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Windows XP Performance

Published: June 01, 2001 | Updated: August 09, 2001

By Stuart Sechrest and Michael Fortin, Microsoft Corporation

Abstract

Microsoft® Windows® XP offers excellent overall performance—which includes dramatically faster boot and resume times and highly responsive applications.

This white paper addresses some of the key performance improvements in Windows XP, and highlights some of the issues you should keep in mind when evaluating a system configuration. Major topics covered include:

  • Memory and Performance

  • Performance Evaluation

  • Startup Performance

  • Runtime Performance

  • RAM Options

  • Evaluation Issues

On This Page

Introduction
Memory and Performance
Performance Evaluation
Startup Performance
Run-Time Performance
RAM Options
Evaluation Issues
Summary
For More Information

Introduction

Microsoft® Windows® XP offers you many new features. And its excellent overall performance—which includes dramatically faster boot and resume times, along with highly responsive applications—creates the conditions for a very satisfying user experience.

For most computers that meet Microsoft's minimum recommended hardware requirements, Windows XP is the best-performing Windows operating system ever created. This paper addresses some of the key performance improvements in Windows XP, and highlights some of the issues you should keep in mind when evaluating a system configuration.

Because Windows XP is still in development, Microsoft is not able to provide you with hard performance numbers at this time—though benchmarks from an objective, third-party reviewer will be provided in the not-too-distant future. Until then, the information presented here will help you understand more about Windows XP and about its resource requirements.

Memory and Performance

Performance Evaluation

Startup Performance

Runtime Performance

RAM Options

Evaluation Issues

Memory and Performance

Microsoft recommends that computers running Windows XP have at least 128 megabytes (MB) of random access memory (RAM) installed. For this memory size, Windows XP has shown itself to be consistently superior to previous versions of Windows. Performance only gets better with additional resources, particularly when you run memory-intensive multimedia applications. Many users will want to expand their computer's memory to take advantage of multimedia applications and to achieve even better performance.

In general, adding memory is the easiest and most effective way to improve a computer's performance. Although it is recommended, Windows XP does not require 128 MB of RAM. The operating system can run with 64 MB of RAM. For many workloads that involve Web browsing, e-mail, and other activities, 64 MB of RAM will provide you with a user experience equivalent or superior to that of Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me) running on the same hardware. If you're satisfied with using Windows Me on lower-end computers, you should find Windows XP a satisfactory upgrade

Other Factors Affecting Performance

There are factors other than memory that affect the performance of a particular computer operating under a particular workload. CPU speed, particularly in regard to applications, can affect performance. While Windows XP does not require a state-of-the-art processor for a good user experience—the minimum is a 300-megahertz (MHz) Pentium II-class processor—the system can benefit from faster hardware. The operating system, particularly the Windows XP user interface (UI), is sensitive to the quality of the video subsystem and video drivers. On-board video memory will ease the processing burden on the general purpose RAM used by the operating system and applications. And because individual drivers can cause problems for system performance, Microsoft is working with the industry to ensure that high-quality drivers are available for the broadest cross section of devices possible.

Performance Evaluation

Good operating system performance is a top priority for Microsoft. As Windows XP was developed, its performance was constantly examined—and re-examined. The effects of new features and services were assessed, problems were diagnosed, and performance improvements were measured. New designs and algorithms were prototyped and incorporated in the operating system where performance was a problem.

The Assessment Process

Assessing system performance requires a variety of approaches and workloads that represent how the operating system will be used. Some operations, like booting the system, can be timed in isolation, but other operations can only be meaningfully measured when tested using a realistic workload. To determine the overall suitability of a system, there is no substitute for actual daily use.

The Windows Performance Team used both externally- and internally-written benchmarks, in addition to side-by-side comparisons, to measure the performance of successive versions of Windows XP. In addition to using realistic benchmarks, Windows developers put their trust in their work by using Windows XP to conduct their everyday business—their intent was to experience what you would experience.

