Gaming the System
August 14, 2013 10:32 AM   Subscribe

We're building a new PC. We're also an avid gamers. What OS do we want (and/or monitor and mouse/trackpad combo)?

For years, my husband and I have had a dual OS home. For most things, we use our Mac laptops or iPad, but our Windows desktop has been invaluable for gaming purposes. But now our desktop is getting majorly creaky and husband has been itching for a new project, so he's thrown himself into building a fancy new gaming rig. We have most of our specs* nailed down, but the question of which OS to get has been a thorny one.

I don't love Windows, but in the past, it's been a necessary evil, so I'm imagining that it will continue to be in the future. Our previous box had Vista, which I hated with the burning of a thousand suns, but we mostly managed. Windows 8 promises improved efficiency, and I LOVE the idea of a faster boot up, but it really seems like an OS optimized for touch screens, a feature which seems unnecessary and exhausting for a regular desktop and isn't going to be relevant for nearly all the games we play. But we also don't want to be total Luddites and shoot ourselves in the future foot by opting for Windows 7.

We're planning to get a new monitor, and I'm happy to get a fancy touchscreen or trackpad if it will actually make our lives better in some way, but we mostly need a set-up that won't drive us crazy when gaming. In my experience, that's usually been a good old mouse and keyboard, but please feel free to convince me otherwise. I also like to use dual screens while gaming, and I'm not as eager to buy two touchscreen monitors when I still have a perfectly serviceable non-touchscreen in the wings.

Historically we've mostly played WoW and old-school adventure games on the desktop, but there's a considerable chance that as game-oriented geeks, we'll end up trying lots of random games and programs over the lifetime of the computer, even if it doesn't end up being our primary one.

*Samsung Pro 840 256GB SSD
Intel Core i5-4670K Haswell 3.4GHz LGA 1150 84W Quad-Core Desktop Processor
G.SKILL Ares Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) RAM
posted by Diagonalize to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Go with Windows 7. Windows 8 offers basically nothing over Windows 7 except the Windows 8 App Store, which has yet to include an exclusive app that makes the jump from 7 to 8 worthwhile, and I promise you there won't be any Windows-8-exclusive games coming out from any major publishers in the next at-least-two years, because adoption of 8 has been really, really poor. Very few people, relatively speaking, have it. In fact, games coming out right now run better on 7 than on 8 because developers code for the greatest common factor, and that's 7.

Windows 7 is a more stable OS, runs very lightweight and will boot exceptionally fast, especially compared to your Vista machine. In fact, when dual-booting 7 and 8 on my machine, there is virtually no difference in boot speed on clean installs.

777777777. 7.
posted by InsanePenguin at 10:48 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am deeply in love with my combo of the Razer BlackWidow Mechanical Keyboard and the new Death Adder mouse. If you've never tried a mechanical keyboard, I can't recommend one highly enough. Here's a great introduction courtesy of Lifehacker.

Also, Windows 8 is absolutely the worst. Everyone I know who has it hates it.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:48 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love OS X and my Apple devices, but I could live semi-happily with Windows 7 if I was forced to have a PC for some reason or another. I can not say the same thing about Win 8, especially on a non-touch screen device.

I cannot vouch for sevensnowflakes' keyboard recommendation personally, but I love my mechanical keyboard. But based on his/her taste in mice (the Death Adder is great!), that combo seems solid.
posted by Silvertree at 10:54 AM on August 14, 2013

Windows 7 is great. One of the few Microsoft products I've never had cause to curse in several years of use.

There isn't anything in Windows 8 that swings the balance in gaming terms.

If you have your OS installed on that SSD you will benefit from much faster bootup times anyway.

You may well end up wanting a traditional HDD as well as that though; even if you're not storing a load of media on this computer you'll find a lot of modern games quickly eat up hard drive space. I run OS and a select few games off my SSD, with the rest of the games on a seperate HDD.

If you feel like you'll be having a dabble across a range of different game styles, then mouse and keyboard is still definitely the way to go. If you end up playing a lot of platformers, arcadey shooters and console conversions then you may want to add a USB Xbox gamepad.
posted by protorp at 11:01 AM on August 14, 2013

I suggest you go with Windows 8, as it's the latest version and you will be able to benefit from the advances in current development as they... develop.

The differences that people complain about with 8 are always cosmetic. Coming updates (or current workarounds) will allow you to bypass the Metro interface, which seems to be the biggest complaint. You don't need to use the App Store to use the OS. And you can re-create things like the Start Menu, if you really need that.

Here's a review of game performance in Windows 8 vs 7, where 8 is shown to perform better in some games, one of which is World of Warcraft (which you mentioned you play) and 8 will support newer versions of DirectX. (However, please take note of the compatibility issues they mentioned with some other games also.)

