XP Counters Hits With Performance Boosts

Microsoft is fighting feverishly to prove that Windows XP is more than just another operating system

Microsoft is fighting feverishly to prove that Windows XP is more than just another operating system. The fight includes a huge marketing blitz and apparently some grass-roots letters from dead people urging at least one attorney general interested in suing Microsoft to go easy on the company (www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-000068380aug23.story).

But Microsofts real fight began soon after the release of Windows 2000. Developers at the company needed to substantially improve on Windows 2000s performance to accommodate XPs new features. To do that, XP performance engineers classified each new feature, such as shaded icons and Windows Media Player, as "costs." The engineers primary goal was to sum up the associated costs and tune XP enough so the operating system, with its bevy of features, would be as fast or faster than Windows 2000.

The engineers came up with a number of improvements, including FastBoot and Steady State performance. XP now handles the computations that determine the power state of a system in parallel rather than serially. The effect should be a noticeable decrease in boot times, especially from a computer in standby mode.

Microsoft also changed the way it handles applications. XP constantly monitors application usage, and it moves the appropriate application files and data files around on the disk to optimize the performance of the most-used applications. The result can be a 50 percent increase in application loads on the most-used applications.

FastBoot and automatic application tuning are timely enhancements, but Microsoft officials said the biggest performance gains come from disk I/O improvements. Many of the improvements with application launching and FastBoot are based on better disk I/O. One of the more notable boosts comes from prefetching—a technology thats common in microprocessors. As Windows and applications load, XP begins the prefetch process. Necessary files are loaded into memory at the same time other devices are being initiated.

It appears, based on performance benchmarks, that Microsoft has succeeded in pumping up XPs performance. Now the question is whether the new features justify the work.