Game plan

Boost your experience — and your memory — when you upgrade your Microsoft OS

Serious gamers want serious hardware. And for that reason, many enthusiasts are counting on Microsoft's newest operating system to boost their gaming experience.

Microsoft® Windows® Vista™ is slated for release in early 2007. For gamers, the new OS offers all sorts of innovations, especially in the Windows Vista Ultimate edition, which is targeted specifically to high-end multimedia users. (Other home versions include the powerful Windows Vista Home Premium and the no-nonsense Windows Vista Basic.) In short, Windows Vista Ultimate is built for everything gamers love: power, speed, flexibility, stability — and, of course, mind-blowing graphics.

To help facilitate these improvements, Microsoft has made changes in DirectX® 10, the group of technologies designed to optimize Windows-based computers for running and displaying multimedia-rich applications. According to Microsoft, the latest version its multimedia API suite will feature faster DLLs, improved 3-D graphics rendering capabilities, and the new Unified Architecture (UA). DirectX 10, aided by the UA, will combine several stages of the 3-D graphics pipeline into one, resulting in better performance overall.

Those changes affect the stuff that gamers and multimedia buffs love-including full-color graphics, video, 3-D animation, and rich audio fidelity. Now, users can control volume by application, so they can create settings for Windows noises, games, and multimedia applications individually. And DirectX 10 includes security and performance updates to keep a system up and running. Plus, users can take advantage of backward-compatibility with current games and hardware, as DirectX 9L will be included Windows Vista.

Gamers will redefine how they use flash memory, too. Vista's new SuperFetch feature is a technology manages your most frequently used applications by preloading them into memory and speeding up their start-up times. It reads dates, too, adjusting to the programs you use on weekdays as opposed to weekends. Plus, you’ll boost memory and performance (without opening the box) by way of ReadyBoost technology.

ReadyBoost uses USB flash drives and other types USB 2.0 drives, including Secure Digital cards and Compact Flash cards and makes them a fast memory option because (unlike the hard drive) they are not multitasking. Plus a USB drive with encryption software prevents any unauthorized access to your data, and you can remove your memory device at any time, without data loss or damage to the flash drive.

To get the game on, Microsoft recently released two sets of minimum system requirements. The company says the full user experience will require a minimum of 1GB system memory. But the memory experts in the Crucial Performance Lab predict serious gamers will want a lot more. So far, we've performed preliminary tests on the beta versions, and it doesn't look like 1GB won't suffice. An upgrade to 2GB is a better option for the Premium edition, even more for the Ultimate version that's geared toward gamers.

We reported a similar experience when testing Microsoft Windows XP soon after it was launched. The Crucial Performance Lab's research showed the Microsoft recommendation for minimum memory fell short of what worked best. So after Microsoft officially launches Windows Vista, our experts will be running benchmark tests and publishing results as soon as possible.

Until then, you can begin by determining whether or not your PC will be able to accommodate any version of Windows Vista. In just one click, the Crucial Vista System Scanner will tell you what hardware your PC already has installed versus what it will need to comfortably run Vista. It scans your system and recommends any upgrades needed.

It's the first step in your game plan — check the Crucial Web site as more detailed information become available.