After over five years in development, Microsoft’s next-generation operating system Windows Vista is merely hours away from its retail debut. As we outlined in our Windows Vista Preview, Microsoft has integrated quite a few new features into Windows Vista including a redesigned user interface – including a restructed desktop and start menu – as well as one new feature that’s near and dear to the heart of any gamer: DirectX 10.
For the past few days we’ve been pounding away at Windows Vista with new drivers from both AMD and NVIDIA we just received last week. The driver teams at both companies have been working around the clock to get their final Vista drivers completed in time for Vista’s public debut on Tuesday. Up to this point, both AMD and NVIDIA have erred on the side of caution with their Vista drivers, focusing on stability first and performance second, but now that they’ve had more time to tune their driver with the OS, performance is beginning to catch up and now the stated goal for both companies is for their Vista driver to perform as well as their equivalent Windows XP driver.
This is a pretty tall task to pull off considering the changes Microsoft has incorporated in Vista and the added overhead the new OS brings, but thankfully, it appears like this goal may ultimately be within reach.
To test this, we’ve decided to drop four different operating systems onto our testbed platforms: one platform representing AMD, and one for NVIDIA. We’re starting with AMD first as we’ve had their driver the longest, in addition we also know that NVIDIA’s going to be releasing another Vista driver sometime on Monday that adds more features (including GeForce 8 SLI support) so we want to check that driver out before commenting on the state of NVIDIA’s Vista drivers…
What’s new in AMD’s Catalyst 7.1 Vista driver
It’s important to note that while AMD’s Windows Vista and Windows XP driver releases share the same name and numbering scheme, they’re two totally different drivers (in case you don’t recall the first number denotes the year the driver was released, with the second number indicating the month, so Catalyst 7.1 indicates that the driver was released in the first month of 2007). Some features that are present in AMD’s Catalyst 7.1 WinXP release aren’t available in AMD’s 7.1 Vista driver, and vice versa.
For instance, AMD’s Catalyst 7.1 Vista driver includes a new driver install manager that makes it easier to update and remove your graphics driver. AMD claims that the new Catalyst Control Center (CCC) has been completely re-architected to deliver substantially improved performance, AMD claims that by merging 3 CLI.exe files into one executable, as well as tweaking the initialization process so that less work is done when CCC starts up, bootup times go from around 8.7 seconds with ATI’s 8.31 Vista driver to 1.5 seconds with today’s 7.1 Vista driver. In comparison, AMD noted a CCC bootup time of 3.4 seconds for the same system under Windows XP.
To be honest, we never witnessed a 1.5 second bootup time for Catalyst Control Center, and this is coming on a Core 2 Extreme X6800 rig with an X1950 XTX graphics card, 2GB of DDR2-667 RAM, and a 300GB WD3200 Caviar SE hard drive, much lower specs than AMD’s X2 3800+ rig, which was equipped with slower graphics and less RAM.
On average, we’d say CCC bootup times were about three seconds during our use, which is about on par with what we’ve seen under Windows XP.
AMD also claims memory usage has been improved by 38% over the previous 6.11 driver. We didn’t load up the older Vista driver to confirm this, but we believe it. Take a look at this screenshot of the task manager during idle usage: