it is quite simply a pain to use.

  46. Black Mamba says:

    Well one more reason, you can play back your MKV videos in the Xbox 360 media center extender with this Win7 media foundation MKV plugin from DivX. No transcoding going on this is native playback.

    http://labs.divx.com/mkvwin7preview

    It needs Win7 because the native codecs (H.264/XviD/VC-1/AAC etc) built into Win7 are doing the decoding, the MKV plugin just makes WMP12/WMC7 see MKV containers.

  47. Cunk says:

    @ Hax Meadroom
    “you still have a start ‘orb’ (whose idea was this anyway)”

    Not sure what the problem with an ‘orb’ is. Same function as a ‘Start’ button. Just looks a little different (and cleaner IMO)

    “still have UAC and Administrative privilege issues breathing down your neck much of the time”

    UAC is one of the most important changes in Windows since NTFS. Finally they are steering the OS in a direction where applications only get the privileges they absolutely need. Sure it’s a minor pain for old apps (just set them to run as administrator) but in general it’s hardly as troublesome as some people like to make it out to be. I rarely even think about it.

    “still have one hell of a memory hog,”

    Don’t be mislead by the memory use reported by Task Manager. Vista grabs all the RAM it can for optimization purposes and readily releases it as applications need it. Basically it’s using memory that normally sits there idle.

  48. AksumkA says:

    I just got done installing Win7 on my rig. I’m done with XP now. I’ve been using the beta on my laptop since it was released and did not have a single problem with it.

    If anything, XP was giving me problems.

    <3 Win7!

  49. Vinraith says:

    Gamers are never well served to upgrade their operating system until a certain critical mass of games on the market demand that they do so (usually 2 years after release or thereabouts). Until then, the problems always outweigh whatever meager benefits the new whizzbang gizmos of the new OS may provide.

    I’ll stick with XP until forced to give it up by a game I can’t pass on, plain and simple. I’ll go ahead and predict 2011 or 2012.

  50. Markoff Chaney says:

    I am consistently reminded of one of my favorite aphorisms when reading some of these comments regarding stability and/or performance – “The plural of anecdote is not data”. Pretty self evident, really.