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Windows Vista Gaming Performance Reports

Date: January 29, 2007
Author(s): Rob Williams

Will using Vista put a damper on your gaming addiction? When we took a look at Beta 2 this past summer, we saw rather large performance decreases. Now that Vista is finally out, have things been improved?

Introduction, Half-Life 2, CoD 2

Gaming. Pastime for some, necessity for others. Yes, gaming is an integral part of everyday life on the PC and Vista promises to be a great OS for the job. Ignoring the fact of future DX10 games, does Vista prove to be a gaming friendly PC today?

I spent a lot of time in Vista Beta 2 last summer and wrote the first part to my performance reports. In that article, I compared both the performance of system benchmarks in addition to games. Needless to say, nobody in the end was impressed with the results. Those doubts could rightfully be pushed aside though, since it was “Beta” operating system we were dealing with. At that time though, it showed us clear as day how far Vista had to go.

I’ve said it many times over during the past week, but the final release of Vista (RTM, Build 6000) is far better than what we saw in Beta 2. The performance in general is smoother and a lot of applications work without crashing. It’s really no comparison, Beta 2 was as bug ridden as they come when compared to RTM. That said, it’s not all fun and games. It still has a good deal of annoyances to deal with.

Last week, I posted an article similar to this, except there I dealt strictly with system performance. As a whole, there was not too much to be upset with. Vista did prove slower than XP in the end, but the differences were very minor. From this article, we received a lot of good comments (and criticism) about the testing and recommendations for other tests. I will likely follow-up to that article in the coming weeks, as some of the ideas given to me should indeed be touched on, such as network and GUI performance.

One common question I have seen asked was, “How come Vista is not faster than XP? It should be, as it’s newer.” Well, this is not always the case. There’s no denying that Vista is a far much more system intensive than XP was. It’s even a bigger jump than was 98 to XP was. It doesn’t help that the entire Vista environment is accelerated, so it first requires a lot more GPU power than what XP did, not to mention memory. Taking a look at all things considered, I’m actually surprised that the benchmark results were as good as they were.

That said, don’t run out to pick up Vista and expect a big difference with your computing experience. Personally, I am not a huge fan of Vista, simply because I’ve run into many bugs that I should have not existed. In the past two months that I’ve been using the RTM, I’ve had the file manager stall during it’s operation, Paint crashed a few times, even the sidebar crashed. Other more intrusive bugs included a corrupt GUI, which always fixed itself after a few minutes. I won’t mention the difficulty of trying to get Vista to connect to my Wireless network, although XP does it just fine. Oops!

But, we are not here to discuss the problems that Vista has, instead we are taking a look at gaming performances. So let’s get to ‘er.

Testing Setup & Methodology

For todays testing I will be using NVIDIAs latest 100.54 drivers, which will be available publicly tomorrow. These drivers have a slew of bugfixes and other improvements over the previous ones and include support for all recent cards, including G80. SLI is not yet possible however. Luckily, it will not be that long of a wait. NVIDIA noted that SLI support for G80 should be possible in the coming week. G70 SLI support will have to wait a little longer though… possibly 3 – 4 weeks from now. SLI will only support DX9, which is ok since DX10 is not exactly abundant right now.

All testing was completed on a fresh computer with an XP Professional and Vista Ultimate install. No real tweaking was done with either OS, except a quick defrag before the testing session began. The only service disabled on either OS before testing was Diskeeper. Everything else was left in tact, to better represent normal computer circumstances.

I have chosen to use a select number of games as well as the 3D Marks. To gather results from the gaming, Fraps 2.8.2 was used to give us the minimum and average FPS. All settings used for each specific game will be mentioned below.

Half-Life 2: Episode 1

I decided to use Half-Life 2 for a number of reasons. First, it’s a great game and I love it. Second, it’s not just a good test for GPU stressing in general, but it benefits from good hardware such as CPU and memory. It’s also one of the most finicky games out there. If you have something wrong with your computer whether it be a bad overclock or less-than-perfect driver, you will know about it very quickly. The settings used here were all maxed, with 4xAA.

Before even getting into the graph, I can say right away that this is one game that didn’t feel right in Vista at all. The game ran slow and halted randomly throughout gameplay. I had no such experience under XP.

