Vista Performance

In some respects, we've been spoiled by having Windows XP for so long. At the ripe old age of 5 years, it's effectively a lightweight operating system for a modern high-end computer. Vista changes all of that, as like most other software it has grown in size to make more use of modern computing power, and no matter what optimizations Microsoft makes, that will be felt on some level. No matter what, most enthusiasts will find Vista's GUI slower than XP's, even with 3D acceleration, and this isn't likely to change with a final release.

Speaking of 3D acceleration, we've seen some improvements out of both ATI and NVIDIA, but there's still some distance to go. Neither can offer XP performance under Vista, and in the case of ATI they still aren't offering OpenGL support under Vista. Where things will be on launch day remain to be seen. We'll have complete Nvidia numbers next month when Vista ships along with Vista x64 numbers, but for now we'll be using our Radeon X1900XTX on just Vista x86.

General Performance

General Application Performance
Vista 5728 XP SP2
PCMark05 4814 3901
Cinebench Multi-CPU Rendering 669 651
AutoGK Encoding(XviD 1.2SMP) 13:36 11:59
Adobe Photoshop CS2(in seconds) 215.1 204

Under general performance, Vista is a mixed bag with one interesting result. Encoding under AutoGK with XviD is a little over a minute longer, or about 13% slower. Photoshop CS2 shows a much smaller gap at only 11 seconds, which comes out to only 5% slower. Neither of these results is really poor, but anything over 10% is a pretty stiff hit for just switching operating systems.

Moving on to Cinebench, the tables turn. Although barely enough to consider it outside of the expected experimental error range, the performance boost of just under 3% is the first sign we've seen out of these release candidates that Vista can be faster than XP. By far the most interesting result however is PCMark05 with a 23% performance improvement in favor of Vista, but we're not entirely sure what's going on. Since it's a multitasking heavy benchmark, one possibility is the changes made under the hood for Vista benefit multitasking the most, which may also explain why Cinebench did so well since it too can split its rendering jobs so well. PCMark05 also has some HDD benchmarking activities, so another possible explanation is that Vista has more optimized I/O performance. Multitasking performance in particular is something we will take a closer look at with the shipping version of Vista.

Gaming Performance

All games were tested at 1600x1200 resolution for the results below. This places a larger burden on the GPU than the CPU, but represents a common resolution for owners of high-end graphics cards. We will conduct more complete testing when the final build of Vista becomes available.

Gaming/Graphics Performance
Vista 5728 XP SP2
3DMark06 5615 5798
Half-Life 2: Episode 1 (No AA) 94.4 103.6
Half-Life 2: Episode 1 (4x AA) 84.49 86.4
Battlefield 2 (No AA) 55.1 77.96
Battlefield 2 (4x AA) 52 77.11
FEAR (No AA) 52 70
FEAR (4x AA) 32 52

As far as gaming performance goes, the news is universally less pleasant, and sometimes even grim. 3DMark06 comes within 3% of its XP performance, but that's as close as anything gets, and since this is a synthetic benchmark that's about all that needs to be said on the subject. Half Life 2: Episode One shows the best performance out of the real games we tested, only dropping short of 10% of its performance moving to Vista without antialiasing, and even less with antialiasing enabled. Losing performance is never good, but here it doesn't impact playability at all.

Such is not the case for FEAR or Battlefield 2 however. Here the performance drops are all over 25%, the worst being FEAR with antialiasing at 40%. At this point these are large enough drops that they'll certainly impact playability, necessitating cranking down the resolution or settings in order to make up for the drop. As we've said in previous articles, hopefully performance will continue to improve, but the window between now and the launch is getting perilously small, so it seems increasingly likely that Vista gaming performance won't match (or even come close to) XP performance at launch time, at least with ATI's cards. We'll leave the question of why anyone would release a Vista-only game for you to debate.

What Lies Ahead & the Test Conclusion


View All Comments

  • mickrussom - Thursday, September 4, 2008 - link

    Horrible. Waited to make final judgment on SP1. SP1 sucked and broke many legacy directx applications. Migrating back. Vista is horrible, unusable for games, and is fraught with BS issues. Its like Windows ME, but not as bad. Piss off microsoft.

  • Galvin - Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - link

    I checked over in creative forums on their website. Their plan is to move away from direct sound and to openAL which will have hardware acceleated 3D sound.

    Why MS nerfed their own directsound is beyond me. but openAL will be the way to go in the future. Leaving directsound useless for games.

    This reminds me back when we had NT. You had to use openGL to get hardware accelerated 3D graphics. direct3D in NT was all software driven. So in Vista its the same difference all over again.
  • johnsonx - Monday, October 9, 2006 - link

    Which video driver did you use for your testing? The one that installs with Vista, or the one from ATI's website?

    I ask because on my computer, running Vista-RC2, ATI's website driver won't let me run UT2004 above 640x480 without corrupting the lower part of the screen - at my preferred res of 1280x1024, the lower 2/3 of the screen is corrupt and shows part of the UT2004 menu instead of the game screen. Microsoft's driver (which was presumably written by ATI) shows no such problems; however running UT2004 in RC2 with that driver seems much slower than in XP with CAT 6.9.
  • Wag - Friday, October 6, 2006 - link

    If not already mentioned, this would have been the real test, not just testing Half-Life2 on XP32 vs the 64bit version on the 64bit OS. Of course it's going to perform better. Reply
  • joust - Thursday, October 5, 2006 - link


    Were the experiments you performed with UAC off or on? Is there any difference in game performance between UAC being on or off? (I would imagine there would be some performance hit if UAC were on).
  • Emryse - Thursday, October 5, 2006 - link

    As stated, I can't get into the technical aspects of what a change to Vista will mean; I'm somewhat managing to grasp what the review is discussing. But before you stop reading, my comment is more of a generalized observation - I'm not the first, I'm sure. And by the way, thanks to AnandTech for the great resources on all of this information, and thanks to you as a community for your interesting posts and points therein.

