NT + Gaming = ???
By Jeff "nonick" Solomon
With that in mind, the consensus seems to be that on systems that hover around Win2000's minimum hardware requirements (a 250 MHz Pentium II with 64MB of RAM), it's likely that Win98 will perform slightly faster for most basic functions. On these systems, NT's higher overhead results in more RAM swapping and less efficient use of resources compared to Win98, which is a smaller system. Move up the hardware ladder, however, and Win2000 begins to pull ahead.
Once it has elbow room in RAM and a fast processor to play with, Win2000's architecture and pure 32-bit design allow it to scale more efficiently than Win98, so adding more RAM to a Win2000 system will provide more of a speed increase than it would under Win98. The same goes for adding additional processors. Win98 doesn't support multiprocessing, so you're limited to one CPU. Win2000 Professional (the new name for NT Workstation 5.0) will provide support for two.
In addition, since Win98 contains a sizeable chunk of 16-bit code, and the Pentium II design is optimized to perform optimally with 32-bit code, Win2000 (which is purely 32-bit) will be able to better take advantage of the Pentium II, which translates into further speed benefits on systems where processor speed is a bottleneck.
Windows 2000's NT heritage should provide a smoother, more reliable gaming experience. Full preemptive multitasking will provide for more efficient allocation of CPU time, and memory protection for all 32-bit programs ensures that if something crashes, other running programs should remain standing.
And, since Win2000 has eliminated the possibility for having a range of different, and potentially conflicting, driver types, configuration hassles and resource conflicts should be greatly reduced. You need to be running NT-certified hardware to receive these benefits, but, as mentioned above, most hardware will be NT-certified by the time Win2000 ships.
In the end, Windows 2000 should perform better than Win98 on systems that are using hardware that is fully supported by Windows 2000, and above its minimum requirements. However, if your system barely meets- or falls below- the Win2000 hardware requirements, Windows 98 will perform substantially better.
The Bottom Line
From the looks of it, it finally seems as though NT has caught up to Win98 in every regard save for backward compatibility. If the shipping version of Windows 2000 performs as well as Microsoft says it will (and that's a fairly serious assumption), then it will be a better gaming platform than Windows 98, all things being equal.
While it might seem hard to believe, with Windows 2000, NT is finally a very capable gaming system. If you buy a system preloaded with Win2000- with fully certified hardware and drivers- you should be just as happy, if not happier, than you are today with Windows 98.
If you're currently running Windows 98, the decision to upgrade is based solely on the type of hardware that you have and whether or not you have older programs that you still need to run. If you've got a five year old sound card, or games that were designed before anyone knew what a mouse was, odds are that you'll run into trouble with NT. Where Windows 98 is extremely forgiving in regard to minimum requirements and device support, Win2000 is not. You're either all good, or you're not.
Of course, Windows 2000 won't be available for at least another year. What about NT 4? In terms of gaming support, NT 4 is not nearly as ambitious as Windows 2000, and is trickier to install and configure. As I mentioned earlier, NT 4 with Service Pack 3 supports most of DirectX 3.0, so programs designed to use that version of DirectX and earlier should run under NT 4 if you've got a system that can handle it.
However, NT 4 lacks Plug and Play support, advanced gaming device support (it doesn't have the game controller services that are available in Win98 and Win2000, for example), and support for the Win32 Driver Model, which means that it supports far fewer devices than Windows 2000 will.
The core OS, however, is still capable of playing games, provided, again that you have the proper hardware and DirectX drivers. Keep in mind that NT 4 supports DirectX 3 only, so games that require newer versions of DirectX won't work. There are hacks of DirectX 5.0 for NT 4 available on the Web, but these are essentially pieces of the Windows 2000 beta that have been stripped out and repackaged for NT 4, and are not certified by Microsoft. If they work, more power to you, but they're not an official part of the OS.
If you have high-end hardware that is fully supported by NT 4, and software that takes advantage of either DirectX 3.0 or OpenGL, then you might be able to experience superior performance under NT 4 than with Win98. I've heard from a few people who've played GL Quake on both NT 4 and Win98, and they seem to agree that they get better framerates under NT. Again, you need to have a system that is capable of covering NT's larger memory footprint and appetite for processor power. While I haven't done any quantifiable research on this point, it seems that NT 4 requires at least 64MB of RAM and a 250MHz Pentium II in order to begin to pull ahead of Win98 in terms of performance.
For now, Windows 98 is more practical than NT 4 for most gamers because it's easier, more widely supported, offers more gaming-related features, and is often more nimble on typical hardware. Windows 2000- and not NT 4- will be the real competitor to Win98 in terms of gaming.
While this article has focused on Windows NT, it's important to note that NT is not the only player in line to take over for Windows 98. Linux, Be, Mac OS X, and even Windows CE, Microsoft's consumer flavor of Windows that will be used in the Sega Dreamcast, are all viable contenders to wrestle the gaming throne from Win98 before NT takes hold.
In the end, it's inevitable that Windows 2000 will receive a tremendous amount of attention and support, and that it will most likely continue the Windows tradition of being the market leader, like it or not. Fortunately, from a gaming perspective, there's little to lose and a lot to gain from moving to Windows 2000, as long as your hardware and software are ready to move with you.
- Jeff "nonick" Solomon is a regular contributor to loonygames, and one of the webmasters for Solomania.
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Mike Sanzone. NT + Gaming = ??? is © 1998 Jeff Solomon. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, dangit.|