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

Aero Overhead

Let's be honest: Much of Vista's appeal is tied to the operating system's flashy new interface. But what good is a slick new look if it slows your system to a veritable crawl?

The Aero interface may look as though it requires loads of graphics processing power to function properly, and Microsoft's Vista Premium Ready requirements--which cover the graphics hardware that a system should contain to run Aero--include a confusing sentence about needing DirectX 9, Pixel Shader 2.0, and 128MB of video memory. The good news is that systems equipped with almost any current graphics board will have sufficient muscle to run applications equally quickly regardless of whether Aero is turned on or off. However, we don't recommend running Aero on a PC that depends on integrated graphics (see the chart).

We ran our benchmarks with the Aero interface turned on and off. With Aero off, we saw little or no change in the Photoshop and multitasking results on machines that carried discrete graphics systems. In fact, with the Aero graphics turned on, both dual-core desktops we tested ran our Photoshop test just a smidgen faster.

Adding a faster graphics board to either of those systems had no effect on desktop application performance. (The effect on gaming benchmarks was profound, as you would expect whenever you install a higher-end graphics board.)

If your PC uses integrated graphics, however, there's a real benefit to turning Aero off. The 1.66-GHz Core Duo T2300 Toshiba notebook we tested ran our Photoshop test 16 percent slower with Aero on. Our Sempron-based Dell desktop system slowed down 6 percent in our Photoshop test when its integrated GeForce 6150 LE graphics chip (which uses the system's main memory) had to cope with Aero.

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