    In essence, I've been following quite closely over the last 1.5 years the progress being made for high-end computer components. Unfortunately, what I see is a very bleak future for technology, if business can't separate itself from the creative process. I see these very small incremental increases in "horsepower" when card after card comes rolling out, with only a one or two letter/number designator to set it apart from it's predecessor. Business has become overly greedy, and in reality I think it's harming the industry as a whole, for the following reasons:

    1. RACING = AUTOMOBILES as GAMING = COMPUTERS, in my humble opinion. When you have a lot of different teams, competing to develope better and faster, you see dramatic positive changes in the industry as a whole. But in reality, just take for instance, the merger between ATI and AMD. This does not at ALL appear to me a move to increase competition, and push for greater advances in the industry. On the contrary, this move will further restrict the ability for smaller companies to maintain competition, because in reality, the market has no choice.

    2. Before I'm labeled as an MS hater (and I do love MS), it is still a fact that MS is realistically the ONLY choice for the gaming industry at this point. This further restricts the ability for competition and creativity - this article, and the fact that the whole world is watching for what Vista will become, proves my point true. If Vista isn't enhancing for the gaming industry, then we as gamers (and developers) are forced to either a.) wait for SP enhancements (out of our control), or b.) not transition to Vista (which won't remain an option for long, as history shows MS ceasing support for prior OS, thus forcing transition in the long run). And if anyone has read the other article on "WINDOWS-READY Games", it's very clear that Microsoft wants to take control of the direction the entire industry heads - and I have my reservations that technological progression and competition will be highlights of the MS agenda.

    My conclusion (and I don't claim to be 'right'), but in my humble opinion: I see an industry that is becoming less and less competitive, and I also see products that are less and less productive, while becoming more and more expensive. What I see from MS lately, is more concern over copyright / piracy / security-related issues, and less of a concern for advances in performance, expanding the limits on creativity and control for the devoper / gamer to modify and expand, etc. If anyone can afford to sacrifice a little profit to see gains in the advance of an entire industry, it's MS. Hey - it's just business, but when you have an empire such as the world has allowed MS to become (myself included) because up to now they are the best, there really isn't all that much pressure on MS to provide the market with a truly astounding and creatively progressive product, and we as the community have no real available means to force MS to do better.

    What are we going to do, abstain from MS? (And for you Linux / MAC / -insert alternate OS here- fans, don't respond; this was a rhetorical question for the 98% of the community for whom this issue will have the most impact, no offense).
  • flexy - Thursday, October 5, 2006 - link

    What I see from MS lately, is more concern over copyright / piracy / security-related issues, and less of a concern for advances in performance,

    you brought it down to the point.

    However,there WILL be new features in Vista regarding better performance, just mentioning ONE thing which will be superfetch, which could be seen as a "intelligent" prefetcher which will know what applications you use mostly (and when) and will speed up loading of programs.

    NEVER EVER was MS Windows a "gamer OS" dont need the whole Windows overhead AT ALL for playing a game - but we just dont have a choice :)

    The moment MS came out with DirectX basically meant that games need Windows to interact with hardware...which basically is a monopoly...ever thought how much "sense" it makes that the ability of running a certain game automatically DEPENDS on a certain OS ?

    There were times when an OS was not an requirement at all for running games...just to show you how "brainwashed" we actually are :)

    One good thing however, hardware/memory is NOT that expensive anymore.

    People should refrain from complaining about "memory requirements" for Vista etc....which firstly, are so not true AT ALL....and, secondly, it wouldnt just make sense to go Vista yo utilize its new features - and at the same time complaining that the new features use MORE memory than eg. what XP did.

    Then please get another stick of memory, problem solved :)

    Besides, hardware requirements in looks like Vista will not even USE DX10, so the *requirement* for a DX10 card is WILL run fine on MOST recent hardware

    ALso...from a certain point of view MS actually did GOOD putting a big focus on security...because those were the major issues in previous versions, and for sure of concern for the "every day user".

    Built-in spyware-scanner etc...etc....much more security..nothing speaks against it
  • Griswold - Saturday, October 7, 2006 - link


    There were times when an OS was not an requirement at all for running games...just to show you how "brainwashed" we actually are :)

    When was that? On IBM compatible PCs, there was always the need for an OS - it was called DOS.
  • kleinwl - Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - link

    This is the first I've heard of the elimination of Hardware accelleration for sound systems. I don't understand how software only can possibly have the same high quality as a well designed DACs. Can you please do some testing and see how much sound quality is impared? I love lisening to music through my computer and if Vista is going to degrade that experience.... well.. Reply
  • michal1980 - Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - link

    sound will be great, because now AC97 will be replaced by HD Sound.


    I agree, for the majority of pc users sound is for some reason taking another step back.

    with all its problems creatives sound was always better then onboard.

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