Windows XP has been released in internal and external beta programs, giving thousands of users a chance to test and use the system. Many issues with responsiveness and resource consumption were identified and corrected. This extensive use has led to a better understanding of your real needs.

Looking Behind the Benchmarks

The benchmarks and other standard workloads used to assess Windows XP produced insight into its operations and spurred performance improvements. While Windows XP does very well on these benchmarks, its performance gains are not restricted to artificial benchmarking situations. The benchmarks Microsoft used are too diverse and too long-running for any simple "tune-to-the-benchmark" strategy to work. Instead, the good performance of Windows XP comes from solid resource management algorithms; reductions in the memory footprint; and improvements in the implementations of the file system, the registry, and other system components.

Side-by-Side Performance Analysis

One of the most important ways Microsoft assessed the experience you'll have when using Windows XP was by performing side-by-side comparisons between Windows XP and other versions of Windows. This was done on identically configured computers.

How It Was Done

This side-by-side analysis was conducted by two people who went through a rehearsed scenario, such as using Office productivity applications, browsing the Web, or playing games. Their subjective feel of the systems was judged and performance differences noted. Information was communicated to Microsoft developers, who isolated and corrected any problems.

Microsoft found that Windows XP delivers a user experience equivalent or superior to previous versions of Windows—for computers meeting or exceeding the minimum hardware requirements. A superior user experience was most pronounced for computers using 128 MB or more of RAM—particularly for desktop multiprocessor workstations.

Proving the Point

Although the finding that Windows XP delivers a user experience equivalent or superior to previous versions of Windows is subjective at this time, Microsoft is confident that this finding will be duplicated by objective outside testers in the not too distant future.

Applications Used for Benchmarking

The following commercial benchmarks were used to assess the performance of Windows XP:

  • eTesting Labs' Business Winstone 2001 and Content Creation Winstone 2001

  • BAPCo's Webmark 2001 and SysMark 2001

  • PC World's PCWorldBench

  • MadOnion's 3DMark 2000 (gaming)

  • ETestingLabs' 3D WinBench 2000 (gaming)

  • Microsoft-developed benchmarks

The Benchmarking Process

Benchmarks were designed to take into account realistic workloads and were applied to a wide variety of programs. This broad sample of programs provided a significant number of reproducible user scenarios. These benchmarks were run for a considerable period of time—some benchmarks lasted for more than an hour for each run. Achieving good results across this range of workloads and programs required consistent and efficient resource management—Windows XP provided that management.

Benchmarked Applications

The applications included in these benchmarks covered a broad spectrum of user interests and needs. They provided a broad scope for determining application requirements and behaviors, and were essential for understanding how Windows XP would really behave during daily use.

Applications benchmarked included:

Web Browsers

  • Netscape Navigator

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer

Office Productivity

  • Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, Microsoft PowerPoint®, Microsoft FrontPage®, Microsoft Outlook®, and Microsoft Project

  • Lotus Notes

  • Quicken (Intuit)

Multimedia

  • Adobe Photoshop and Premiere

  • Corel Photopaint

  • Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge

  • Macromedia's Dreamweaver

Document and Multimedia Content

  • Microsoft Windows Media™ Player and Microsoft NetMeeting®

  • Adobe Acrobat

  • Macromedia's Flashplayer

  • Cycore's Cult3D

  • Apple's QuickTime player

  • Dragon System's Naturally Speaking

Games

  • A variety of games were also used.

Startup Performance

When you turn on a desktop or laptop computer running Windows® XP, or resume from standby or hibernation, you will find that your computer is ready to use much faster than when you're using Windows 2000.

Overview

Booting and Logging On

The computer must go from being turned off the point where it is ready to accept logons. This includes starting the computer, going through the BIOS initialization, loading the operating system, and initializing devices. When you log on, the computer brings up the user desktop.

The time it takes to display a typical new desktop (after turning on the computer and logging on) should happen in well under 30 seconds—many computers boot in 20 seconds or less. There are some situations where interactions across the network will be required for logging on; this will lengthen the time it takes to log on, but the number of situations requiring such interactions is much smaller than when using Windows 2000. In fact, the default procedure for logging on to a Windows XP domain is to use cached credentials.

Resume from Standby and Hibernation

Standby and hibernation are two alternatives that are particularly important for laptop users seeking to conserve battery life. Rather than logging off from a user session and turning off the computer, you can choose either standby or hibernate. Windows XP significantly increases the speed of going into and coming out of standby and hibernate.

Standby is a low power state from which you can resume working with your desktop and applications intact. When using standby the contents in memory are kept in volatile RAM. Many newer laptops resume from standby in less than two seconds. Hibernation saves the contents in memory to disk in compressed form, allowing the computer to be turned completely off. Again, you can resume with your desktop and applications intact. Many newer laptops resume from hibernate in 20 seconds to 30 seconds, but the actual time it takes to do this is heavily dependent upon the contents in memory at the time you choose to hibernate your computer.

The Startup Process in Detail

Booting

When a computer boots, many things have to happen, such as the initialization of devices and a wide variety of system functions and services. Several important changes have been made in Windows XP that dramatically reduce the time it takes for this initialization process to complete.

These changes include the following:

Improvements to the Boot Loader

Improvements to the boot loader and to a number of key drivers have made them much faster. Registry initialization is also faster, and many manufacturers have dramatically reduced the time taken by their BIOS prior to running the operating system.

I/O Can Be Overlapped with Device Initialization

Using Windows® 2000, each disk input/output (I/O) may require the disk head to move to some new location and the disk to rotate to some degree. The result is that typical desktop disks can only complete 80 I/Os to100 I/Os each second. Laptop disks are often even slower. This poor I/O rate lengthens the boot time considerably for Windows 2000.

Windows XP improves this poorly organized I/O process by "prefetching" much of the operating system at the same time that devices are being initialized. In this way, the I/O can be overlapped with the device initialization process. The effect is that code being executed, and data that must be read during the boot, can be scattered about the disk with no perceptible effect on startup time performance.

Dynamic Determination of Code and Data Needed During Boot

By observing successive boots of the system, Windows XP can dynamically determine the code and data needed for the boot and can optimize the placement of these files on the disk. When the computer boots, Windows XP can issue large I/O requests that can be handled efficiently with high throughput. Moreover, the operating system can find opportunities to issue these requests so that they will overlap in time with device detection and initialization. This is done in a way that will not add to the overall boot time. This allows for subsequent processing to occur with the operating system substantially resident in memory, and dramatically decreases the time needed for the system to boot.

See Figure 1 for an illustration of disk I/O for booting without prefetching, and Figure 2 for an illustration of booting with prefetching.

Figure 1: Disk I/O for booting without prefetch; the bottom graph shows the I/Os per second, while the top graph shows the pattern on the disk

Figure 1: Disk I/O for booting without prefetch; the bottom graph shows the I/Os per second, while the top graph shows the pattern on the disk

(Refer to legend in Figure 2)

Figure 2: Booting with prefetching: Everything gets done much more quickly, because seek costs have been significantly reduced; high I/O efficiency comes from improvements in layout and from issuing the I/O as a single large "shopping list"

Figure 2: Booting with prefetching: Everything gets done much more quickly, because seek costs have been significantly reduced; high I/O efficiency comes from improvements in layout and from issuing the I/O as a single large "shopping list"

Note: A fresh installation will require three boots before the observation and optimization for fast boot is complete.

Working With OEMs and IHVs to Improve Driver Quality

In addition to speeding up I/O during the boot process, Microsoft has worked closely with its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and independent hardware vendor (IHV) partners to reduce delays in initializing devices. Many of the drivers loaded on a system are written by other manufacturers, and a poorly written driver can greatly add to the time needed to boot.

To learn more about how Microsoft and its OEM partners are working to speed boot and resume times, read http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/system/sysperf/fastboot/fastboot-winxp.mspx.

