Will Vista PCs improve the performance of everyday applications? Not yet, if our figures are anything to go by.

This article appears as part of the April 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents

Testing an operating system before it's been released to the public is fraught with danger. Even as we were going to press, nVidia was still struggling to bring out working drivers for its high-end 8800 cards.

And that's before you take into account all the little optimisations that turn a working set of drivers into ones that truly explore the potential of hardware. We don't think Vista drivers have got anywhere near their peak, which is why these early figures should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, as things stand, the typical user is unlikely to see their existing apps speed up as a result of upgrading to Vista. Indeed, you might see performance drop, initially.

Trying to run games tests with identical driver settings wasn't easy, but we found that, at resolutions of 1,024x768 and 1,280x1,024, for instance, the GeForce 7950-equipped Evesham Solar Creation GT saw its performance drop by 17 and 6fps (frames per second) respectively in Company of Heroes. In Fear, the effect was less pronounced, although the figures still fell by a couple of frames. The 7900 GS-equipped Mesh E6400 Vistra PCA saw falls of 18 and 14fps in Company of Heroes and, again, by just 2fps in Fear.
And it's not just nVidia drivers that have such problems.

The ATI Radeon X1950 XTX-equipped Arbico CD1950EX saw bigger drops still, with even Fear recording differences in the order of 5-10fps. Admittedly, Company of Heroes is an extreme example of the differences between Vista and XP. But there is definitely ground to be made up by driver programmers and hardware manufacturers before we can say that Vista produces the same performance levels - never mind better.

In our video tests, many of the PCs required an extra 10-20 seconds to create a file. Given that the process takes about four minutes, this is a significant drop in speed.

About the only area that saw an advantage for Vista was multithreading. This is significant. Multicore processors are designed for multithreaded applications, allowing different tasks to be split between the two (or more) cores on the processor, increasing efficiency. Vista plans to tap into multicore applications, and the early tests suggest that, when multithreading becomes a must, Vista will capitalise on it.

And this is the real point. Those of us looking for Vista to revitalise our existing library of software titles are likely to be disappointed. But the drivers will work better in the future, and a few months from now there'll probably be no real difference in running most games and applications on a Vista or XP machine.

And, should you want to run multithreaded 64bit applications or DirectX 10.0 games, Vista will be the only place to go. Vista the OS may be already with us, but the full Vista experience is still around the corner.

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Test results

XP vs Vista test results