XP Home: Let the games begin

Even though Windows XP ships with DirectX 8.1, you may have experienced problems getting an older game (or any application, for that matter) to work after installing and running Windows XP. Don't immediately reach for your old operating system disc to do a reinstall. Designed for exactly this scenario, Windows XP has a feature called Compatibility Mode, which in essence mimics the operating system setup under which the problematic program was originally designed to run.

COMPATIBILITY MODE

To start, right-click on the shortcut or application file of the program to which you wish to apply Compatibility Mode. Go to Properties and then select the Compatibility tab. When you tick the box titled "Run this program in Compatibility Mode", the drop-down list will become selectable. From this list, you can choose Windows 95, Windows 98/Windows Me, Windows NT 4.0 (Service Pack 5) or Windows 2000 as the desired compatible operating system.

Under Display Settings, you can choose to run the program in 256 colours or at a resolution of 640x480, and you can even disable visual themes. Click Apply to save your changes. This process can also be accessed via the Program Compatibility Wizard, which will guide you through this process; you can start it from Start-Help and Support (or just press ) before selecting the Find compatible hardware and software for Windows XP option.

CLASSIC GAMES

It has been reported that some games may have problems playing sound when in Compatibility Mode. If you experience sound problems, check the manufacturers' Web sites for both the latest patch for your game and the latest Windows XP driver for your sound card. As you can see in screen shot taken displaying the Compatibility Mode tab, there is also a Memory tab. Here you can define specific memory properties that some older games might need to work correctly, such as EMS and XMS.

The next step is to see if your favourite game titles from the not-so-distant past can run on Windows XP. Before you begin, it's essential to check the game manufacturer's Web site to see if any patches have been released for the selected game. A patch (if released) will not only get rid of any known bugs in the game's code but may also offer support for Windows XP. The game manufacturer's Web site should provide the required information on compatibility.

NETWORKED AND ONLINE GAMING

Windows XP comes with more games than humble Solitaire and Minesweeper. Not only that, but you can test your prowess against Microsoft's huge base of OS gamers across the world via your Internet connection. Assuming you have the appropriate network cables and possibly a hub or switch, sharing an Internet connection over two or more computers is easier than ever.

Clicking on Start-Programs-Games will reveal the Internet enabled games of Internet Backgammon, Internet Hearts, Internet Spades, Internet Checkers and Internet Reversi. These games are part of the MSN Gaming Zone.

To play Internet Checkers, for example, open it from within the Games menu and select Play to make a connection with another player (provided you have an Internet connection). You should now be connected and ready to play. You can also send a message to your fellow gamers using the "Select a message to send list" box. Messages can only be selected, not written.

GAMING ESSENTIALS

Graphic cards are usually one of the first considerations for enhancing gaming experiences. ATI supports Windows XP across its range, with newer cards such as the Radeon 8500 offering enhanced features for XP. NVIDIA's DetonatorXP set of drivers allows more recent NVIDIA cards to feature optimisations designed for Windows XP.

Although a good-quality graphic card can offset a less-than-speedy CPU, experienced gamers usually look to the multimedia-optimised Pentium 4 processor as their system of choice. Gamers who enjoy overclocking generally prefer AMD's Athlon XP processor.

Installing gaming peripherals on a Windows XP system is designed to be easy, with many popular peripheral manufacturers - such as Logitech, Microsoft and Thrustmaster - providing an extensive line of joysticks and force feedback hand controllers. Other essentials to complete the game experience include a large monitor, 17in being a good starting point.

You can find a list of software and hardware that has been designed for use with Windows XP at www.microsoft.com/windows/catalog.

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