Logon

Windows XP speeds up the initialization of the logon session by using prefetching, and by eliminating many unnecessary network delays—though of course there are situations where interactions across a network will be necessary. For example, some group policy changes will require your computer to exchange information across a network, and roaming profiles rely on interchanges of this sort. Many other interactions, however, can be safely eliminated. In Windows XP these interactions have been removed when possible; for example, by having the system use cached credentials for the user. Thus, network delays have been eliminated from the normal path for user logon—even in a domain.

Overall, these Windows XP logon improvements result in a much more satisfying user experience. This includes the centralized administration benefits provided by Microsoft Active Directory™.

Resume from Standby

When resuming from standby, the operating system sends commands to the computer's devices that inform them of the change in power state. There are constraints on the order in which devices can return to their normal active state. Because it can take significant time for a device to change to the active state, the key to good resume performance is to overlap device initialization as much as possible. Therefore, the ordering chosen by the operating system is important in maximizing parallelism.

Maximizing Potential Parallelism

In Windows XP the algorithm for informing devices and applications of the power state change has been rewritten to maximize potential parallelism. The key system drivers have been improved to eliminate blocking interactions among them and to decrease the likelihood that they will get blocked behind other system activities.

Possible Delays

It is still possible that in the course of resuming delays will occur. For example, it's possible that page faults will occur that cannot be addressed until the disks are fully initialized and spun up. Sometimes a delayed program will hold locks that will not be released until the program can continue. Such vulnerabilities may occasionally slowdown resume. The time taken will also depend upon the quality of drivers for devices— including other drivers not supplied by Microsoft—and the computer's BIOS.

Microsoft has been working with its OEM partners to ensure that your computer lives up to its potential for fast resume.

Resume from Hibernation

During hibernation, all devices are turned off, and the system's physical memory is written to disk in the system hibernation file. Before hibernating, Windows XP writes the important parts of memory to the hibernation file in a compressed format.

The speed with which hibernation can be completed has been improved by optimizations in the compression algorithms, and by overlapping compression with DMA (Direct Memory Access) transfers to disk. As a result, the compression time is almost completely overlapped with the I/O for most hardware. The speed of resuming from hibernation also benefits from improvements in the boot loader (which also affects the system boot), and from improvements in device initialization routines that are common with resume from standby.

The time that it takes to resume from hibernate can vary considerably. The amount of system resources needed to resume from hibernation is comparable to the amount needed to boot the computer; but in this case, the computer must also read back and decompress whatever "dirty" pages were saved while going into hibernation. Thus the time to resume from hibernation depends on how much RAM the computer has installed, the applications that were running, and what state those applications were in when the computer went into hibernation.

Run-Time Performance

While you obviously want a high level of performance when booting or resuming from hibernation and standby, the major part of your user experience will stem from the system performance you get when Windows® XP is in its "steady state."

Two areas where you'll see performance improvements in Windows XP are application startup time and resource management.

Application Startup

You can launch applications in Windows XP up to 50 percent faster—particularly for those applications that take the longest time using earlier versions of Windows. One of the reasons for this is that Windows XP uses many of the same mechanisms to streamline application startup as it does to achieve a more efficient fast boot.

The Process

Application startup requires the operating system to find sufficient memory resources for the new program and program code, and for data to be read in from the disk. Windows XP watches each launch of the application so that it will know how much memory will be required and what will be needed from the disk. The mechanism is the same as that used to achieve fast boot and logon. The speed with which an application is launched will usually depend on the amount of I/O necessary and the efficiency with which the I/O is handled.

Predicting the I/O Required

In ordinary demand paging, small amounts of text or data are fetched from all over the disk. Poorly organized I/O causes a lot of time to be lost due to disk seeks and rotations. By watching each launch, Windows XP is able to accurately predict the I/O that will be needed and issue hundreds of requests at a time. These requests are sorted, allowing them to be processed without extra seeks and rotations. With the required code and data already in memory, the application can start without having to wait for the next missing piece to arrive from the disk.

File access patterns in the application launch are used to periodically optimize the layout of files on the disk; improved layout decreases seek time and provides for even faster launch and faster continuing use.

