This weekend, I took Windows 10 to a LAN party. It was rather good.
Yes, I’m talking about a nerd fiesta where PC gamers link a whole bunch of computers together with network cables and switches so they can yell at each other while they play games.
No, I’m not too old for that shit.
As part of my week-long experiment with Windows 10 on my own personal computers, I thought it would be a great idea to see how well the new operating system handles games. And I couldn’t think of any better environment to test that than at a bona fide LAN party. So I invited my closest friends, and their friends, to bring their Windows 7 and Windows 8 computers (and a lot of folding tables and chairs — thank you Will!) to my best friend’s house. I brought my two freshly upgraded Windows 10 PCs and a carful of party snacks.
And — per the masochistic rules I set for myself last week — I didn’t prep my computers in the slightest. I didn’t update my graphics drivers, didn’t back up my files, didn’t so much as check whether my Steam account and games were working before I ripped the cables out of the back of my desktop PC, threw my peripherals in a bag, and gently set them down in the back of my car. This would be sink or swim. If Win 10 couldn’t handle the games, I’d be wasting precious playtime trying to fix my computer.
A little after noon, the guests started arriving. We ran maybe 30 metres of power cables and just as much CAT-5E and CAT-6 ethernet cable to get them all hooked up. As best we could, we divided them across the house’s three 15-amp circuits to avoid tripping a breaker. (We ended tripping one anyway part way through the party, knocking out at least four computers. No permanent damage as far as we can tell.)
Then (as usual for one of our modestly planned LAN parties) it was time to distribute games to those who hadn’t bothered to install them. The first test of my new Windows 10 gaming PC wasn’t a game at all. It was figuring out how to share a folder of game backups over the network.
I’m not in denial: I know that local area networks haven’t really been something regular PC users have bothered with for some time now, particularly as developers have stopped building LAN-capable games. But I gotta say, quick-n-easy file sharing between computers that don’t normally communicate seems to have become harder than ever. I tried to share a folder by right-clicking on it and choosing Share, but was told my folder couldn’t be shared. I tried sharing another folder with “Everyone” on the network, but my friends couldn’t find it there.
I was eventually able to figure out how let people access a network share by creating a whole new user account, and tell them to manually type the name of my computer in their Windows Explorer, then log into my computer with that account, in order to access my shared game backups. And it worked across three generations of Windows PCs!
But the process felt totally backwards. When you’re setting up a new user account, Windows 10 now assumes you’re talking about adding a family member to your PC, and assumes they’ve got a Microsoft email address. If you say “no, they don’t have an email address,” it asks you if you’d like to create a Microsoft account for them right now. (If you ask Cortana “What if I don’t want your supermarket loyalty card?” she doesn’t have a good answer.)
In Windows 8, I could just turn off password-protected sharing, and generally people could see my files. In Windows 7, simple filesharing was even easier. But I digress.
Before long we were up and running, playing delightfully zany rounds of Halo, Unreal Tournament 3, and Duck Game. We mowed each other down with giant walking death machines in Titanfall, with chainsaws in Soldat, and with Predator-like cloaking in Crysis Wars. We lied to one another, repeatedly, about about not being a traitor in Trouble in Terrorist Town. Which, in case you’re not familiar, is a game where everyone is a terrorist, but only some terrorists are the really bad terrorists who are plotting to secretly kill everyone else. Which is to say that it is awesome and you should jump at the chance to play it.
How did my PC handle the games? Without a hitch, honestly. The only times it fail to work was when I tried to host a game without disabling my firewall. All my Steam games were just where I left them, and they worked just fine. My savegames appear to be intact. I had to re-do my resolution settings and controls in a couple of games, but it was quick and painless.
Of course, most of these LAN games are pretty old. How does Windows 10 handle newer fare? After I finally recovered from sleep deprivation on Sunday (the LAN party ended around 3AM) I decided to do some testing. Last week, before I installed Windows 10 on my desktop PC, I decided to benchmark a whole variety of games on Windows 8 so I could do an apples-to-apples test. Same exact hardware, same exact games, just a different operating system.
Grand Theft Auto V.
The Witcher 2.
Batman: Arkham City.
The Tomb Raider benchmark. My PC averages 57 frames per second on Ultra, 1920x1200 resolution.
If you’ve tried these, you know that they’re a pretty demanding set of games for a computer to run, all for fairly different reasons. The Witcher 2 takes a lot of raw DirectX 9 horsepower. Batman: Arkham City has PhysX, plus a big open world it needs to stream. Tomb Raider has loads of fancy post-processing and Lara Croft’s fancy hair. Crysis 3 is, well, Crysis. And Grand Theft Auto pretty much has the works.
Yet every one of these games, save Batman: Arkham City, performed identically in Windows 10 I’m talking differences that were within the margin of error pretty much every single time. In Batman, my framerate got nearly cut in half, which surprised me, but as soon as I hit up the Nvidia website and updated my graphics drivers with ones actually designed for Windows 10, performance normalised. It’s a shame that my GeForce Experience app or Windows Update didn’t recognise I needed the new drivers and take care of it for me, but it wasn’t a big deal.
So yes, Windows 10 works for games. It works at a LAN party. And LAN parties are excellent.
Next time, I’ll tell you how I’ve been troubleshooting some of my lingering Windows 10 issues — and about the issues I haven’t been able to troubleshoot. Ugh.
This post is part of a week-long experiment with Windows 10 ahead of the official launch on July 29.