Lab Tests: Vista's Fast If You Have the Hardware

Speed vs. XP

Microsoft typically claims increased performance for each new Windows version--but nearly every one requires a somewhat faster system to perform as well as its predecessor did. Our first Vista tests, though, showed some mixed results, and one very encouraging development.

Overall, our test apps did seem to run slower with Vista. On less-expensive or older hardware, the difference was pronounced. Our two low-end systems--an inexpensive 1.8-GHz Sempron 3400+ desktop PC from Dell with integrated GeForce 6150 LE graphics that rely on main system memory, and an aging 3-GHz Pentium 4 desktop from ABS using an ATI Radeon 9600 ProE card--ran our Photoshop test in Vista 23 percent and 13 percent slower, respectively, than they did in XP. Our results in the multitasking test and in the game Far Cry showed drops of 5 to 17 percent. (See the chart.)

On newer systems, the story gets a little more complex. We ran the same tests on a 2.2-GHz Athlon 64 X24200+ PC from Polywell equipped with a GeForce 7600GS card, and on a Micro Express system with a 2.4-GHz Core 2 Duo E6600 and Radeon X1600 graphics. Scores in the Photoshop test declined by a more modest 7 to 8 percent, but frame rates in Far Cry dropped dramatically.

The Polywell system endured a 25 percent hit in its frame rate, plummeting from 114 frames per second at 1024 by 768 resolution without antialiasing under XP to 85 fps in Vista. The Micro Express PC suffered a 12 percent drop. Bumping up to 2GB of RAM did nothing to improve frame rates on either system. Since gaming tests depend heavily on graphics drivers, though, the results should improve as ATI and nVidia continue to tweak their drivers for Vista.

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