Now looking at the graph, 1680×1050 specifically, we can see HL2 proved ~13 FPS slower than XP. Since the game in general was not as smooth as it was on XP, I’m surprised that the results were that high. The thing was, it ran fine for the most part, but the gameplay experience was dampened with these random stalls. That 3 FPS minimum you see was the result of the biggest halt during that benching run.

Call of Duty 2

CoD 2 is a great game for benching because it’s rather intense on your system even without realising it. That’s why we see 28.472 average FPS on a nice mainstream video card. Settings used here were default except AA which was changed to 4x and AF which was set to Anisotropic.

Although there is a noticeable decrease in frame rate here, it didn’t feel as sluggish as Half-Life 2 did. However, 1680×1050 was clearly not as smooth as it was on XP, but it wasn’t so noticeable that it would keep you from playing. Still, a 9 FPS decrease at the same settings between both OS’ is a rather large difference.

GRAW, Quake, 3D Mark, Final Thoughts

The previous games were tested using two resolutions just to see if the scaling was congruent, which it was. For our last gaming test, I took Quake IV, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and Oblivion and put them through the paces to see if they experience any decrease in performance. Quake IV and Oblivion were tested using 1680×1050 while GRAW used 1280×1024 since my 7900GT wouldn’t allow anything higher.

Here is what I like to see… not much difference at all. Granted, there are indeed decreases, but they are rather minor. The biggest difference was the minimum FPS experienced with GRAW… 5 FPS between them.

3D Mark 01, 05 & 06

I’m not a particular fan of the 3D Marks, because they are generally more for fun than to gather performance results. However, using each of the versions in both XP and Vista should show whether or not there are immediate differences in performance using different DirectX versions.

One thing you will notice is that 3D Mark 05 has a 0 for Vista… which is the case because I ran into a few problems. First, opening the program automatically changed my desktop theme from Aero to Basic. Second, the test ran but once it was over it didn’t deliver a score!

3D Mark 06 doesn’t show much of a difference at all, which is due to the fact that it was recently patched with updates to better support Vista. When we take a look at 3D Mark 01, the difference is 50% better in XPs favor. This shows that Vista may not be so great at handling older games which 01 is representative of, but you don’t generally need a super-high ’01 score to play those games fine, regardless.

Final Thoughts

As with most articles of this nature, we can’t fully give a conclusion because so many factors come into play. Though as it stands, we can learn a lot from this simple round of tests. First is the fact that Vista is not going to be an OS for an ultimate gaming machine anytime soon. This is something that you should consider before you throw a bunch of cash at a new computer and then pick up Vista along with it.

The Vista NVIDIA drivers used during testing were just finalized the other day, the result of a string of tireless days of bug smashing. Vista is not necessarily a harder OS to develop for, but because coders need to learn the new architecture, we can expect to wait a while before our PCs are “perfect”. Even with these “final” drivers, SLI is still inoperable and may not be for another few weeks. Even at that time, nobody is going to know whether it’s going to equal the performance we currently see on XP. Even with my simple one card testing, we can see there is a lot of work to be done, both with the drivers and perhaps with games developers releasing updates that better support Vista.

So, I’ve said it before and will say it again. Vista is a good operating system… but it’s -far- from being even 90% reliable. When going from an XP machine to Vista, it feels like you just went from a Toyota Celica to a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano. The only problem is, that it feels like your new Ferrari borrowed your Celicas engine. We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

In the end, if you are making the move to Vista and are a gamer, you may as well prepare to partition your hard drive to dual boot. You are not going to want to go through the hassle of making your games run smooth in Vista, or go through the trouble of tweaking to make it happen. Hopefully within the next two months, NVIDIAs drivers will be much more refined and -all- games should run as they do on XP, or at least close to it. I regret not having an ATI card on hand to perform testing there as well, but it may not be a far stretch to expect a similar experience there.

Addendum: An unregistered poster in our forums made this comment: “Microsoft stripped DirectSound and DirectSound 3D from Vista, meaning that there is no hardware audio in any DirectSound game. No fancy effects or even surround sound. Just plain old stereo. I don’t know why they did it, but there you have it.”

I forgot to make mention of this, but its true. OpenAL is the primary sound technology used in Vista, so future games released will have this support. For games that lack this OpenAL support, companies like Creative will be releasing special drivers that will convert all DirectSound 3D to OpenAL so that it can be used appropriately. It’s clunky, but its better than nothing. This is another good reason that Vista is not the right OS for current gaming.

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