Performance Changes

One particularly sore point we had with Vista Beta 2 was that its performance was downright poor in some cases, as a result of a combination of beta code, debugging code, early drivers, and other factors that all slowed down the operating system. This is something that needs to be corrected by the time Vista ships in order to make it a worthwhile replacement for XP for most computing enthusiasts, and we're glad to see that some of these improvements are starting to happen.

Note: Vista 5472 shipped with a newer version of Nvidia's ForceWare drivers, 95.61. Since we can't install these on Vista Beta 2, only the tests on 5472 were done with the 95.61 drivers as a compromise to include the performance improvement offered by more mature Vista drivers.

The most immediate change is that the Aero GUI feels a lot snappier; while we didn't find Beta 2's Aero to be particularly slow, now that we've used 5472 there's an obvious difference between the two and only now do we realize just how slow Aero was in places. After running our composition engine test under 5472, the primary reason for this seems to be that CPU usage by the composition engine has dropped significantly between Beta 2 and 5472. While this isn't a perfectly repeatable test, and as a result there is a greater amount of uncertainty than with our usual benchmarks, the drop from 33% CPU usage to 15% clearly indicates there have been some improvements here.

Windows Composition Engine Performance
  Windows XP Professional Vista Aero (Beta 2) Vista Aero (Build 5472)
CPU Usage 49% 33% 15%


Unfortunately, the rest of Vista doesn't show the same improvement. Looking at some of our gaming benchmarks, neither 3dMark 2006 or Half-Life 2 improved with 5472 and the newer Nvidia drivers under normal settings. However the catastrophic performance drop that previously resulted from using anti-aliasing with Half-Life 2 does not occur under 5472, which is great news that in spite of a general performance improvement progress is being made, one that particularly benefits the owners of high-end systems.

Gaming Performance (1280x1024)
  Windows XP Professional Vista Beta 2 Vista Build 5472
3DMark 2006 2749 2533 2540
Half-Life 2 81.46 61.19 61.08
Half-Life 2 4xAA 76.25 49.73 55.72


Last but not least, general performance is up very slightly. As debugging features are removed and optimizations put in, Vista has become slightly faster with non GPU-intensive applications. It's not the significant change we've been hoping for, but a couple more improvements like these will work just as well.

General Performance
  Windows XP Professional Vista Beta 2 Vista Build 5472
Adobe Photoshop CS2 (seconds) 220 243.7 238
AutoGK Encoding (Xvid 1.1, seconds) 1040 1141 1104


Conclusion

Although it isn't ready for a release candidate quite yet, Vista is showing some promising improvements as of this latest build. The UI changes seem minor at best - new themes and Flip3d anti-aliasing do represent and improvement, but they're not really Vista's weakness at this point. We would rather see more work go in to the internals of Vista, but with a large company like Microsoft, the "too many cooks" problem would likely apply. What we have seen of work done underneath so far is promising; the Vista UI is noticeably faster, overall performance is a little higher, UAC is finally becoming more friendly, and Microsoft/Nvidia have solved one of the major problems with gaming under Beta 2, anti-aliasing performance.

However, these changes still aren't enough to shift our earlier conclusions about how Vista compares to Mac OS X Tiger - Vista is still lagging behind Tiger - but this offers some hope that Vista will be able to pull ahead of XP by the time it is released. If Microsoft wants to launch Vista properly, Microsoft must continue working on UAC to make it more manageable, as what we've seen today is a good start but still not ready for widespread use and turning it off entirely is not a real solution. As we said in our Beta 2 preview, it doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be better.

The second area that still needs to be improved on before the launch of Vista is program compatibility. Build 5472 did not seem to be any more compatible with our testing software than Beta 2 did, and this will be a problem if it doesn't improve by the time the final version of Vista is released. Microsoft needs to make Vista more aware of programs that should be run with higher privileges out of the box, and 3rd party programmers need to better follow Vista's security guidelines so that programs don't unnecessarily need administrative powers.