Resource Management

Resource management—which includes memory management, the CPU, and I/O—is one of the primary tasks of an operating system. Good resource management—and the avoidance of costly or unnecessary activities that interfere with a computer's responsiveness—is the key to good performance. Windows XP is built on the Microsoft Windows NT® kernel and shares much of its approach to resource management with previous versions of Windows.

The following improvements have been made upon this strong foundation:

Idle-Time Activities

Windows XP does a better job in resource management by taking advantage of idle times to perform system activities. Rather than relying on timers that may startup while you're using system resources to get work done, Windows XP manages resources so that the system does its work when you're not doing yours. Improved idle detection thus helps you enjoy the benefits of Windows XP without being slowed down by system activities at random times. Idle time activities include optimizing the layout of files and directories on the hard drive. Other system and service cleanup activities can also take place at this time.

Services

There are many services provided by Windows XP that provide you with valuable capabilities. For example, System Restore provides you with the ability to roll back faulty application and driver installations and undo damage to the system, while Help and Support simplify the process of troubleshooting the system.

When active, services may use significant system resources, but their impact on Windows XP performance is much reduced compared, for example, to the impact many of the same services have using Windows Me. This improvement in service performance is attributable to better implementations that use fewer resources when inactive—and when active, schedule their activities to periods when the computer is otherwise idle.

Self-Tuning

Windows XP is tuned to take better advantage of today's hardware. In many cases Windows XP is able to adapt itself, thereby implementing a greater degree of self-tuning. This lets you enjoy better performance with less administrative overhead.

While Windows XP inherits much of its resource management infrastructure from Windows 2000, there are several areas where it achieves a higher degree of self-tuning than previous versions of Windows. For example: In addition to prefetching, consider how Windows XP attempts to match the visual effects in the user interface to the capabilities of individual computers. There are a number of effects, such as animations, drop shadowing, and menu fading that have the potential to interfere with response time if they cannot be rendered fast enough on a particular computer. To avoid this problem, Windows XP gauges the capabilities of the system during installation and adjusts the user interface settings accordingly.

As illustrated earlier in the Application Startup section of this document, the Windows XP self-tuning process effectively manages the layout of files and directories on disk, and takes this process one step further by reorganizing the layout of file metadata so that the footprint in memory is smaller. The benefit of this layout optimization is quite pronounced for today's large capacity disks.

Memory Management

Windows XP, like most modern operating systems, uses virtual memory. Virtual memory is created by extending the physical memory assigned to an application by providing additional computing space on the computer's hard drive. The operating system may assign some memory to an application, but not necessarily enough to satisfy that application's every memory access. Instead, some accesses will be detected by hardware, which will reorganize some of the memory structure. By correctly anticipating the patterns of use of a set of applications, the operating system allows a computer to operate with far less physical memory by figuring out what combination of physical and virtual memory will be needed to satisfy the memory requirements of that set of applications.

This is like a juggler juggling several balls. Although the juggler has only two hands, he or she makes sure that a hand is always ready when a ball comes down. A juggler with five balls doesn't require five hands, nor does a computer need a megabyte of physical RAM for each megabyte accessed by an application.

Windows XP—like Windows 2000—regularly checks that the memory assigned to a particular application is actually in use, and maintains an estimate for each application indicating the amount of memory that could reasonably be taken away without affecting performance. A reserve of memory is kept on hand to be used as needed. When this reserve sinks too low it is replenished by trimming working sets. These estimates are used as a guideline to determine where memory should be taken from.

The Cost of Virtual Memory

Implementing virtual memory has a cost. When the operating system fails to correctly anticipate the needs of an application, the "bit of memory reorganization" mentioned earlier will usually include a bit of I/O to or from disk. Any disk I/O is expensive.

Typical desktop computer disks are often limited to 80 random I/Os to 100 random I/Os per second. Laptop disks are frequently even more limited. Each mistake in memory management counts against this limit. If enough mistakes are made, you will notice the extra time taken. With more physical memory installed, it is easier to avoid these mistakes; with less physical memory, mistakes become harder to avoid.

