32-bit or 64-bit?
A more pertinent question these days is whether to install a 32-bit or 64-bit OS. Windows XP started the ball rolling with x64, but in truth the driver support was too ropey to make this a serious consideration – indeed, we couldn't get our test machine stable enough for testing in Windows XP x64. Vista and 7 are a different story though, and it's the 64-bit versions that show the best performance in Far Cry 2.
Part of the reason that the 64-bit versions do so well is because the operating system and game/ benchmark has access to the full gamut of memory. Our test rig has 6GB of DDR3 and the difference this makes to the benchmarks is obvious. Memory is one of the main driving factors in a move to a 64-bit OS and as prices of RAM continue to drop, so that option becomes more and more appealing.
In Far Cry 2, for instance, we saw an increase of two or three extra frames per second in-game, plus faster loading times for the actual games themselves, both for initial loading and for levels. Factor in much smoother alt-tabbing and it's easy to see that the move to 64-bit brings many benefits and no obvious downsides.
Speaking of loading times, our testing highlighted some interesting numbers and some confusing ones as well. Far Cry 2, for instance, may run relatively slowly in Windows XP, but it loads incredibly quickly in it – twice as quickly as it does in Vista 64.
GRID loaded quickest on the 64-bit operating systems, which points to efficient use of memory once again. The best loading time for the OS goes to Windows 7 though, rolling in at just over a minute. Note that these times were recorded from the moment the power button was pressed, and so include the POST as well.
The choice of which OS you should go for isn't just about loading times or even frame rates. It's also about usability. It's about how comfortable you are with using it and it's about compatibility. Windows 7 is commendable at this stage for just working with pretty much everything we threw at it (although for some reason on this machine it wouldn't play ball with Fraps). Once again, this gives us high hopes for its future, particularly when compared to the ill-tempered Vista launch.
Only once you've used an operating system can you really know if it's for you. Try as we might, we're still not comfortable with Vista, while Windows 7 doesn't irk us anywhere near is much. It's a personal thing. Indeed, every time we mention that Windows Vista is less than perfect we get plenty of readers complaining about the fact. Maybe all our messing around with operating systems on a daily basis has spoiled us, but given the choice we'd still go for Windows XP for pure DX9 speed and Windows 7 64-bit for the good all-round experience.