Windows desktop performance: Setting the record straight

How the industry keeps forgetting just how slow Vista really is

Technology Attention Deficit Disorder (TADD). That’s the only plausible explanation for the complete lack of perspective demonstrated by respondents to my recent post on Windows “Workstation” 2008. After months of posting about the myriad advantages of running Server 2008 as a desktop OS (it’s faster, more stable, faster, more configurable, faster and ... faster!) - I’m still presented with questions about “why” someone would want to do this.

Hint: It’s the performance, stupid!

And now I find that this TADD “halo” affect is spreading outward to encompass portions of the blogosphere itself. In yet another example of ZDNet ripping off my ideas for fun and profit, Mr. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes gets all “angsty” over the thought that users might actually be falling for some of this “Workstation” 2008 nonsense – and, by extension, paints those of us who are promoting the “Workstation” 2008 idea as liars.

Never mind the fact that I already wrote about the detailed benchmark results proving that Windows Server 2008 outperforms Windows Vista on identical hardware. That was months ago, and we all know that the TADD crowd has trouble paying attention during those boring test results discussions.

Note to Adrian: Try Strattera. It worked wonders for that frumpy chick in the TV commercial!

As for the rest of you, it’s time to set the record straight regarding Windows desktop performance. And please, try to pay attention this time – I hate having to repeat myself!

Vista vs. XP – Windows XP is ~40% faster than Windows Vista on identical hardware. This isn’t an estimate. It’s the raw performance delta that engineers over at the exo.performance.network (www.xpnet.com) measured while testing Windows XP (SP3) vs. Windows Vista (SP1).

Now, before you blow off the numbers as being tied to Aero or indexing or some other extraneous Vista bloat factor, you need to take a look at the methodology: The lab engineers who ran the tests did everything possible to make Vista run faster. This included turning off Aero, disabling a host of background services and making Vista look and run just like XP in almost every respect. And yet, despite all of this tuning and tweaking, Vista was still roughly 40% slower than XP on the same hardware.

Bottom Line: Windows Vista is slower than Windows XP at a fundamental level – a lot slower. It’s fact. Accept it. Deal with it. Move on.

Vista vs. Server 2008 – Windows Server 2008 is up to %17 faster than Windows Vista on identical hardware. Again, this is no estimate. And again, the test results come from the folks at www.xpnet.com.

In this case, the engineers did everything possible to slow Server 2008 down, including: Enabling Aero and the whole “Desktop Experience” feature; enabling SuperFetch, Shadow Copies and Indexing; and generally making Server 2008 look and run just like Vista. And once again, despite all the tweaking, Server 2008 came out well ahead of Vista across a variety of benchmark scenarios.

Bottom Line: Windows Vista is slower than Windows Server 2008 (a.k.a. “Workstation” 2008) at a fundamental level – quite a bit slower. And since you can easily disable/remove much of the desktop bloat from Server 2008, it’s possible to achieve even better performance using the server version of Windows as your code base.

And that, in a nutshell, is why so many performance-hungry power users are flocking to “Workstation” 2008. Are there “cons” as well as “pros” to abandoning Vista for Server 2008? Sure. For example, I still haven’t figure out how to get Solitaire working under “Workstation” 2008 (though virtually every other game I’ve tried works great). However, some of my earlier dead-ends – the missing Fax & Scan and Windows Sidebar, along with the crash-prone Skype – have all been addressed, either through shared knowledge within the “Workstation” 2008 community, or through 3rd parties fixing their buggy products.

So please, people, get the facts. Know your OS and its place in the Windows desktop performance pecking order. Now, repeat after me:

“Windows XP is faster than Windows Server 2008 is faster than Windows Vista.”

Or the shorthand version (when it comes to performance):

“XP > 2008 > Vista”

Just three little letter/number combinations. Plus a couple of comparators. It’s not that hard, people! Concentrate! You can do it! You can overcome the symptoms of TADD! I have FAITH in YOU!

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