These virtual memory-related I/Os are typically the biggest impacts you'll experience. Therefore, adding memory to a computer is typically the easiest and most effective way to improve its performance.

How Windows XP Handles Memory Management

Figure 3 below shows the virtual memory usage for a number of operations taken from a trace of a long-running workload running on Windows XP. The workload involves Office productivity applications and Web browsing. The operations include activities like starting applications, saving and printing documents, and opening files and Web pages. The virtual memory shown is the amount of memory available to hold all the code and data used in the operation, together with all the memory resources that are more or less permanently locked into a computer's memory. This virtual memory is divided among the following:

  • The space taken by applications. This can vary from very little, for operations that depend almost entirely on system services, such as opening a Web page, to substantial, as when an application starts and must initialize itself.

  • The space taken by driver code. This is relatively constant, because much of the code for drivers is locked in memory or is in regular use.

  • The allocated and mapped data used by the system. This includes registry data, many system data structures, and files accessed by the operating system.

  • The space used by the system itself. This includes the space used by the shell and all the system's service processes.

Figure 3: Virtual memory requirements for 25 operations selected from an hour-long trace

Figure 3: Virtual memory requirements for 25 operations selected from an hour-long trace

Allocating Memory for Applications Under Windows XP

The operations illustrated in Figure 3 each take from 20 MB to 55 MB of virtual space. It is up to the operating system to assign physical memory to map this virtual space. The individual operations will easily fit in 64 MB of RAM, but as you proceed from operation to operation, some of the memory content will have to be replaced. In the course of the workload's hour-long run, a total of 256 MB of distinct pages were touched. If successive operations overlap substantially in the virtual space they touch, each new operation will require little or no I/O.

Switching between applications is likely to involve a larger change in the contents of the virtual space. When working with 64 MB of RAM, this may require larger amounts of I/O. With 128 MB of RAM, there is enough room to spare so that much of the virtual memory needed is likely to still be in memory. Consequently, switching applications is likely to be faster with 128 MB or more.

Balancing Memory Resources

As we can see from the preceding example, there is no unique "memory requirement" for an application or for the system. When physical memory is scarce, you will pay frequent I/O penalties as you go from operation to operation. When physical memory is abundant, the system will use the memory to forestall these I/O penalties.

The operating system is constantly assessing the current situation and choosing which pages to keep and which to get rid of. Thus, the number of pages in use alone does not represent a measure of memory required. The number of pages in use can be quite misleading, if taken in isolation. An application's working set, the number of pages it has in memory, can at times be quite large simply because there is no competition for the memory from other running applications. Conversely, the working set may be quite small, simply because all of the physical memory resources have been given over to other applications.

RAM Options

Keeping in mind what you've just read about memory management and how Windows XP handles memory management, consider the various RAM requirements and recommendations for Windows XP.

64 MB—Windows XP Minimum RAM Requirement

A computer with 64 MB of RAM will have sufficient resources to run Windows® XP and a few applications with moderate memory requirements. Office productivity applications and Web browsers fall into this category of applications. This is shown in our example, where individual operations from this sort of workload usually take between 20 MB and 40 MB of virtual space.

With less than 64 MB of memory, very little could be retained from operation to operation, but with the minimum memory requirement, the system was still usable. In fact, because of improved I/O—in comparison to Windows Me—it was shown that the user experience on this minimum configuration was generally comparable or superior to that of Windows Me running on the same computer.

Some UI features will be turned off with limited memory, and features like fast user switching will be turned off by default. The computer will also be slower to boot and resume.

128 MB—Windows XP Minimum Recommended RAM

Microsoft recommends that Windows XP be run with at least 128 MB of RAM. With that amount of memory Windows XP is superior to Windows 2000 and all other versions of Windows: it boots and resumes quickly, and is very responsive when switching applications, starting new applications, and running a wide variety of workloads. For many types of workloads, the system will have plenty of memory available to hold code files and data for possible future use.