While the advantages are 8 are not substantial at this time, you don't know what differences it will make as Microsoft improves things and developers take better advantage.

The argument of 7 > 8 is not compelling enough to stick with a legacy operating system.
posted by doomtop at 11:16 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I built a gaming PC last fall with Windows 7 and I love it. Boots very quickly on the SSD, even nearly a year later - not instant but I'm pretty much never sitting and waiting impatiently for it to turn on (and I'm notoriously impatient). Can't comment on Windows 8, though.

Agree that you'll want a HDD for storage, if you haven't already decided on that.

And yeah, I don't see the point of a touchscreen, but I've never used one, so maybe I'm missing something.
posted by randomnity at 11:26 AM on August 14, 2013

I haven't tried Windows 8, but I am a fan of Windows 7, which I expect to remain relevant for a long time.

If you're open to considering a different SSD, this SanDisk is the same size as your Samsung and is about 50 bucks cheaper.
posted by Jpfed at 11:30 AM on August 14, 2013

I'm that rare and miserable breed: the Linux bigot who's also a PC gamer. I care for and feed a couple of "Wintendos" at home for my gaming needs.

I agree with the conventional wisdom here in terms of the choice really being one between Windows 7 and Windows 8 (and, perhaps the 32- or 64-bit variants of either).

On the other hand, I'm going to contradict the herd in saying that Windows 8 isn't really that bad an option. That which is the deal: 8 seems to have made some worthwhile improvements at the OS level (like that faster boot time, and this being Windows you will be rebooting a *lot*). The touch-centric "Metro" interface, however, stinks on ice, *especially* with mouse and keyboard, which is what you will be using if you're gaming on a PC, period.

The trick is this: It's easy to fix. Getcha some Classic Shell and you can go directly to desktop at login, and use a nice customizable Start button for launching apps. You will never have to see Metro again, and the look-and-feel will be, if not indistinguishable from 7, close enough that there's little cause to gripe.

That's not to say you shouldn't go with 7 if you already have an unused license sitting around or it's cheaper/easier for whatever reason.
posted by sourcequench at 12:05 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Perhaps it's worth mentioning that we're also very established console gamers with a Wii, PS3, and plans to get a PS4 down the road. We're not tethered to our computer for the latest and greatest in gaming, and we're definitely not lacking in games to play.
posted by Diagonalize at 12:29 PM on August 14, 2013

At some point you may want a touch screen, but you might also look into the LeapMotion device as a stop-gap measure. (Will soon be standard on some laptops, if I recall correctly.)

There's also the most recent Ars System Guide that recommends a couple of keyboards and mice.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:49 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

OS wise, windows 7 or windows 8 are likely best for gaming. I don't see a discrete video card listed. Many games don't like Intel's integrated video, even if that integrated video theoretically has the horsepower to play the game.
posted by jclarkin at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2013

I'd go Win7 x64. Win7 is the Windows98SE of its time, definitely a very great gaming OS. You won't be at any disadvantage getting Win8, from what I gather, except for dealing with the new UI, which may be a great or poor experience.

Good call on the SSD; just be ready to manage the space a bit by installing programs on a second drive (just your basic big 7200RPM drive) when speed is not an issue, so you can keep the SSD free for your Steam and Origin installs. It won't be a huge problem filling it up-- you can fit a lot of stuff on 256Gb as long as the aren't giant movie files or whatnot. You can use Windows "Libraries" which aggregate multiple folders into a display, so you can easily access media on both drivers. Explorer also has a good Favorites function.

Seconding jclarkin-- you need a video card. It looks like ATI is the current hotness (Sorry nVidia). Either brand can be doubled (or quadrupled!). Read reviews before buying-- getting lots of bang within your budget is always important. I like to spend around $200 on a card, but you can spend twice as much or more. Or half as much. (Okay, I see you have that covered-- good choice-- you can buy a second one for a third of the price a year from now.)

For monitor, just get as big as you can afford, but at least 20" widescreen, and it must be DVI or HDMI-- VGA is analog and in this case a no-go. (DVI can be analog, but it won't be in this application.) Skip the touchscreen expense.

Keyboard and mouse-- geez, that's a big topic. I would just recommend against any game-specific boards, and maybe get some macro keys for your Wow and the like. Mice features to watch for: high or better, adjustable DPI resolution on the pad as well high DPI on the scroll wheel, side-tilting on the scroll wheel (great for weapon switching), scroll wheel clicking vs. freespin (mine can switch between them), a comfortable number of extra buttons (some mice go crazy with the buttons-- overkill is the other enemy of good). If you go wireless, look at the battery solution; Logitech has great mice with custom batteries that I learned to switch so fast I could change batteries mid-CS match. Feel the weight in your hand (again, with batteries), and look for anything on the base that can catch on your mousepad.

