Understanding your PC’s specifications and finding compatible software is not always easy. Most PC games will indicate on their packaging or on the web what their system requirements are. Below is an example of a games system requirements:-
So, what do all these little boxes mean, and how do you find out what’s in your system? Starting from left to right we have:-
OS – This refers to the version of Windows you have running. Some games will also work on the Mac or Linux operating systems too, although we don’t cover those in any detail on this site. You should know which version of Windows you are running, but just in case you don’t, open the Start Menu and search for “Winver”, then click the icon that appears. This will give you the information. Even if a game isn’t listed as being compatible with your version of Wndows, in most cases it’s still possible to make the game run as long as your PC meets the other specifications.
Processor – Refers to the central processor of your PC. This is the brains of your computer and it’s speed is measured in Mhz or Ghz, where 1000 Mhz = 1Ghz. As you can see older games like the one shown in the example above use only a fraction of the power available in modern PC’s. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, you can find out your computers CPU speed from the Performance Information and Tools window, which we cover later in this article.
Memory – PC’s need to store programs they are running in memory. The bigger and more complex the program the more memory it requires. Memory is measured in Megabytes (MB) and Gigabytes (GB). 1024 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte. As with CPU speed, you can find out your computers memory capacity in the Performance Information and Tools window.
Hard Drive – Hard drives are used to store programs and data. They are much slower than memory and so aren’t suitable for storing programs and data that’s in use. Like memory, hard drive capacity is measured in Megabytes (MB) and Gigabytes (GB). You can also find out about hard drive capacities in the Performance Information and Tools window.
CD-DVD – Games that come on CD or DVD discs may specify that they need at least a 4 speed drive. It’s so rare to find a CD or DVD drive that doesn’t meet this spec that you shouldn’t even worry about checking it on any computer made in the last 10 years.
Graphics – Many PC games require that you have a graphics accelerator. Most PC’s come with these built in. You can check how much memory yours has in the Performance Information and Tools window.
3D Accelerator – Again refers to your graphics card. All modern cards support Direct3D and OpenGL, but do not natively support older standards such as 3DFX Glide.
DirectX – You can find out the highest version of DirectX your card is compatible with in the Performance Information and Tools window. DirectX is backward compatible, so any card rated for DirectX 10 can run DirectX 9 games, for instance. Note – Windows may report some DirectX 11 compatible cards as DirectX 10, but only the very latest cutting edge games support DirectX 11.
Sound Card – Finding out exactly what features your sound card supports is a little more tricky. However, even basic sound card models have been fully compatible with games for many years, so it’s not really something you have to worry about.
Network – Games that support network play can be played in your home. Usually all you need is two or more PC’s connected to the internet. Rather than use the internet, your home networking gear will route the communications across the house instead, resulting in very smooth, fluid multiplayer gameplay. Windows Vista and Windows 7 support TCP/IP gaming but not the older IPX standard that some games use. However, thanks to several cleverly engineered third party tools, many IPX games can be fixed to work with TCP/IP instead.
Internet – Games that support internet play can be played across the public internet. The speed given is the minimum required for acceptable play. In the example the speed given is 56kbps, which is the fastest dial-up internet speed in use, meaning even the cheaper broadband packages could run this game easily. Remember that older games may have had their online services shut off, or they may still exist but be run by volunteers or enthusiasts rather than the services listed in the instruction manual.
Input – Lists the compatible input devices. Remember that joysticks and joypads have changed in the last two decades and for full support of modern controllers, you may need a utility like XPadder.
Performance Information and Tools
Access the Performance Information and Tools window in Windows Vista and Windows 7 by doing the following. Firstly, open the Start Menu and search for “Performance Information and Tools”. Click on the icon that appears in the search results.
On the Window that now opens, click the link that says “View and print detailed performance and system information”, or on Windows Vista, “View and print detailed information”. If you can’t see this link, click the button labelled “Rate this computer” and wait for the assessment to run, then the link should appear.
On the window that now appears, you can check your computers specs against those listed for the game. Below is a picture of the window open, with the above system specs overlaid on top, so you can see where the different pieces of information match up:-
As you can see, our modern PC is more than ready to take on this game!