Our Impressions

Software is always a bit of an odd item to critique here at AnandTech; whereas we mostly focus on hardware with quantitative data that is largely indisputable, software involves a great deal of opinion and qualitative data that isn't nearly as cut and dried. We stand by our opinions, but not everyone is going to agree, and that's to be expected. Before putting down $100 or more on Vista, check it out yourself; everyone will have a slightly different opinion of how Vista works and if it's worth the hype and cost.

We'll save the conclusion for a bit and start instead with what we have and have not liked about Vista now that we have seen the final version. The big winners for Vista include the search features, the caching features, the extra security, and yes, even the new Aero UI. The index search we've already covered and there's not much else to say other than that it does what it's supposed to do very well - it's a night and day difference from earlier versions of Windows. Similarly, SuperFetch makes a huge departure from previous versions of Windows; on a system with 2GB of memory and a few days of training on one of our test systems it has learned to cache all of the office applications we use, our IM client, our mail client, our MP3 player, and other applications. The difference between loading these applications from disk and the RAM cache is simply remarkable; it's as if we never quit the application at all.

With the new security features the relationship is a little more love/hate and we can certainly poke holes in them even if we like them. Windows has simply been insecure for too long and users have suffered for it. By making default administrative accounts run in a reduced privilege mode, it's a good start to reining in the spyware/virus/zombie phenomenon that has been making computing harder than it needs to be. It's by no means the silver bullet - after all for many computers hosing a user's home directory is just as good as hosing the entire system - but it is something that should keep systems better protected in the short term, and in the long term we will need to see how unscrupulous software authors try to poke holes in the system.

Similarly, after having gone through several iterations of the UI as Microsoft has knocked out the bugs, we're happy with the Aero UI. Although being shiny doesn't hurt its case, the strengths of the UI here are in navigation and integration of searching into the file browser. Little things like being able to click on a level in the address bar and immediately be taken there are extremely useful once you learn the UI, and we have finally managed to get over the missing menu bar and realize we don't need it, though we tend to use keyboard shortcuts a lot here.

Last, the new installer deserves a spot. The Windows XP installer is insufferable and we all know it; it's barely a step above using DOS to install Windows and it's even worse when IDE/RAID drivers are required to be loaded off of a floppy disk at a time when many people don't even use one any more. A cut-down Windows UI and USB support make the process far less painful, and the image-based installer means that the whole process is over in as little as 15 minutes.

Moving down the ladder from things we like are things we're effectively neutral on; these are the things that Vista has not really sold us on but neither is it a problem. Compatibility is the first thing to fall into this area, as on the one hand Microsoft is known for bending over backwards for compatibility, and on the other hand it could always be better. UAC problems aside, we have yet to be able to find anything other than system utilities and video codecs that don't work under Vista. For most people this will be fine, though gamers in particular will be unhappy that they're back to using the built in NVIDIA/AMD controls to tweak their graphics cards.

In the all-important metric of performance, Vista has managed to sit solidly in the middle. Benchmarked performance on the whole is neither generally above XP nor is it below - not that we were expecting it to be higher, but we certainly wouldn't mind. Compared to Beta 2, this is a very respectable position as we weren't initially sure if performance would catch up and for the most part it has. Using Vista instead of XP still means some resources are being sacrificed (mainly RAM), but it's no longer a poor tradeoff.

Graphics cards are a different matter. OpenGL support from both sides is solid for compatibility, but slow. This is something we expect to improve, but for today it's a matter that should be taken into account, especially when running newer games or older (slower) hardware. Both teams will be releasing important updated Vista drivers well into the year, so Vista as a gaming platform will for now depend on the games used. Direct3D-only users should be fine while anyone using OpenGL will need to keep a watchful eye on driver updates.

Then there are the things at the bottom of the ladder, those items that as of the final release of Vista that just leave us scratching our heads wondering what Microsoft is thinking and if this was really the right time to release Vista. We'll start this with the Windows Mobile Device Center (WMDC), a branch of the Sync Center application designed to synchronize Windows Mobile devices. As the Vista replacement for ActiveSync WMDC comes pre-installed with Vista... or does it? It turns out that Vista only shipped with the drivers and application (also called the WMDC) to allow Vista to connect to a WM device, not actually to synchronize with it. To synchronize a WM device, you need to download the synchronization application (once again called WMDC), which as of this writing is still in beta. This is not indicated anywhere in the Vista documentation, and it's confusing to say the least.

Next at the bottom is Flip-3D, a beautiful but tragic waste of the Aero Glass UI. In our MacOS X reviews, we have time and time again talked about how great Apple's Exposé feature is; it's a great organizational tool for keeping track of various windows and bringing them up to the front. If there was anything Microsoft should have gone out if its way to copy from MacOS X, this is it. Flip-3D is a poor imitation of the real thing; the angled view means it's a pretty sight to watch flip by, but you won't get any real benefit out of it. Vista needs its own Exposé clone, and Flip-3D will not be it.

Last and certainly least is User Account Controls. We've said enough about it to cover all of its shortfalls, so it's merely included on the list. UAC is a major reason against installing Vista; it's going to be partially or completely disabled by most computer enthusiasts the moment they get their hands on it, and that's going to be a detriment to Vista's new security systems. It's as if Microsoft spent a good portion of the past few years working on an enhanced security design that nobody will want to use. Many have been spoiled by the lack of in-your-face security, but the truth is most people like PCs to be that way - at least until they get a nasty spyware infection.

Gaming Benchmarks - OpenGL and x64 Conclusion
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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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