Happy Gaming. See you in the trenches! (Next Steam sale is Halloween, so be up and running by then if you can!)
posted by Sunburnt at 2:30 PM on August 14, 2013

Of course we're getting a video card as well: GeForce GTX 760 (I totally disagree about ATI trumping nVidia). We're getting all the other relevant hardware too, but I assumed an exhaustive list wouldn't actually be more helpful for an OS recommendation. And I know Windows 7 or 8 are the best for gaming. That's why I'm asking about them.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:30 PM on August 14, 2013

Cool, I just didn't know if the first or second most important thing was there!

I like Win7 because I'm used to it, and it is slightly more compatible with games (particularly older ones), but Win8 isn't far behind.

I tend to avoid very new games due to price. So I won't miss any new games that require Win8 for a while. But Win8 may be necessary when the next gen console ports start appearing. I think porting from the X-Bone may be much easier with Win8.
posted by jclarkin at 3:58 PM on August 14, 2013

There are enough people not switching from windows 7 to windows 8 that nobody is going to make a major game that isn't win7 compatible - at least not in the lifespan of a gaming system. It'll be windows 9 or 10 that you'd need to switch to!

As for your mouse/touchpad combo, it's honestly a very personal thing - mice for example depend on your hand size and how you hold them. If you have small hands, Razer has some good mice, while Logitech mice tend to be slightly larger and also a bit more durable.
posted by Ashlyth at 5:01 PM on August 14, 2013

What games? For Quake (or any game with rapid panning of viewpoint, and any game where low ping is important), there is no substitute for a good old Trinitron CRT. No input lag, no motion blur, 120Hz refresh. I mean, you can get the latest Benq with LightBoost, they are supposed to be pretty good.. But, you know, CRT.
posted by Chuckles at 7:16 PM on August 14, 2013

Almost all the computers at my house run Windows 7 (my work desktop, personal desktop, HTPC, wife's laptop) except for my laptop which is the newest and runs windows 8. I like Windows 7 a lot, it's been the best version of windows I've ever used. I installed classic shell on my laptop and I quite often forget that it's running Win 8 as it looks and feels just like Win 7 does on every other machine I use.

Windows 8 is fine but it isn't really a step up from 7. Using anything other than a windows OS for games is just going to be asking for trouble.

If I were you, I would buy three monitors to take advantage of Nvidia's 3D Vision Surround provided that the games you want to play will support it. Response time will be the most important spec to look at but as long it's around or below the 5ms range, it won't really matter than much unless you're a professional FPS player (and even then, I doubt it).
posted by VTX at 8:16 PM on August 14, 2013

Right now Windows 7 has better driver support, but I have to say I'm a fan of the Windows 8.1 preview. It solved many of the issues I had with 8 and I think the new features are genuinely useful, like live tiles and some of the apps. That said, the 8.1 preview broke a lot of drivers and you're better off waiting on it.
posted by Aanidaani at 6:02 AM on August 15, 2013

Honestly, I'm not sure you'll go wrong either way. I think Win8 wins out a little bit in the speed department, but it's not as established so it's still going through some growing pains. Windows 8 has a few features that are better than their Windows 7 counterparts - the task manager, just for example, is miles away better in Win8 - but for the most part, they're functionally the same for day to day tasks. Windows 7 is less likely to get significant changes, since it's no longer the "current" version, but sometimes that's actually a selling point. Do get the x64 version for whichever you end up with, though.

I would not personally buy a touchscreen monitor, even if you do go with Win8. I use the touchscreen on my laptop some, but only for easy browsing (I have a Lenovo Yoga, so I can basically use it as a tablet), and I can't imagine it being necessary or terribly functional on a full screen monitor. If you want a really great looking standard flatscreen, I highly recommend Dell's U2713HM. My husband and I both have monitors from that line, and they are fantastic. Very clear colors, very bright but with good contrast, no ghosting that I've noticed; it's hands down the best monitor I've ever owned.
posted by ashirys at 8:34 AM on August 15, 2013

In the end, we decided to go with Windows 8 with Classic Shell installed. Seems to be working out fine so far, and it's a huge upgrade from Vista, naturally. We'd already had an additional 2 TB hard drive lined up, in case anyone was concerned. We've been playing Bioshock Infinite with a decent dual monitor set-up, and everything's been pretty slick and crispy, so general satisfaction all around!
posted by Diagonalize at 1:19 PM on September 13, 2013

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