A batch of complaints reached my inbox following my recent column looking at Apples Mac OS X Leopard and Vista. One message, from reader Randall Asato, warned that folks thinking they can run Aero on older hardware will be out of luck.
Asato observed that the demo games of Mahjong and Solitaire included with the Beta ran "awfully slow," even with the drivers written for Vista. His system has a 2.8GHz Intel P4 processor, 768MB of memory and an ATI All-In-Wonder 2006 AGP, which he admits is not the most recent GPU, "but its no slouch."
He said he expected that most upgraders will be at the least forced to purchase a new video card with sufficient VRAM (video RAM).
"The only graphics cards thatll do justice for Vista Aero will probably be in PCIe [Express] by that time—out of luck for those with and AGP or (gasp!) only standard PCI," he wrote.
Never fear. Microsofts Vista team has focused on performance. On Aug. 25, Redmond released Pre-RC1 Build 5536.16385, and the company says it runs faster than the previous flavors.
However, there are signs that the base performance of Vista on almost any hardware configuration may disappoint. Or at least concerns that Vista will run sluggishly on the system configs that Windows buyers are accustomed to.
Based on recent comments by Vista team players, it appears that Microsoft is counting on users running Windows Vistas flash-enabled SuperFetch technologies, ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive, to achieve a satisfactory level of performance. ReadyBoost will take advantage of a connected flash cache to speed up overall system and application performance, and ReadyDrive will use a flash cache on the systems hard drive to improve boot times and power usage.
In a presentation to flash vendors on the technology earlier in August at the Flash Memory Summit in San Jose, Calif., Matt Ayers, Microsofts program manager of Windows Client performance, said the "Ready" programs "provide a more consistent computing experience—they actually make Vista run better."
According to Ayers, most of the time applications run fast enough for users to experience a level of consistency. However, "its the [system] slowdowns that bother you."
Ayers demonstrated the performance benefits gained, even after a short while, with ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive. And the SuperFetch algorithms improve over time; the more they are used, the better the overall gain, he said.
A given machine "could have twice the memory, twice the speed in the GPU, etc. But we would end up with the same score due to the hard drive. This is going to change before we ship," Combs said.
This change would be due to the arrival of flash-enabled "hybrid" drives, which will boost performance levels, he said.
However, the times of arrival of hybrid disks from Samsung and Seagate Technology range from Q1 to Q2 in 2007. And neither company demonstrated a drive with anything resembling a production design. The Seagate units were crude proof-of-concept units with a memory module glued on top of a drive. But they worked.
So, to gain a level of consistency in Vista performance, it sure sounds as if users will need some assistance from flash memory.
How big a deal is performance tuning in Vista? Its certainly being pushed for software and hardware developers, but also to IT managers as a part of the MMC (Microsoft Management Console), which tracks performance and reliability.
The Windows Performance Diagnostic Console will offer tools for tracking the impact of applications and services on performance, and will create thresholds for performance parameters that can send alerts to the user or sys admin.
I notice that, when mentioned, performance is almost always paired with reliability and comes in second. The MMC diagnostics are characterized this way.
Still, for users, experience is all about performance. In Combs article, theres a screen shot showing a "Windows Experience Index" rating. As he said, the total score is determined by the lowest-performing subsystem, in this case, the hard disk.
At the same time, performance may be hindered by the traditional thin configurations offered in the Windows market. Many machines ship with 512MB of RAM, and in the mindset of the market this is sufficient.
For example, the software industry still maintains the fiction that a Windows XP machine with 256MB of RAM can do all the tasks that need to be done, or that users might want to get done. Look at almost any piece of software and 256MB is listed as the base system requirement.
But that amount has little to do with usability. Its a joke.
Grabbing the nearest software suite off the shelf near my desk (name withheld to protect the guilty), it says that a 800MHz Pentium III machine with 256MB of RAM is the base config that can run the package. But then the fine print adds, in a rare case of honesty, that 1GB of RAM is "recommended" if you want to run more than one of the programs simultaneously—something that anyone would find a necessity to get work done.
But when it comes to Vista, more RAM (and more of everything, when you get down to it) will become a necessity. Vistas basic memory configuration will move up to 512MB, and for Aero, 1GB. But, lets face it, 2GB will be the true usable base level.
Where Vista is concerned, less is not more. No way. In fact, we will see if more will be enough.
Are you ready to pay a premium for Vista performance? Let us know here.