Far Cry 4
Well, how about that? Another big win for Windows 10. While not quite as striking as the results in Tomb Raider, there's no doubt that both our cards prefer the newer OS, with both demonstrating a 5 percent boost to average framerates in this game.
The Witcher 3
Our last game is the newest game in our test suite, and among the most graphically-demanding. While we had hopes based on our Tomb Raider and Far Cry 4 results that this would translate to a win for Windows 10, it looks like The Witcher 3 wasn't going to react quite as fondly to the new OS. Indeed, performance was essentially identical comparing both cards on both operating systems.
All right, here's the final tally:
Does Windows 10 perform miracles? Well, not quite, but given that it's a free upgrade, we don't recommend that you look a gift horse in the mouth. The older, mid-range Radeon R9 290 gets nearly a 5% boost in performance, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at, while the new ultra-high-end GeForce GTX 980 Ti seems to turn up its nose at the new OS, content to perform exactly as well as it did before. And while some games did turn in slighty lower performance under Windows 10 (particularly on the GTX 980 Ti), this was only with a handful of older games in which its performance was already quite high.
There are a few other angles we can take on the data we collected beyond just averages. First, let's ask which type of games improved the most: those that are CPU-limited or those that are GPU-limited? The games in our suite that are arguably CPU-limited are Grid 2, Crysis 3, and Battlefield 4. The only improvement we saw under Windows 10 in these games was in Grid 2, and that was on the Radeon card only. So Windows 10 probably isn't direclty reducing the gaming burden on CPUs. How about our most GPU-limited games, Tomb Raider, Metro: Last Light, Far Cry 4, and The Witcher 3. Well, only Tomb Raider and Far Cry 4 demonstrated gains under Windows 10, but they were very significant, with a boost in Tomb Raider of between 8 and 16 percent, and a boost in Far Cry 4 of 5 percent. That at least gives us a clue that when Windows 10 works its magic, it's improving the efficiency of video card operation.
Another interesting spin on the data is to look at the game benchmarks that we carried over from our earlier exploration of Windows 7 vs. Windows 8.1: Tomb Raider, Crysis 3, and Battlefield 4. In that analysis, we found that Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4 got a slight boost from Windows 8.1, while Tomb Raider stayed put. In our Windows 10 tests, we found that only Tomb Raider received a significant boost. In other words, Microsoft must have taken a different angle in improving OS performance this time around. So much for simple conclusions!
We also want to hypothesize a bit on why the Radeon card benefited so much more than the GeForce card under Windows 10. The most obvious reason might be that the GeForce card is simply more powerful and didn't need any "extra help" from the operating system to perform at its best. While that's a tempting explanation, we just don't think it cuts the mustard. There are a number of games in our test suite that challenge even the mighty GTX 980 Ti, and universal enhanced efficiencies should have helped it in those games as much as the Radeon. Second, it could be that AMD's 15.6 beta driver used for Win8.1 wasn't as refined as the 15.7.1 release driver used for Win10. In actuality, these drivers were released just a few weeks apart, and AMD's beta drivers typically include all the features in later WHQL releases. Ultimately, we think there's a third more likely reason for the Radeon's ascent under Windows 10: driver overhead. We've known for quite some time that AMD's drivers require a bit more from the CPU, and that this could potentially reduce performance slightly in games. It's one of the behind-the-scenes reasons that AMD released its Mantle API in early 2014. Well, Windows 10 probably borrows some of the same refinements to enable more efficient drivers, and DirectX 12 will actually go far beyond that once games start tapping into its power. This should hold even more promise for improving the performance of AMD Radeon cards.
Overall, then, Windows 10 is a winner when it comes to games, and we'd highly recommend that every gamer upgrade to it soon, especially gamers using Radeon graphics cards. For more information on how the upgrade works, along with some helpful tips, check out our previous article on the Windows 10 Upgrade Experience.