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Games Explorer

Microsoft has decided to make it easier for users to start and manage their games. When you open the Start menu in Windows Vista, you’ll immediately find a Games shortcut. If you open the Games Explorer, you’ll see a list of all the currently installed games—not only the ones that come with Windows Vista, but also most of your third-party games. I say "most" because in my test I found that only half of my installed games actually showed up in the Games Explorer.

For games that show up in Games Explorer, you can take a look at the minimum or recommended WinSAT score and compare it to your system’s score—a very easy way to determine how well the game will run on your machine. The upper bar of the Games Explorer offers additional functionality: If your game supports it, you can upload a saved game, go to the support page, or download additional information (for example, about ratings or updates) from the Web. The Games Explorer also lets you access the most important Control Panel applets for gamers, such as game pad configuration, audio device management, or the Firewall applet (see Figure 8).

Figure 8

Figure 8 Easy access: The Games Explorer.

ReadyBoost

Another feature designed initially to increase overall system performance just might be a nice enhancement for games. ReadyBoost is a technology that uses flash drives (USB memory keys, SD cards, Compact Flash cards) as an extension to the Windows cache. If you’re running low on memory, the system uses the flash drive as a cache and thus gains more free memory. However, you cannot just plug in any flash drive and hope for a performance boost. Most flash drives are optimized for moving larger files, but they’re not good at reading and moving small bits of information. You need a fast USB 2.0 memory device capable of more than 2.5 megabytes per second (only about half of the USB sticks sold today match these requirements). Otherwise, Vista won’t allow you to use the device with ReadyBoost. If you have 1GB or less of system memory, you’ll definitely notice a performance gain with ReadyBoost—especially when working with more than one application at a time.

I tested a specific range of games on a "slower" 2 GHz and 1GB RAM machine with and without the use of ReadyBoost. Fortunately, I had some great results. The following table shows average frames per second (FPS) rates in one example.

Title

Standard Setup

With ReadyBoost

F.E.A.R.

69.6 FPS

76.6 FPS

Age of Empires III

35.0 FPS

36.1 FPS

Serious Sam 2

109.2 FPS

116 FPS

World of WarCraft

46.5 FPS

51.0 FPS

In almost all the games, I noticed an increase in frames per second due to the fact that Windows didn’t need to access the hard disk as much. Additionally, it became obvious that a couple of games loaded significantly faster. If you’re a gamer but you don’t feel the need to upgrade your memory just for a game, you might want to try out your USB flash memory—it might just do the trick!

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