With the market preparing for the next -- and final -- phase of the life of Windows XP with the forthcoming general availability of Service Pack 3, the old operating system continues to show itself to be a spry performer.
In head-to-head tests between Windows XP Service Pack 3 Beta (Release Candidate 2) against Windows Vista Service Pack 1, it's clear that XP still holds a measurable performance advantage over Microsoft's next-generation desktop operating system.
Our CRN Test Center conducted a faceoff-type of performance evaluation. Testing was done on two identical desktops: HP's rp5700 model with a single 160 GB SATA drive on each machine, 1.8 GHz dual-core Intel processors and 1 GB RAM on both.
There were no extraneous applications installed on the two computers, just the software needed to perform benchmark testing and OpenOffice.org's productivity suite. Screensavers and desktop image backgrounds were disabled as well. The XP desktop was installed with beta-release service pack 3 RC2 and the Vista desktop with Vista Ultimate service pack 1 plus all current Vista updates.
One of the first tasks tested was a simple restart. XP SP3 took 35 seconds to restart. Vista SP1 took 58 seconds. Just to reiterate, this was a test done without any other programs loading like anti-virus or network policies, so "real-world" times may be slower.
A simple file copy operation was performed next. A 1.25 GB file was copied from a network share to each desktop. This proved to be one area where Vista did show some strength: the copy time for XP was 2 minutes and 54 seconds; for Vista SP1: 2 minutes and 29 seconds.
After that, it went downhill for Vista.
The next test performed utilized Primate Labs' Geekbench. Geekbench tests the performance of the processor and the memory. Keep in mind, with Geekbench, the higher the number, the better the performance. Benchmarks were run five times for each OS and the results were subsequently averaged. XP SP3 results were 2052.6, Vista SP1's were 1994.0. Vista testing was re-run with the Aero desktop disabled, as previous testing showed that the enabling of Aero contributed to overhead. Vista SP1 results fared a bit better with Aero disabled than with Aero enabled, the results were 2018.2. But that was still lower performance than XP.
CPU Utilization in XP SP3, when browsing using IE7 hit a maximum 56 percent. Opening a spreadsheet and a few word processing files had the CPU hovering at around 22 percent.
Browsing the same pages in Vista SP1 and opening the same files, had the CPU hit a max at 60 percent, not a substantial increase from XP's max. the paging file for both PCs was set to the same level 1524-3043 max. This is where a significant difference was seen. In XP, the page file usage hovered at 260-270 MB, whether browsing or opening files. In Vista, the page file usage averaged 555 MB, half the physical memory.
This lends credibility to assertions that Vista still requires more physical memory than XP to run optimally.
The bottom line: XP still rules, performance wise, over Vista. Vista is certainly outfitted for enhanced security, but with new features in XP SP3 like Network Access protection, XP SP3 does not seem like a slouch in the security department either.
Microsoft is pushing Vista, hard, over XP. But it's increasingly clear that it will have to address the performance drop that takes place in the migration from XP to Vista. The scenario is reminiscent of XPs phasing out the then popular Windows 2000 desktop. Microsoft managed to shore up XP and make it the reliable product it is today.
Hopefully, that is what the future holds for Vista as well. Stay tuned.