NT + Gaming = ???
By Jeff "nonick" Solomon
Now, however, NT is significantly better suited for gaming, and Win2000 promises to be even better. These improvements relate to two primary changes to NT's architecture that started to appear with version 4.0, which was released in 1996.
Prior to NT 4.0, graphics functions were performed outside of the kernel, in the user segment of the OS. In essence, the graphics subsystem was treated like any other program running under NT, which meant that it was fully isolated and protected from all other programs, including the OS itself. This provided an extra level of system stability, since any problem in the graphics subsystem would be contained within it. If a video driver failed under this model, or the graphics subsystem crashed, it would not crash the entire OS. The system would continue to run, albeit without graphics. This was useful in environments where NT was being used as a network server, since graphics performance isn't critical important in those situations and machine uptime is paramount.
The downside to this approach was that the isolation from the kernel added a significant speed hit, as all functions had to be passed through extra layers of the operating system to be carried out. The original design goal for NT permitted this lack of graphics speed, since stability was viewed as being more important than performance. As NT began to gain popularity, however, Microsoft decided that it needed to take action to improve its graphics capability to make the system feel more responsive.
With NT 4.0, Microsoft moved the NT graphics subsystem into the kernel, which resulted in a marked speed improvement and a controversy over whether or not they had compromised the operating system's level of stability by making it vulnerable to crashes in the graphics subsystem. Theoretically, NT had become less stable, since a poorly written video driver could crash the kernel. On the other hand, responsiveness was increased dramatically, and NT's graphics capabilities were suddenly on par with other operating systems.
Despite the potential for more frequent crashes, moving the graphics subsystem into the kernel was a key move that suddenly turned NT into a viable gaming platform. Doom, for example, runs much more smoothly under an NT 4.0 system, provided the system has adequate RAM and a decent CPU. Granted, it doesn't play as quickly as it would on a Win98 system, but the speed differential is no longer due to the nature of NT's graphics subsystem.
NT 4.0 also introduced limited support for DirectX, Microsoft's solution for adding a streamlined set of drivers and APIs for multimedia applications to Windows. DirectX is designed to provide a set of consistent, device-independent APIs that allow developers to create applications that use advanced features- such as 3D rendering and advanced sound support- without having to worry about writing to specific devices.
With DirectX, all commands are passed through a hardware abstraction layer which consults the drivers for the individual devices on a system and translates the high-level program functions into low-level device-specific commands. This model- theoretically, at least- enables developers to use generic, as opposed to specific, commands in their applications that will in turn be carried out by whatever hardware is present on a user's system.
NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 supports the majority of DirectX 3.0. Windows 98 supports DirectX through version 6.0, and Win2000 will ship with full support for DirectX 7.0, which will be the most recent version at the time the product ships.
Programs written to take advantage of DirectX will, for the most part, run on either Windows 98 or Windows 2000, as long as both have the appropriate Direct X drivers. This means that Win2000 will theoretically support all applications that are designed to work with DirectX, which means that most Windows-based games will be able to seamlessly move to Windows 2000.
Win2000 will also support all of the advanced gaming features currently found in Win98, such as advanced controller support. In this respect, both platforms share the same feature set offered to gaming developers. Windows 98 boasts slightly better device compatibility, but Windows 2000 should provide a more robust environment for playing games, provided your system meets its slightly higher hardware requirements.
Basic OS Features
In many respects not directly related to gaming, Windows 2000 is clearly superior to previous versions of Windows. User interfaces for networking have been dramatically simplified and, hopefully, will make it much easier to configure PCs for more than one network environment. Windows 98 and NT 4.0 take a piece-by-piece approach to network configuration. You need to configure the adapter, network clients, protocols, and services individually, and then bind them together to form a specific network connection.
Windows 2000 takes the opposite approach, allowing you to define specific connections and then allowing you to pick and choose which adapters and protocols to use for each connection. This allows for easier management of numerous network connections, and will make it easier to configure a system quickly for events like LAN parties that require extensive network tinkering. It'll be a lot easier to change your network settings without interfering with your "home" networking configuration.
Win2000 will mark the premiere of full Plug and Play support within NT, which has so far been absent from the OS. Assuming the final version of Win2000 lives up to expectations, adding hardware to a system will be as easy- if not easier- than it currently is under Win98. The interfaces for configuring hardware have been streamlined in Win2000, which should make it easier to change settings and customize configurations once drivers are installed.
Specs aside, an issue of paramount importance to a gaming platform is speed. How will Win2000 compare to Win98? It's difficult to make definitive statements since Win2000 is still in the middle of its beta period, with at least one more significant release to come, so extensive optimizations have clearly not been made yet.
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Mike Sanzone. NT + Gaming = ??? is © 1998 Jeff Solomon. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, dangit.|