Friday, April 15, 2011

The very best gaming operating system there is:

So today I’d like to diverge a bit from talking about writing(because I haven’t been writing) and instead talk about gaming(because I HAVE been gaming).

As I may have mentioned, my area of expertise is environmental modeling and game design. While I can’t seem to find anyone to pay me to do this, it is probably my next biggest skill after creating fanciful worlds about werewolves and starships and many, many, many things that explode.

But while I may excel at the world of game design, today I am actually here to talk to you as a gamer. I have been playing a lot lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I have the very best operating system in existence for this role, and that OS is Windows Server 2003 x64 edition.

Ok, so I get a lot of heat for this opinion. Everybody likes to tell me “that’s a server OS! You shouldn’t use it for gaming!” Well, those people, while possibly well-intentioned, are wrong.

First of all, server 2003 is just by nature more stable than it’s counterpart, Windows XP. I’ve heard from some very knowledgeable people that they are basically the same OS. And while they share quite a few aspects, 2003 is, for reasons I cannot fathom, just a whole lot more stable. I have run 2003 for years on my home workstation and seen dramatically fewer crashes than I see on my work workstations(both XP). It may help that I am running server hardware on my main rig, but even my gaming rig runs more stable. And stability is something you want to see in a gaming platform.

Then there’s the x64 architecture. 64-bit addressing means a machine able to hold more than 3.25gb of RAM, and 2003 means an OS that will suck up less of it. While I’ve seen some monster beast systems on XP 32bit, the fact of the matter is you are ultimately limited to a mere 3.25gb of memory, unless you use Physical Address Extension. PAE is nice, but its not as good as simply having full access to all that delicious ram.

But here’s the sad part: Microsoft basically never finished XP 64-bit edition. They chose instead to focus heavily on Windows Vista, which you may remember as that other thing which made the 2007-2010 horrible(the other thing being the Obama administration).

So Windows XP x64 sits alone and incomplete, the redheaded stepchild of operating systems. There exist a handful of more or less complete builds floating around The Internet, but driver support is lackluster at best. Plenty of software just doesn’t run on it, and that is a shame.

But here is the shining beacon that is server 2003 x64! Not only is it a finished OS, but it was also built such that it can, under many circumstances, use 32-bit drivers. We’ll never know why XP x64 lacked this ability, it is a mystery for the ages. Not only can 2003 use 32 or 64-bit drivers for most hardware, it can even use 32-bit drivers designed for XP! It doesn’t work every time, but typically unless the manufacturer specifically inserted an OS check requirement into the driver, it should work just fine(I’m looking at you, nVidia!)

There are some pitfalls, of course. The fine jackasses at nVidia have left their drivers screwed up for years. It’s the addition of OS checks that does it. The nVidia webpage even includes an option for 2003 x64, but the drivers they let you download include an OS check that won’t install on that specific OS. Why, I will never know.

We talked about the memory before, well here’s part 2: 2003 just uses a lot less. A default install of XP x32 uses about 90 megs, a default of windows 7 uses closer to 1.5gb(despite minimum requirements saying 1gb, go figure). Server 2003? 80 megs. 80mb of RAM. My gaming system has 6 gigs, so 5.92gb is left over for me to game on.

The best gaming OS? Without a doubt.

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