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Windows 11 is here. The latest update to Microsoft’s Operating System came out of the Insider Program on October 4 and is now available for anyone with a compatible PC to download and install. For those who are not sure if their PC will be able to run Windows 11, they can use the tool PC Health Check from Microsoft.

The most important changes we find in Windows 11 they include a new Start menu that is now centered on the screen, along with widgets to take a look at the news, weather and other information of your choice. There’s a redesigned Settings app that is much easier to navigate, and new support tools for organizing and managing open apps. Microsoft has also given another twist to the Microsoft Store and Xbox applications.

In addition to the new Xbox app, Microsoft has added some features to Windows 11 that the company promises, enhance the gaming experience and increase performance. For the past few weeks, I’ve been testing Windows 11 on a pre-built NZXT Streaming Plus PC, with an AMD Ryzen 5 5600X, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 and 16GB of memory.

A new beginning

Once the PC restarts after successfully installing Windows 11, the first thing you notice is that the Start button, along with all the items pinned to the taskbar, are now centered along the bottom of the screen. Not only that, but there are also some additional icons.

Next to the Start button there is a shortcut to show all the desktops, in which you can organize the applications and open windows to your liking. Then there is the Widget button that will make a widget menu slide out from the left side of the screen. Finally, there is the chat application that is part of Microsoft Teams, and it is what you can use to send messages to friends, family and co-workers.

The Start menu has a whole new look. There’s a search bar at the top of the popup, your apps pinned just below (with a button to see all installed apps), and then a recommended section where you’ll find shortcuts to recent files and apps.

I especially like the new Settings app. Instead of the main screen displaying buttons that take you to each category and sub-category for a particular setting, the left side of the app has all the top-level settings, such as Applications or System. When you select a category, the list remains visible while you adjust the parameters to your liking. For example, if I select Personalization from the list of settings (which also has new themes for light and dark modes), I can quickly change the desktop background, accent colors and other aspects without having to reload the entire settings window, as it happened in Windows 10.

Another update that I have come to appreciate, although I have yet to learn the nuances, is the new Snap Assist tool. You can still drag open windows to the edge of the screen to snap them to a specific position, but in Windows 11 you can now hover over the zoom button to see multiple layouts to choose from. Several options are available, such as a 50/50 split, a 75/25 split, and a grid layout, which allows you to view up to four different apps, each occupying a quarter of the screen.

Also, if you move away from the setting group and start doing something else, you can go back to the same layout by hovering your mouse cursor over the application icon on the taskbar and selecting the previous layout. Docking and undocking your laptop from an external monitor will now remember your desktops and window placement, instead of forcing you to rearrange applications every time you connect or disconnect it.

Another feature worth noting is the chat app. It is part of Microsoft Teams, but it allows you to send and receive text messages with your contacts, even if they are not using Microsoft Teams. I was able to exchange messages with my wife directly to her phone number, who was then able to reply directly from the Messages thread on her iPhone, without the need for the app. As it stands now, the beginning of every text you receive has my Live email address before the body of the message. But I guess this is how Microsoft plans to entice users to install the Teams app for a better experience.

About improvements in the game

As much as Microsoft has talked about gaming at Windows 11 press events and the new Surface devices, not really much game-related news in the update. This is the short list of new features:

  • AutoHDR: a feature that has been added to Xbox series consoles, it will now automatically convert standard dynamic range images from games to high dynamic range. Hit it? You will need an HDR display for it to work.
  • DirectX 12 Ultimate con DirectStorage: DirectStorage will speed up game loading time by allowing the GPU to load images and assets directly from an NVMe SSD, giving up its previous dependency on the CPU. Microsoft says the technology is coming to games in the future, so we haven’t been able to test it yet. But we hope it will be soon.
  • Changes to Xbox Game Pass: The Xbox app and Xbox Game Pass have been combined. The Xbox app now includes access to your Xbox Game Pass account, including the Xbox cloud game library.

These three updates are not the most exciting in Windows 11, which is somewhat disappointing. Having said that, there’s potential for DirectStorage to be an awesome upgrade and a welcome addition to the new operating system once the games are updated or gain support.

I like that there is now a single Xbox app, instead of an Xbox app and an Xbox Game Pass app. Now I can easily find the games I want to install and play or start a Cloud Gaming session with just a few clicks. Of course, you will need an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription to use Xbox Cloud Gaming.

Xbox Cloud Gaming is still in beta, and there are sure to be some issues and quirks that Microsoft is still polishing up. For example, during the time that I was testing, I was frequently disconnected from the game and returned to the desktop due to connection problems. This was despite the fact that it was using a 1.2 Gbps cable connection.

I could immediately go back to the same game and pick up where I left off (after taking the Cloud Gaming survey on my experience). I’m not sure if that’s a design or a bug, but it worked for a slow-paced game like The Show 21. However, it would be a different story if you were playing a fast-paced game like Gears 5.

More to come

Like the rest of the world, I didn’t have access to the final version of Windows 11 until it was officially released. And while I’ve been using an Insider Preview build of Windows 11 since it was made available, I need to spend some time with the official version of Windows 11 before I can make a full judgment in terms of games and performance gains. However, I can say that the first test results do not show an increase in gaming performance.

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