Getting that game to play in Windows XP Home

One of the most common questions that I receive as a “guy who knows something about computers” is how to get a game to run better in Windows. With the many thousands of old and new games out there, it can be difficult to provide a simple solution to this problem. So, in this column we are going to take a look at some common reasons why a game may not perform at its optimum level.

Memory… the main culprit

Whether it is a lack of space on the hard disk or an insufficient amount of RAM, systems that lack a large supply of memory will eventually run into problems.

Problems arising from a lack of RAM include the game refusing to work at all, and the game working at an unbearably slow pace. A system with 64MB or 128MB of RAM is more likely to run into these memory problems than a system with 256MB or 512MB of RAM.

The easiest (and only) answer here is to install more RAM. The local computer shop should be able to advise you on how much more RAM you need and should install it for no additional fee.

Most hard disk memory problems can be easily fixed by simply deleting games and programs that are no longer used. If, after deleting such items, there still is not enough space to install your game, then you may need to purchase that larger hard disk. If your hard disk space is plentiful, be sure to select the full install when installing a new game. Games that run off the hard disk will perform better than those that need to access the CD-ROM for data every few seconds.

Resource-hungry system utilities

Have you ever looked at the number of system utilities that sit quietly in the system tray? There’s likely to be a virus scanner, a multimedia player and perhaps even a spam filter — among other things — lurking there. These little apps may seem helpful enough, but they all take up precious memory that your game would otherwise be able to use.

In some cases, the removal of these utilities may also eliminate any conflicts that were preventing the game from working properly. With Windows XP’s user profiles you can easily set up a Gaming profile that allows you to log in without loading the usual set of system utilities. Just be sure that you log out of any other user profiles before logging into your Gaming profile; having more than one user logged in at once will waste resources.

Update your drivers

Many people who have display or controller issues after installing a game find that installing a new driver (and, in some cases, reverting to an older driver) will allow the game to function correctly. New drivers can usually be found on the manufacturer’s Web site or by doing a Web search.

One update that many readers will have already made is the up­-grade from DirectX 8 to DirectX 9. If Windows Update is enabled then you have probably already downloaded and installed DirectX 9. If you want to learn about the improvements in DirectX 9 or want to download it, check it out at

Legacy games

Many games are designed to work only on Windows 9x machines and will perform a check to see what operating system you have. Windows XP comes with the Program Compatibility Wizard, which convinces programs that they are running under an earlier operating system (see here for a screenshot. To get troublesome games to work, you can use this program during the installation of the game and also when trying to run it. For more information on the Program Compatibility Wizard see the May 2002 Windows XP Home Here’s How, which is also available online at

Other sources for help

If these steps fail to help you to get your game to work, there are other avenues of assistance. Check the game manufacturer’s Web site, for example, to see if your issue has been listed, and follow any instructions that are provided.

If you do not have access to your own “guy/gal who knows something about computers” to answer your question, you may be able to find assistance among the thousands of friendly souls who make postings to newsgroups. The best place to start looking is

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Kieran McNamee

PC World
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