Last, but certainly not least, performance still needs to improve. Between shedding some of its debug code and drivers maturing a bit more, we saw some respectable performance improvements, but it isn't enough. As far as general performance goes Vista still needs a couple more performance boosts along the lines of what we saw today, and gaming performance needs to pick up a good deal. If Microsoft can't meet this conditions before attempting to launch Vista, then it's going to be very hard to recommend Vista over XP as long as XP is still a viable operating system.

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  • Zoomer - Sunday, August 06, 2006 - link

    quote:

    The UI changes seem minor at best - new themes and Flip3d anti-aliasing do represent and improvement, but they're not really Vista's weakness at this point.


    Shouldn't it be 'an'?
    Reply
  • Ingas - Saturday, July 29, 2006 - link

    I can't understand how MS propose to sell this Vista.
    For what?
    Home users? Only for rotating windows? All other features I can have right now on XP.
    Business users?? HAHAHAHA!!
    Reply
  • stash - Sunday, July 30, 2006 - link

    There are tons of reasons for businesses to be very interested in Vista, in my mind, maybe even more than home users.

    For one, there are twice as many group policies in Vista compared to XP. Over 3000.

    Another thing that businesses are going to be very interested in is BitLocker. Federal Government agencies that I work with can't wait for this. The ability to store an EFS keypair on a smartcard is another huge thing for businesses. Network Access Protection (NAP) is another big interest.

    The new install and imaging technology is very interesting to business that maintain desktop images, espcially when they may have to support multiple machine types. In Vista, you can have one image that will work on all of your hardware, and updating it is easy.

    So when you post next time, try to know what you are talking about.
    Reply
  • RichUK - Monday, July 31, 2006 - link

    Will users that use Vista be able to set different local GPO's for different users on a standalone PC? As you know XP pro local GPO's effect every user on a standalone PC with multiple users, unless a member of a domain.

    That would be extremely handy if that is possible. Also the more GPO's the better, so an extra 3000 is brilliant for fine tuning users access.
    Reply
  • stash - Monday, July 31, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Will users that use Vista be able to set different local GPO's for different users on a standalone PC

    Yes.

    quote:

    Also the more GPO's the better, so an extra 3000 is brilliant for fine tuning users access.

    Just to clarify, its about 3000 total. XP has about 1500.
    Reply
  • ChronoReverse - Sunday, July 30, 2006 - link

    And yet people predict things like Macs will suddenly make a comeback. Reply
  • Griswold - Sunday, July 30, 2006 - link

    Words of wisdom... I bet these people see a perfect reason to use OSX and buy the anual updates - but certainly not any iteration of windows with several years in between. Reply
  • Zebo - Saturday, July 29, 2006 - link

    I was using 2000 until Obilvion came out and it would not install on w2k. Bought XP and plan to keep it for 5-6 years as well. I'm a always a few years behind but that's nothing compared to where I work..about 250 machines all are w2k and we have a site licence for any MS stuff we want to install on any machine. Even new Dells that come in with XP on them the admins wipe and put 2k on.... needless to say I, we, the whole world maybe is'nt in any hurry for Vista with performance and bugs like that. Reply
  • RichUK - Saturday, July 29, 2006 - link

    lol, i work on a quite a few contracts, one of them being a 15,000 user base running in an NT4 environment :shocked; Now that is old school, but it works and is sufficient for what is required.

    However, a new rollout is on the horizon with Dell’s running XP. With cost and time aside, the biggest issue is with OS stability/reliability and quality of tech support when running immature platforms. From what I see now from my stand point XP is becoming the norm, as the platform is peeking in its maturity.

    When vista comes along, I doubt companies will embrace it too quickly, since their tech support wont be up to speed (along with OS stability), this takes time, and could cost a company a lot of money trying to maintain full capacity on a low tolerance infrastructure.
    Reply
  • Elitist Snob - Tuesday, August 01, 2006 - link

    I have you both beat. One of the local small businesses I do tech support for has several desktops running...Windows 3.1. But it gets even better; their data processing team is running entirely on original IBM PC/AT. Talk about vintage computing. Reply

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