A Few Notes on Graphics

While performance under CPU-limited situations is solely in Microsoft's hands, the same is not true about graphics performance. Due to the need to undertake massive driver rewrites for the new Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) API, all of the GPU makers have been spending the last couple of years hammering their drivers into shape for Vista with varying results. What has changed and where we're at depends a great deal on what company we're talking about.

AMD

AMD has chosen to use the Vista ramp-up to work on their OpenGL drivers and the widely-loathed Catalyst Control Center. Their OpenGL driver in Vista is what AMD is calling a re-architected driver, something we've been hearing rumors about for quite some time now. Although eventually we expect AMD's efforts with their OpenGL driver to pay off, this is something that will happen in the future, not today. Their new driver is stable and compatible but it's still rough around the edges; AMD has made it clear not to expect it to match their XP performance for a while. On the DirectX front, performance is closer, but AMD has actually told us that Microsoft expects gaming performance on Vista to be 5% to 10% short of XP performance (due in part to the changes brought about by the new WDDM).

As for the Catalyst Control Center, complaints about its long load times and high resource usage did not fall on deaf ears, resulting in AMD rebuilding it for Vista. The result is something that's still not going to rival the old ATI Control Panel or 3rd-party tools like AMD Tray Tools, but it is a greatly improved package that helps rectify CCC's biggest flaws. AMD has claimed a load improvement on the order of 400%, and while we can't immediately confirm that number we can confirm that it is much faster to load. Startup times are now reasonable for the GUI at about 4 seconds on our X6800 system, and the system tray version is fast enough that most users will be satisfied with it. This is being back-ported to XP as of the Catalyst 7.2 drivers in February, at which point we'll be able to better gauge the difference.

The CCC has also picked up a couple new features in the redesign, the first of which is a new Installer solely for Vista. The main attraction here will be that the installer is no longer a collection of multiple installers for GPU drivers, VIVO drivers, and the CCC, but instead it's one installer that can handle multiple items directly, making the whole installation process faster and a requiring a little less attention from the user. The 3D preview has also been updated; the car scene has been replaced with a side-by-side courtyard scene that in our opinion does a better job at showing the difference between two modes. The car preview was also programmed using OpenGL, whereas the courtyard uses DirectX.

It's worth noting that with this first version of the Catalyst suite for Vista, a couple of things are still outright broken/not-included. Chief among these is complete CrossFire support, as right now it's missing under OpenGL entirely. The universal AFR mode is also absent right now, meaning that it's back to profile-based CrossFire for the moment. Both of these features will be put back in at a later date. Also missing exclusively for Vista x64 is HDCP path support - HDCP is a big issue for Vista since it fully supports the standard, and while HDCP path support is in the 7.1 Catalysts for Vista x86, it will not be in the x64 version until the 7.3 drivers in March. Movies should still be watchable with a 3rd-party application like PowerDVD or Intervideo, but the ability to play protected content directly will not be there.

NVIDIA

For NVIDIA, they have not used the Vista migration to launch such sweeping changes. Going into Vista they had two driver sets: one for the G80-based 8800 series and another for everything else. Now with the new Vista WDDM, they have four driver sets to maintain. As a result what features are and aren't working depends on the video card used, as some additional features work for the 8800 series that aren't yet working for previous cards. This isn't entirely surprising given that the 8800 series needs to support Shader Model 4, which means extra attention has gone into it anyhow. During the lifetime of the new 100 series driver, NVIDIA plans on merging its code back into a unified driver architecture, leaving out support only for end of life products like the FX series and earlier models. This will certainly be nice, but for now they are still stuck with juggling multiple packages.

For all cards, due to the now-exclusive use of the Vista control panel NVIDIA introduced last year, a few features are missing. Overclocking is not supported, and neither is GPU temperature monitoring or custom monitor timings. TurboCache memory usage is also capped at 255MB for systems with 1GB of RAM and 271 for 2GB or more, so cards capable of using 512MB will not be able to access it all. SLI support either exists or does not exist, again depending on the card. The 8800 series cards now have SLI support, while everything else does not. This will be taken care of in the future, but in the mean time it's especially problematic for GX2 cards which require SLI in order to reach their full potential.

For both parties, it's clear that they still have some ground to cover. As we'll see in the benchmarks, performance is generally good, but at least initially it's going to need to be judged on a per-game basis. Generally speaking, the more popular the game, the more likely it will run well on Vista.

The 64-bit Factor Gaming Benchmarks - Direct3D
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  • nishzone - Saturday, May 24, 2008 - link

    Hi,

    I'm glad tnat your memory usage is similar to mine and therefore I might finally understand this. You have 2 gig of Ram...I understand that superfetch is the reason free ram is 0 (cache increases as free memory decreases). But why is the memory usage 45%? so around 1 gig?

    I also have 50% usage on startup. Is vista using 1 gig memory? There is something I don't understand here because you recommended 1 gig for general users.

    Regards,
    Nishzone
    Reply
  • Dataland - Wednesday, November 28, 2007 - link

    I think Microsoft needs a performance reset. As I've said in some previous posts, I think software in general, and Microsoft software in particular, is getting slower at faster rate than hardware is getting faster. And this problem acutely affects Vista. I think Microsoft needs... (Pingback)

    Performance Reset
    http://dataland.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/performan...">http://dataland.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/performan...
    Reply
  • Kondado - Saturday, February 10, 2007 - link

    I've done my own tests. I sent the same amount of data (51 files, 2,5 GB) once from XP to Samba, then from Vista to Samba (OpenBSD). Then I did the same from XP to XP, and from Vista to XP. XP was always a LOT faster.

