In a feature live in a beta Windows 10 build, Microsoft has unveiled "Game Mode" - a feature designed to optimise your computer's CPU and GPU usage for video games.
Rolled out in a Windows Insider build earlier this week and due out for general release with the Creators Update this autumn, Xbox Platform partner group program manager Kevin Gammill explained over the phone that Game Mode functions by optimising your systems resources, and in particular the way resources are managed between games and non-gaming applications.
"Right now when the game's in the foreground or has the focus the game is given a certain number of CPU slices," Gammill said. "With Game Mode enabled we will turn that percentage up, and again it will vary on the game and what kind of performance increases we'll see how much we turn those slices up.
"If we turned it up 2% and the game yields up a positive result, but we turn it up 10 more per cent and the game doesn't yield any more positive results, we'll want to leave it at 2% and give the rest to the background."
Perhaps the biggest change that Game Mode does is redistribute how the workload of games are distributed across a user's CPU. Users have always been able to implement that on any version of Windows, of course, but setting the affinities for every single process is an utter nightmare especially given how many programs people install over the lifetime of their system.
"What Game Mode does is we affinitise the cores so the game will get 100% of a percentage of the cores, all the time, and we'll put the system resources on the remaining set of cores. And what that yields is a more consistent gameplay, so when you're playing you won't see the spikes in non-game related CPU cycle requests."
Microsoft currently has an internal list of games that works with Game Mode, and Game Mode will be automatically enabled for any game on that list. You can disable it if you want, and it's easy enough to enable Game Mode for any game that isn't automatically supported.
Gammill also confirmed, despite earlier speculation, that Game Mode would support Win32 apps as well as games relying on the Universal Windows Platform (read: ones you buy through the Microsoft Store). That means that you can use Game Mode on games through Steam, Good Old Games, or ones you're playing from a CD or DVD-ROM. But games built on the older Win32 framework wouldn't get quite as much benefit as those built on UWP.
"From UWP we understand the full bounds of the game space; with Win32 we know where the game starts - that's basically the .exe - we really don't know where the game ends. The game could be calling a bunch of system-level services that we at the platform level just don't have insight into. And because we understand those bounds better in UWP space, we'll likely see a slightly higher performance increase in UWP based games than Win32. But again I want to stress, it will work across both Win32 and UWP based games, regardless of where you got those games."
And it's worth remembering that despite all of this, the gains you'll get from Game Mode are incremental anyway. "If you were getting 60fps, with Game Mode turned on you might get 65fps." Gammill stressed that users on lowspec machines would get the greatest benefit in percentage terms, but stressed that it's no magic bullet: Game Mode can only optimise the performance your machine gets, and users shouldn't expect games that were previously unplayable to suddenly become silky smooth.
The Game Mode feature will be live now for those who have signed up to the Windows Insider program, a beta branch of Windows 10. If you're interested, you can try that out here, which also gets you access to the very neat update Microsoft has planned for MS Paint. For everyone else, Game Mode will ship with the Creators Update of Windows 10, due out this autumn.
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