Composition Engine and Spyware Performance

One particularly important change with the move to a GPU accelerated desktop is relieving some of the enormous CPU performance penalties caused by GDI+. Because of how GDI+ handles window refreshes, heavy desktop activity that involves tasks such as moving around a window result in GDI+ eating up a great deal of CPU time just to handle these refreshes. By moving to a GPU accelerated desktop, the Window Composition Engine (WCE) that now handles these effects can offload some of the work to the GPU by treating these items as polygons and textures, which the GPU is well suited to manipulating.

In order to test the performance impact of the WCE, we set up a simple test in which we opened up several windows scattered around the desktop and in different states of overlapping each other, and then dragged around a window for 10 seconds measuring the system CPU usage. If the WCE is doing its job well, the CPU usage should be reduced. All 3 of Vista's desktop rendering modes have been tested using the exact same setup, and XP has been included using a setup as similar as possible. (We can't guarantee everything was 100% identical, as we are running on a different operating system with potentially different background tasks running.)

Click to enlarge

Windows Composition Engine Performance
XP Vista Aero Vista Basic Vista Classic
CPU usage 49% 33% 97% 78%

While the results against XP should be taken with a grain of salt due to the aforementioned setup issues, it's clear that in Aero mode the composition engine is doing its job and has pushed CPU usage down to 33% in spite of all the eye-candy this mode has over all other modes. For users who will be capable of using Aero mode, this will be a win-win situation for them as they can use all the advanced features of Aero and still need less CPU power in the process.

Vista Basic however is very distressing, and we're not particularly sure why it's doing so poorly. As we mentioned before, Basic is effectively just a new skin using the XP rendering mode, so why it's maxing out our CPU we're not sure at this point; the poor overall graphics performance of Vista shouldn't be affecting Basic this much considering it doesn't utilize 3D acceleration, nor does the debug code make for an adequate explanation for it. XP clearly does much better, and Microsoft needs to get Vista's performance more in line with XP's; otherwise those who want to use Vista on systems inadequate for Aero are going to be inadvertently giving themselves CPU-bound situations.

As for Vista Classic, since it's using a very similar rendering mode as Basic, the similarly poor score isn't surprising. Clearly disabling the semi-advanced features that give Basic its more refined look can bring CPU usage down, but 78% for the barebones graphical features of Windows 2000 is still too high. We'll definitely be taking another look at this when Vista is shipping.

Spyware Protection

While there's no formal method for testing the resilience of an operating system to spyware, one of the biggest pushes from Microsoft with Vista is that it will be much harder to infect with spyware, due to the combination of the new firewall, the UAC changes, and the integration of Windows Defender. To put that claim to the test, we attempted to infect our Vista setup with the Hotbar spyware package, a moderately annoying piece of malware that displays advertising and tries to phone home a record of user activities.

Going the direct route, we visited Hotbar's site in IE7+ and downloaded the Hotbar application directly from their site. Much to our surprise, Vista did not complain about this past the fact that we were running an executable we downloaded, something that Windows XP does just as well. Vista continued to sit idly by as we ran the installer for Hotbar, and we ultimately did not encounter any issues installing it.

It was not until we tried to remove it that we realized that Microsoft did not ship Vista with any spyware definitions, which is partially the reason that Windows was so passive about it being installed. In fact, until we installed those definitions, the only thing that kept Hotbar contained was the last failsafe, the firewall, which detected Hotbar attempting to connect to the internet and allowed us to block it before any further damage could be done. Once Microsoft's definitions were installed, we were able to remove Hotbar using Windows Defender without a problem. We then tried to install Hotbar again, at which point Defender notified us that we were trying to install a known piece of spyware and allowed us to abort the installation.

Given this test, we're not terribly convinced about Windows' anti-malware abilities at this time. In spite of UAC, Hotbar seemed perfectly happy running as a user-limited process, and it was only the firewall that kept it in check. Trashing a user account is for all practical purposes equally as destructive as trashing the entire system, so this is not a significant improvement.

It also puts Windows Defender in a bad light, as it appears that it will be of limited use in the case of dealing with a piece of malware it doesn't recognize. Certainly Defender will keep a subset of computer users from consistently reinstalling something that is spyware that they don't know about, but this may very well just lead to an arms race for spyware much like viruses today, which is not an effective situation. The firewall saved us, but that's not always going to be enough.

General Performance Conclusion


View All Comments

  • shamgar03 - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    "3) final verdict? same as it ever was -- i'll be running vista for games and linux for programming. and since i've recently been bitten by the switch bug, os x for everything else."

  • darkdemyze - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Personally I'm excited to see where Vista is going. But I still myself in the same position as stated above ^ Reply
  • CSMR - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    What has OS got to do with programming? Reply
  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    What has OS got to do with programming?
    The guy's obviously coding some Linux stuff - do you want him to code stuff in cygwin on Vista? I don't think he's THIS kind of pervert, now is he? :))
  • fikimiki - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    AMD will replace Intel, Linux is going to replace Windows.
    Microsoft is close to death, Bill is gone, Ballmer is crazy.
    They are going to make this system usable with SP3 working on Athlon64 16000+ (which is just 4x4000) acting as a fast turtle....
  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    Linux is going to replace Windows
    and Mesa 3D is going to replace DX10 - woohoo man keep this stuff coming, you're doin' great :))
  • stash - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    lol close to death, and yet they somehow find a way to ring up a billion (with a B) dollars in profit every single MONTH. Reply
  • Xenoid - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


  • darkdemyze - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    lol gg.

    I think some people need to get a grip..
  • sprockkets - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    1. Nice fade into the desktop.
    2. I'm sure they'll make new sounds and music, otherwise, it sadly is a new UI with and old annoying XP theme.
    3. Still can't use anything other than .wav for sounds? Why?
    4. Everything is all over the place, yet the classics are still there if you need it.
    5. Finally, an all GUI installer. Welcome to the rest of the world haha.
    6. Instead of asking for permission all the time, why not allow the control panel to open, then ask, then do not ask again when using anything in it?
    7. Like mentioned, why make it so hard to hide the turn off button? Stupid.
    8. It will take getting used to. Might as well switch to a Mac or even Linux, because you will be spending effort to get used to the differences. "Where is the start menu? No display properties? OK, it is personalize. Where did all the usual menus go? "
    9. Funny, doing a file download in IE7 shows a nice progress bar, with the old as hell earth graphic with the flying piece of paper into the folder with the little red crash mark. Couldn't think of anything to replace it, or feeling nostolgic?
    10. Major annoyances gone with fresh new ones.
    11. Usual Microsoft behavior: Change for the sake of change (that damn power button!)

    Other thoughts: Yeah, OSX officially runs on x86 hardware, as long as it has an Apple logo on it. We did it to not have to worry about drivers and such. Yeah, as if you don't both have the same Intel chipset to support.
    Sometimes in Xp you cannot burn unless you are an Admin. I couldn't even run Asus Probe for whatever reason, and all it does is check for temps and such.
    Is Expose the same as the new compiz and XGL?

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