Ever since Game Mode surfaced as an upcoming Windows 10 feature, we’ve been curious to see what the new mode would offer as far as performance and capability. Microsoft has given guidance that the feature could give players an extra 2-5% frame rate in general, and while that’s not much, if you’re trying to make a marginal title playable you can use all the help you can get.
The technology’s current benefits are minimal, however, early testing by Jarred Walton of PC Gamer shows. All of the usual caveats apply: This version of Game Mode is still being worked on, it’s only available as part of Microsoft’s Early Access program, and the versions of Windows you get in the Fast Ring builds can be pretty wonky.
To test Game Mode, Walton used a new system with Windows 10, a GTX 1080, and plenty of RAM. It’s possible, as Walton acknowledges, that this isn’t a best-case scenario for testing what the mode can do — it may operate best when a machine is loaded with other shovelware “value-added” software. The problem with this, of course, is that most gamers don’t tend to let their machines clutter up with garbage software in the first place. Telling people who are experiencing slow performance in a game to reboot and shut down unnecessary programs before trying to play is one of the oldest and simplest way to improve how well games run, and modern systems (all of which are at least dual-core) also benefit from modern task and thread schedulers built into Windows 10 in the first place.
PC Gamer’s article is worth a read, especially if you want to see the impact of using a Core i7-7700K. The second set of results, with the 7350K, are below:
Early performance indicators are mixed, to put it kindly. A few titles, like Grand Theft Auto V, and Ashes of the Singularity, show a 1-3% performance increase. Others, show a 1-3% decrease — and Hitman deserves some kind of special award, for its 11-14% decreasedperformance. These are not the kind of gains that will endear Game Mode to anyone. The situation isn’t any different with AMD cards, or with low-end Nvidia hardware. Fast or slow, green or red, Game Mode isn’t boosting anyone’s performance by a measurable margin.
There are some potential confounding variables here. Microsoft had previously said Game Mode will be a work in progress, and that early titles might use a whitelist approach for compatibility, rather than giving users the option to toggle it on for a title no matter what. It’s entirely possible the mode is only marginally functional at this point, or that key components of it haven’t been implemented yet.
But at the same time, I remain fundamentally uncertain that there’s any real gains to be had. It’s common for enthusiasts to bemoan the “bloated” state of Windows, usually by reference to how much room a Windows installation takes up on a hard drive. That Windows 10 is still minimally specced for a 1GHz system with 1GB of RAM suggests otherwise — if bloat were a cancer that was fundamentally killing system performance, we’d have all moved to quad-cores in the 2GHz+ range by now, with 64-bit and 4GB of RAM billed as minimal OS specs, not the Windows Vista-era requirements that Windows 10 still holds to (yes, there are some differences between the two related to specific support for certain instructions and capabilities, but 1GHz wasn’t particularly fast, even in 2006).
But hey — Microsoft, please prove me wrong. I’d love nothing more than to see some extra performance for free, across as broad a swath of gaming as possible. And I do agree features like this may need some time to bake, even if they’re already rolling out in the Fast Ring. Releases in that channel are best treated as Microsoft’s version of Early Access and are best tested on a system that isn’t your daily driver.