UI Performance, Storage, and USB Compatibility

by Vivek Gowri and Anand Shimpi

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft did a great job of taking generation-old hardware and delivering a great user experience in spite of any silicon-level deficiencies. So naturally, with the new Windows UI, we were expecting a very smooth UI regardless of the underlying hardware. And they’ve most certainly delivered on that.

Animation frame rates are consistently good all the way through the UI, easily delivering what appears to be 60 fps for UI transitions. When pushed, Modern UI seems more likely to completely drop animations versus dropping frames, which eliminates the choppy experience you sometimes find in Android. It isn’t a common occurrence, the experience is generally very fluid. This kind of consistently smooth UI is what Google has been striving for in every recent release of Android, dedicating the release of 4.1 to eliminate the dropping of frames in even basic interactions. Scrolling, swiping, snapping, app switching - it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing, RT is just really smooth. Combined with the fluidity of the gestures, the entire system just feels like liquid, there are just no real slowdowns even running on a no-longer impressive SoC like Tegra 3.

Application Launch Time Comparison
  Boot Web Browser Mail Maps Games Center / Xbox
Apple iPad (3rd gen) 32.0s 1.0s 2.4s 1.1s 1.9s
Microsoft Surface 27.7s 2.6s 7.1s 5.0s 5.0s

But there is one area that RT struggles in, and it’s something that was an issue in Windows Phone 7 too - application launch times. Anand included this table in his Surface review, and it shows that boot performance is decent, but the 3rd generation iPad just kills it in application loading. The new A6X-infused 4th gen iPad probably widens that gap too, so it’s a pretty stark difference. It’s something that Microsoft needs to really focus on when updating the OS, because it’s easily one of the most glaring flaws in an otherwise stellar interface.

From a storage standpoint, the OS takes up between 6.5 and 7.5GB of space (Anand measured 6.47GB on Surface, I measured 7.35GB on the VivoTab RT) and Office takes up another 750-850MB (830MB for Surface, 749MB for the ASUS), so you’re looking at 7.5-8GB of NAND dedicated to the OS. On my 32GB VivoTab RT, I had 25.3GB of storage to start with, so after Windows and Office, I was looking at 17GB left over for programs and documents. That’s....not a lot - a bit of music, a decent selection of applications, a couple of videos, and pretty soon I’m looking at less than 10GB of storage left over. Thankfully, we’re seeing microSD slots on a lot of the more prominent Windows RT slates, so if you run out of room, you could theoretically toss in a 32GB or 64GB microSDXC card. Depending on how much data you plan on storing, I think you can get away with the lesser internal NAND and some microSD cards.

It’s also pretty clear that there will not be a Windows RT slate shipped with less than 32GB of onboard NAND. If you’re holding out for a cheaper Windows RT device with less storage, like a 16GB tablet for $399, there’s almost no way that happens - it’s implausible to think that anyone would ship a tablet with less than 5GB of space left for data storage.

Another key detail in Windows RT is wide-ranging USB peripheral support. USB ports have been a common feature on 10” Android tablets, but device support was typically limited to flash drives and basic input devices. The goal with Windows RT was to bring the traditional Windows experience to tablets, so USB driver support is pretty important. It’s not as easy as on an x86 system, where most USB peripherals would just work, but even with more limited Windows-on-ARM drivers, it’s pretty decent overall.

USB drives obviously work as you’d expect them to. Even SATA to USB adapters worked fine when plugged into Surface. Other smartphones and tablets also worked, although their level of support varied. For example, you can plug in the iPhone 5 and have it come up as a supported device for moving pictures to/from. However USB tethering is not supported by the class driver included in Windows RT. You can even plug an iPad into Surface and get the same level of support. The few Android phones I tried to connect in MTP all worked as expected, though transfer rates off my Optimus 4X HD seemed on the slow side, likely a function of the phone’s internal eMMC.

