Friday, December 01, 2006

A brief fling with Vista

We've been working with Vista a lot over the last few weeks for benchmarking and application compatibility, and I've really liked what I've seen. I recently decide to install it on a home test system.

It's a pretty nice system - XPS 700, E6700 2.67GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB 667 DDR2 RAM, two 7800GTX graphics cards in SLI mode, RAID 0 striped 10k rpm drives, XP Media Center Edition, 2007FPW 20" wide aspect ratio flat panel. I was worried about the RAID driver and the graphics driver, as this is also a gaming and 3D content creation machine.

I ran a few benchmarks that I knew I could duplicate in Vista. Well, basically one benchmark - Quake 4 timedemo001. At 1680x1050, graphics maxed, 2X Anti-Aliasing resulted in ~120fps+, 4XAA ~80fps, 8XAA ~50fps (numbers from memory, but close).

The DVD RTM version of Vista Ultimate installed flawlessly and everything was supported out of the, uh, bangs. I did an upgrade to my XP MCE installation as I didn't want to reinstall Quake 4 and SketchUp, and I also wanted to see how that worked. It looked like it had a generic Nvidia graphics driver, but my resolution was supported.

The Windows Experience Index was 5.4 (lowest score was for memory), while graphics got a 5.9. WEI uses the lowest score as the base, not an average of the subsystem scores.

I ran Quake 4 timedemo001 again at 2XAA and got...~17fps. One-seven. Wilco Tango Foxtrot? Ah, the integrated driver on the Vista DVD must be software rendering only! Good thing I downloaded our latest gold driver for the 7800GTX. A few minutes later...looping bluescreen with restarts! Oh, snap!

Okay, maybe upgrading the XP wasn't the best thing to do. I entered Safe Mode and rolled back the driver...back to semi-goodness. I went to and downloaded the latest beta Vista drivers, yadda yadda yadda, ~56fps at 2XAA on Quake 4. Not great. I tried to whip out a quick SketchUp model to see how that performance was...and SketchUp became hung. Very nice.

Reinstalling Vista, I chose to blow away the hard drive and clean-install Vista. Still no problems with the installation, and it didn't need the F6 for the RAID drivers anymore. I didn't look into this, but I'm pretty certain the disc contained them, like a slipstreamed XP CD would. Integrated Nvidia drivers gave me the same awful performance. Loaded our gold drivers...looping bluescreen again.

I almost gave up the ghost, but I reinstalled Vista one more time and downloaded the Nvidia beta drivers. Still limping through Quake 4, and then I realized something! My graphics cards were still in SLI mode (with the bridge still in place), but I never told Vista that I wanted to enable SLI! That's where my performance bottleneck must be, right?

Fifteen minutes of scouring Vista for strangely placed graphics options led to nothing, so I went back to and looked at the driver details. Hmm...these are only good for RC2. I don't think that will make a difference though. A few more minutes of deep diving. Uh oh. SLI mode is not supported yet in any Nvidia driver. Plus, the drivers seem to be mostly proofs of concept, with performance taking a backseat to compatibility in Vista.

So I am faced with some options. Downgrade to a single graphics card and use Vista, but not at its highest levels of performance, or roll back to XP Media Center Edition and use SLI mode at peak performance (for my hardware).

While I really want to play with Vista more, I decided to go back to XP MCE. There are still some games I want to play, plus I want to use SketchUp, and I want to explore the Media Center aspects of the OS.

In a few days I'm getting on the corporate early adopter program for Vista at work, on my main machine, so I'll be able to kick Vista's tires on a daily basis.


Kelvin said...

I signed on for a promotional campaign to get a free version of Windows Vista Business, after subjecting myself to three hours of webcasts on various subjects. They say they will ship about 6 weeks after the inital launch, so I'll be Visa-free until the spring.

I hope Vista is good. Three months ago, I bought a new HP unit running XP MCE. After a lot of odd web experiences and issues with Media Player, I discovered that the machine was running MCE 2002. Why did HP put a 3 year old, buggy, non-upgradeable version of XP on my new Dual Core Athlon box? Presumeably, HP really hates repeat customers. If that's the case, mission accomplished!

Trey said...

From what I've seen, I like it. I have a laptop that doesn't have crazy graphics that I'll be upgrading soon, and sometime this month our corporate early adopter rollout will start, so I'll start using it for actual work.

That's crazy that they don't offer an upgrade path from MCE 2002! Also crazy is them putting that particular OS on your system!