Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Windows 7 Release Candidate 1: 24 Hours In

Loyal readers may recall that I was beta testing Windows 7. And anyone that cares about the new Windows also knows that Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 was released yesterday, May 5th.

Release Candidate software is a bit different than beta. Beta software is expected to have bugs. Beta testers are expected to play with the beta software and report bugs they find to the developers. New features might be added, and some features might be taken away.

Release Candidate software is still test software, but RCs are supposed to be near final. There are no major changes from RC1 to the final version. Testing is to verify that everything works the way it should and stamp out any remaining bugs before the software is released to manufacturing (aka RTM, aka the retail version you can expect to see on computers being sold sometime during the next year).

Back when the beta came out, I installed it on a computer I wound up selling to finance my new monitor, as well as a netbook that I used pretty much just for instant messaging and web browsing. I was impressed with it then, because everything was up and running smoothly, including the wi-fi, which is often a rarity for beta software. Frankly, I was content to use it, never once firing up Windows XP during the beta period.

RC1 went on the netbook first. To my disappointment, I didn't really notice much of a difference from the beta. If anything, it was a little more sluggish. Whenever you'd click on anything, it seemed like Windows needed a moment to think about it before it acted.

Mostly because I'm ready to leave XP behind, I'd already made up my mind to stick with Windows 7 on my netbook. The real question is whether I want to upgrade my desktop, or if I want to stick with Windows Vista for awhile.

Just like the netbook, installing Windows 7 on my desktop computer was a breeze. Windows recognized everything, including my monitor. Desktop resolution was the correct 1680x1050, and I was getting sound from all five speakers and the subwoofer. The only driver that didn't show up from the fresh install was for my printer, which I didn't even think about until well after the fact. And even then, Windows Update was happy to provide me with a drive for it.

The setup is basically:

Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 3.0GHz
3GB Kingston Hyper-X
DFI Lanparty Dark P35 Motherboard
BFG GeForce 9800GTX+ Overclocked
80GB SATA 1.5 C:\ Drive
320GB IDE D:\ Drive
Pioneer DVD burner for D:\
Some generic internal flash card reader for B:\

The Windows Experience Index rated it like this:
Processor 6.4
RAM 6.4
Graphcis (Aero) 6.1
Graphics (Gaming) 6.1
Primary Hard Disk 5.4

The WEI goes up to 7.9 now, as opposed to Vista's 5.9 (and where everything except the processor [5.6] and hard drive [5.3] were 5.9).

It was already clear that my day-to-day tasks like websurfing, watching videos, bittorrent, etc was going to work fine in Windows 7. I'd tested Nero 8, VLC Media Player, Ultra ISO, ╬╝torrent, 7-Zip, GonVisor, AVG, and Foxit. The real question, then, was whether or not I'd be set for gaming.

In an effort to get this online as fast as I could, I didn't spend too much time with any one game. Instead, I selected three modern games to run the computer hard, and one older game to check for compatibility issues. The breakdown is more or less like this:

Dead Space: Ran on the highest settings. Didn't run noticably different than on Vista.
F.E.A.R. 2: Ran on the highest settings. Didn't run noticably different than on Vista.
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.: Never tried it on Vista. Ran it on the highest setting, and it seemed like it was occasionally stuttering. Turned V-sync off and turned AA down to 4X, and it runs fine.
Star Wars Republic Commando: Ran on the highest settings. Didn't run noticably different than Vista.

One interesting thing to note is that H.A.W.X. has two .exe files. One is the regular (and I assume DX9 version) and the other looks like a DX10 version. The DX10 version failed to launch, and reported that I was missing a .dll file. I downloaded the .dll, and Windows reported that the .dll isn't compatible. The DX9 version worked fine, though. I know Microsoft has said that Windows 7 is going to have Direct X 11, but is it not DX10 compatible?

When the dust settled, for the most part Windows 7 handled everything I tossed at it like a champ. I'd say Windows 7 is ready for prime time, and most people should be happy with the upgrade, whether they're going from XP or Vista. Gamers might want to hold off just a little longer until they get this Direct X thing sorted out... assuming they really care about the games that actually make use of Direct X 10 anyway.

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