Printer support is pretty decent, although the Epson Workforce 910 Anand tried didn’t actually have specific driver support under RT. Although development for the desktop side of Windows is limited, manufacturers can supply Windows RT drivers to enable support for some more obscure devices. Unfortunately when it comes to those devices you’ll have to play the waiting game as there’s simply not a lot of third party Windows RT drivers available for download today.

 

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  • munsie - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I would love to see more detail on this as well. The filesystem is completely open, which means that anyone can extract existing EXEs off the system and place new ones on there as well. This is way different than the iOS model, for example.

    I'm predicting that we'll shortly see the ability to build desktop apps for ARM and the ability to sideload apps on RT. There are tons of people who know Windows inside and out, along with a huge desire to bypass this restriction.
    Reply
  • zepi - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    I'm sure that if executable is not digitally signed with MS certificate, it wont run. And they wont be releasing that certificate with Visual Studio, so in theory nobody will be able to compile binary-applications that will run on WinRT.

    There are definitely going to be people looking ways around this restriction from various kind of cert crackings to fullblown jailbreaks, so actual situation for 'tech enthusiasts' remains to be seen.
    Reply
  • mcnabney - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Yep, no digital signature from MS - no installation.

    RT is the Embrace with some Extend aspects. I'm not sure how they will try to pull off Extinguish - but I'm not going to give them my money to help them.

    I can envision a world without Microsoft now - something unimaginable in the past.
    Reply
  • ricardoduarte - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Hi,

    Can you please, post in a couple weeks, how the windows 7 folder and user folder size increase. Windows have gone fatter and fatter out of control, even my win7 gone from around 10gb to 20gb with tmp folder cleaned.
    I this happens i think it will be a mood killer to a lot people when they have 32gb or 64gb available on tablet. I think It would be interesting to see if performance decreases overtime (like most of the time happens with windows), something that doesnt really happen with android/iOS tablets and if the system folders size continue expand out of control.
    Reply
  • CaedenV - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Win Vista was the king of the bloat. Win7 was smaller than Vista, win8 is smaller than 7, and RT is even smaller than windows 8. The only real big balloons in size were from 3.1 to 95, and then from XP to Vista. I obviously have not played with RT myself, but win8 on the desktop side of things runs pretty smooth on even the most limited of hardware. The slowest thing I have tried it on so far was an old Pentium 4 (no HT), with an ancient 60GB HDD, but I did cram in 2GB of ram. It seems that so long as you have that magic 2GB or more of ram, it will run on just about anything. It even made my old netbook work great, and my slightly newer touch screen netbook really flew (though I was annoyed at the resolution requirements for multitasking and metro apps).

    Anywho, that's my 2 cents.

    Great review Ananad and Vivek!
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    He is talking about install size creep, not initial install size. "...even my win7 gone from around 10gb to 20gb with tmp folder cleaned."

    It's a very good question. Hopefully reviewers use these devices for weeks or months and check it out.
    Reply
  • GnillGnoll - Friday, October 26, 2012 - link

    If that bloat is limited to the winsxs folder, don't worry. Windows creates so-called hardlinks to other files there, such that those files will effectively exist in multiple locations in the folder structure at once. Additional hardlinks only take a small amount of extra space, but they make determining "the size of a folder" tricky, because files no longer uniquely belong to a folder.

    Instead of looking how much the windows folder grows, look at how much space is left.
    Reply
  • plopke - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    i am not really metro pro or metro con since I havent tryed it out yet. but if i look at reviews i can just use my desktop as in windows 7 but I have one particular question about the desktop mode in windows 8 namely how is the old search function from the start menu implemented. I mean 60% of the time i just start stuff from pinned programs on the taskbar but the other 40% of the time I just do the following:

    -windows key , type and launch program/document , this has been for me the fastest , is that still there?

    -and does my fatefull old windows key + E stil work xD?
    Reply
  • cappasay - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    Both of what you described, are available in Windows 8. I use them all the time. Reply
  • plopke - Thursday, October 25, 2012 - link

    thank you :) Reply

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