    I would really know if it's the drivers or the stack...
    Reply
  • jonp - Monday, February 05, 2007 - link

    It seems like the budget system area was a little overlooked in this review of Vista. So I have some questions:

    "Memory in Vista..." - It appears that acceptable multitasking performance is found somewhere in the 3GB to 4GB memory size area. Many budget systems have only two memory slots and many new ones support dual memory access. This will force budget systems to 4GB which is fairly pricey now and probably will be for some time.

    "CPU Performance..." - Your love for anything Core2 Duo shines here. But what about the dual core Pentium Ds? Like the D915 2.8GHz processor. Yes it is Netburst, but also easier on the budget than a Core 2 Duo processor. We need something more specific here in terms of benchmarks/guidelines.

    Video adapters - I didn't see anything that talked about integrated video adapters vs. VGA/PCIe video adapters. Are any of the integrated graphic engines, like Intel 950GMA provide acceptable performance for VISTA? How about older video cards? Minimum graphics memory? Graphics engine speed? Again we need more specific guidance here.

    Hard drive - You addressed hard drive performance, in a way, in the "Vista Search for Fast Drives Only" section. But again no specific device selection guidelines like: RPM, cache size, average access, size, data transfer rate, ...

    Virtualization - It appears that MS forbids the use of virtualization products with Vista Home Basic and Home Premium editions forcing budget users to more costly editions of Vista.

    Upgrade or "clean" install? - Not strictly a budget system issue; the web if full of warnings about NOT trying to upgrade to Vista --- that it should only be a "clean" install situation. That upgrading is fraught with too many pitfalls that it isn't even worth trying. And not all editions of Vista are allowed to do in-place upgrades of the XP editions; oh, and you can't do an in-place upgrade of anything prior to XP. See http://tinyurl.com/36ljxv">http://tinyurl.com/36ljxv for some upgrade details.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, February 05, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Even with a lengthy preview article, there is still a lot of ground to cover when taking a close look at the final release version of Windows Vista. We have attempted to create a comprehensive look at the new operating system, but even then there are still plenty of items that will have to wait for another day before we can truly evaluate them.


    Basically, a lot of that falls into areas we are going to look at in future articles. Given that we don't really recommend most people upgrade to Vista yet, the lower-end your system is the less we would consider Vista. Pretty much all of the DX9 NVIDIA and AMD cards do fine with the Vista Aero Glass UI, but IGP solutions are slower. Individual tolerance for the UI will vary; I'm sure plenty will be okay with GMA950 and Glass, while others won't want anything less than a $100 discrete GPU. Oh, and GPU drivers for Vista are still flaky, IMO. :)

    HDD, anything 7200 RPM should be fine. CPU, really with a decent GPU the requirements aren't all that much higher than XP. RAM is more important - don't even think about Vista with less than 1GB - but HDD and CPU most people with anything made in the past two years will be fine. Just my opinion there - individual usage and preferences will again play a role.

    I wouldn't say 3-4GB of RAM is even remotely necessary for most people. A few will like it, but 2GB is still sufficient for about 99% of people.

    Virtualization and Upgrades... I'll have to defer to others there. Again, I recommend discretion, so I would tend towards doing a full backup (Ghost or similar) of any system before doing a Vista upgrade. I believe Gary is about to revert his system for the time being, as Vista has just had a few too many glitches. The number of people that worry about virtualization - really intending to use it, not just for test purposes - is again very small. I think mostly we're seeing the vocal minority complaining. Still, I find it odd that MS even worries about whether or not people run the OS via virtualization - unless the glitches are aggravated by such an environment, which is entirely possible.
    Reply
  • jonp - Tuesday, February 06, 2007 - link

    Thanks Jarred...you insights are always very helpful and I am glad that these topics will get more focus in the future. Jon Reply
  • jonp - Monday, February 05, 2007 - link

    Both of the charts in the Compound TCP section for Windows Vista say "Compact" and not "Compound". Reply
  • duploxxx - Sunday, February 04, 2007 - link

    Its probably me that's missing a page or so but could you guys explain what system you used for these tests? Reply
  • funk3y - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    Hello

    I also spent some time testing the network part of windows vista, and I discovered some quite interesting things:

    Windows Vista is reducing the network I/O when an application using the audio interface is launched, I discovered this when copying large files over my network.

    When I copy large file through the network the average speed is 40 mb/sec and the taskmanager whow 30-50% of network use, as soon as I start an application playing sound (WMP, Skype, Warcraft III, ....) the rate drop to 8 mb/sec and the network use in the taskmanager never go beyond 12.5%

    I achieved those test on different hardware, with differents drivers and the results are always the same; it is just impossible to get further then 12.5% of network use while playing a sound.

    My guesses are that microsoft voluntary did this, in order to avoid sound crackling. Because of the new driver scheme, bad written drivers having to do many I/O could lead to sound degradation (I had this issue while using my raptors RAID on a NF4 board; making a lot of I/O on the disk just killed the sound quality).

    As you where streaming a film while benchmarking, you may have been in this situation. It could be nice if you could rerun some benchmark taking into account all what I have written.

    As I am already posting, here are some other consideration about DOS and vista:
    -It is just impossible to launch a DOS application in fullscreen mode! This functionnality lack can be really painfull in environnement where DOS application are still well used; I just don't understand microsoft's choice
    -I don't think that vista x64 is still able to launch 16 bit apps anymore (keep this in mind before upgrading to x64!)
    Reply
  • ministerchief - Saturday, February 03, 2007 - link

    I have a "Corsair Flash Voyager 4Gb" usb stick and I can't use it to "BOOST" my system.

    So, how anandtech could use it ?

    Can someone tell me how to use this flash drive with the "READY BOOST" feature.


    THX
    Reply

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