While hardcore gamers will never be satisfied with Windows 10 S, this system should be fine for more casual gamers.
Taking a break from the more painful aspects of my Windows 10 S testing—ranging from the basic behavioral changes that using it requires to the lack of decent Store apps—I decided to see what the gaming scene looked like. Depending on your needs, it’s actually not terrible, and unlike with traditional apps, you can see the start of a reasonable games selection happening in the Windows Store.
But there are issues. Of course there are.
First, because Windows 10 S is not an option on most PCs, you’re pretty stuck with Surface Laptop or, worse, an instantly forgettable range of low-end Chromebook competitors that are being sold only in education. Surface Laptop is a fine business laptop, for sure. But with its integrated Intel graphics driving a high DPI display, you’re going to stuck playing low-end games, or mid-tier titles with lowered settings.
This isn’t about Surface Laptop per se, but I’m testing Windows 10 S on a new Surface Pro, which features the same integrated graphics. On the Core i5 models of each, you get Intel HD 620 graphics, but on the Core i7 versions, like the one I’m using, you have a much improved Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 chipset. So something resembling gaming is at least possible. Not ideal. But possible.
Dedicated graphics are, of course, preferable. But systems that ship with such chipsets would also need to natively support Windows 10 S somehow. For example, the Surface Book I’m also using during the current trip sports an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M chipset. And while no one would claim that classifies it as a gaming PC, it is still supported with NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience app, which keeps the drivers up-to-date and optimizes each game for the chipset automatically. It’s not available on Windows 10 S.
Things are a bit brighter for those who want to game with a controller. Microsoft’s excellent Xbox Wireless Controller works just fine with Windows 10 S, naturally. And it does so in both wired (USB) and wireless (Bluetooth) modes, just as it does on the normal versions of Windows 10. Wired offers dramatically better performance: If only Microsoft used its own Xbox controller connection hardware in its Surface PCs.
As for the games I’ve tested, it’s a short list. On this Surface Laptop-like hardware, less demanding games like Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition and Oxenfree seem to run just fine.
But I was more interested in something a bit more graphically challenging, so I also installed Batman: The Telltale Series and went through the opening sequence for the 1000th time since I’m familiar with how it performs on a variety of PCs. It’s not horrible, but there were occasional performance hiccups and stutters, and the game auto-set itself to pretty low-end settings. (Which honestly look pretty great; it uses kind of a nice, comics-like style.)
But here’s some good news. Even Windows 10 S has a pretty decent selection of games, as you can see by visiting the Games section in Windows Store. The Xbox Live games selection is particularly good with various Forza titles, Halo Wars 2, Modern Combat 5, ReCore, and more. Though, again, your ability to play higher-end titles will be limited.
And that’s Window 10 in a nutshell, right? Limited.
So your gaming possibilities are limited by both the hardware on which Windows 10 S is available and by the OS itself. And that means that Windows 10 S will only be OK for those who game casually, on the side. So, no surprises there.
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