Windows 2000 - Tweak Windows 2000 for gaming

In the past, if you wanted a stable operating system as well as the ability to play games and do multimedia, you had to have a dual-boot system with Windows NT and Windows 9x on it.

Not any more. Windows 2000 Professional can be a very good games and multimedia platform, meaning you can finally forget about booting into Windows 98/Me for some fun.

How do you turn your Windows 2000 workstation into a fraggin' good games platform? Well, the usual rules apply: 3D games require a fast CPU and video card. However, as Windows 2000 has a larger memory footprint for the operating system than Windows 98/Me, you would be well advised to stick another 128MB of RAM into your box. Windows 2000 runs extremely well with 256MB or more, and memory is dirt cheap these days.

DRIVE ON The next step involves getting some good drivers for your hardware. This can be a bit of chore, as you'll need to figure out who made the hardware in your system, and download the appropriate updated drivers for it. I've got an NVIDIA GeForce2 GTS card in my system, and there are heaps of official and unofficial drivers for it. Finding out which one performs the best requires you to establish a performance baseline for comparison - such as SiSoft Sandra (www.sisoftware.co.uk) - to see how your system performs before and after a driver upgrade. A shortcut would be to scour the many Web sites dedicated to computer gaming. Some enthusiasts have got hold of "just about all the different NVIDIA drivers, and installed and benchmarked them.

You might want to check if there's an upgraded driver for your motherboard too - installing the Intel system board and IDE drivers for my new P4 system boosted its 3DMark 2001 (www.madonion.com) scores three-fold. New drivers for your sound card can also boost performance, as some games make use of resource-intensive audio features.

With your hardware bashed into shape, it's time to look at what you can do with the operating system itself. First, update Windows 2000 with Service Pack 2 and DirectX 8.0a, both of which are available on the cover CD.

ARE YOU COMPATIBLE? If you have problems running your game, Microsoft has released a compatibility fix for some 200 different games that might be useful - download it at www.microsoft.com/windows2000/"downloads/tools/appcompat/default."asp.

If you still have problems getting a game to run, you can try the apcompat.exe utility on your Windows 2000 CD-ROM. Look for it in the Support folder. This undocumented tool lets you select between six different Windows variants for running any given program, and also offers a few more options that could get the game going.

Another undocumented feature, which looks like it was introduced with Service Pack 2, is the Compatibility Mode which applies to shortcuts. To enable it, click on Start-Run and type regsvr32 %systemroot%\apppatch\slayerui.dllThis gives you an extra Compatibility tab when you right-click a shortcut and select Properties. You can choose between the Windows 95, 98 and NT 4 SP5 Compatibility Layer. Microsoft terms this a "backdoor solution" but it might help get that app running.

NOT SO FAST To bump up games performance, you could try disabling cursor and bitmap accelerations for the mouse - right-click on your desktop, select Properties, go to Settings and click the Advanced button; select the Troubleshooting tab, and back off the slider one notch, nothing more. This won't affect the hardware acceleration in other areas.

In a similar fashion, slightly reducing the amount of acceleration for your sound card (Start-Settings-Control Panel, launch Sound and Multimedia; select the Audio tab, and click on the Advanced button, and then the Performance tab in the ensuing dialogue) could help on certain systems, but this is very dependent on your hardware and the drivers for it.

Being a much more advanced OS than Windows 98/Me, Windows 2000 lets you change the priority at which processes run. By using Task Manager, you can simply right-click on any program under the Processes tab, and pick a Select Priority value ranging from Realtime (the process gets almost the undivided attention of the CPU), to High, AboveNormal, Normal, BelowNormal and Low. Note that some games launch more files than just the main executable, so you have to set the priority for those as well. Also, changing the CPU priority could lead to system instability, because other processes might time out - if so, back down the priority to, for example, High or AboveNormal.

Changing the CPU priority is mostly beneficial if you're logged in as Administrator, or for running background applications/services at the same time as you play a game. Obviously, this isn't conducive to good gaming performance, so you might want to create a Power User for gaming only, and make sure that while you're logged on as that user, no more than the necessary services are running.

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