Greater Than 128 MB—More Demanding Applications

With 128 MB of RAM, it is still necessary to match memory resources to an application's needs and penalties—small delays for I/O must sometimes be paid. Adding additional memory resources can eliminate more and more of these penalties, and can provide a definite improvement in responsiveness for applications that handle large amounts of data, such as many multimedia applications and games. Additional resources will also let you use fast user switching—a situation where applications left running on other users' sessions may compete for resources with your applications.

The performance differences seen when adding memory above 128 MB are subtler and more workload-dependent than those seen when going from 64 MB to 128 MB. This is referred to as finding the "knee of the curve," where the gains from adding additional resources rapidly diminish. For most workloads this point falls between 64 MB and 128 MB; but for some workloads, you may find that it is worth adding more memory to obtain additional gains in performance.

Evaluation Issues

When evaluating Windows XP and its performance, the following issues are important to keep in mind:

Defragmentation

I/O performance is strongly influenced by the layout of files on disk. Files and directories that are heavily fragmented or dispersed across the disk will hurt performance. While Windows XP will automatically reposition some files to improve performance, this will generally be done infrequently and will usually include only a small fraction of the files on the disk. Therefore, it is a good idea to defragment the disk following an installation.

Once every three days, by default, Windows XP will perform a partial defragmentation and adjust the layout of the disk based upon current use. The files to be moved are written in the file Layout.ini (found in the Prefetch directory under the System Root directory).

Upgrade vs. Fresh Installation

A fresh installation of Windows XP will generally have a performance advantage over an upgrade, because it can exert greater control over the placement of files and file metadata on the disk. Disk partitions converted from file allocation table (FAT) to the NTFS file system may have suboptimal cluster sizes as well.

Drivers

Microsoft provides only some of the drivers used by the system. System performance is often dependent upon the quality of those drivers. In particular, as was pointed out earlier, while Windows XP enables drivers to initialize devices in parallel, some drivers can take substantial periods of time to complete. Thus, boot and resume can take substantially longer on some hardware. Manufacturers have addressed this concern for a wide array of hardware, but you may still encounter problems on some devices.

Video

The video hardware that you use, along with the quality of the video driver, can have a pronounced impact upon Windows XP performance and responsiveness. The new Windows XP UI makes heavier demands upon video memory compared to the Windows 2000 UI. If the video hardware provides little or no memory, system memory will be used for bitmaps and other graphic data structures. This will reduce the memory available for use by the operating system and applications.

The Advanced tab of the System Properties dialog box allows you to select particular features to enable or disable. A simple pair of buttons can be used to switch the system between "best appearance" and "best performance." Windows XP attempts to automatically choose an appropriate subset of the appearance features, but this choice does not necessarily provide optimal performance.

If your system has limited video capability, or if repainting appears to be a problem for the computer, you can investigate performance changes by turning off additional appearance features and eliminate the desktop bitmap.

First Boot vs. Subsequent Boots

When the system is first installed and booted, the operating system observes the system behavior. It begins a process of optimization that quickly speeds up booting. Similarly, the first launch of an application is likely to be slower than subsequent optimized launches. It is important to recognize that this optimization is taking place and allow a sufficient number of reboots and launches to train the system before running benchmarks or otherwise evaluating the system.

Summary

Windows XP provides excellent overall performance—this includes dramatically faster boot and resume times, along with highly responsive applications. For most computers that meet Microsoft's minimum recommended hardware requirements, Windows XP is the best-performing Windows operating system ever created. Microsoft strongly recommends that computers running Windows XP have at least 128 MB of RAM installed.

When evaluating the performance of Windows XP, additional issues that need to be taken into account include: the fragmentation level of your hard drive, whether you've done an upgrade or a fresh installation, the quality of the other drivers you're using, the capabilities of your video system, and whether you've allowed a sufficient number of launches and reboots to enable the system to adapt to your usage patterns.

For More Information

For the latest information on Windows XP, check out the Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/community/chats/trans/default.mspx#XSLTsection152121120120.

To learn more about how Microsoft and its OEM partners are working to speed boot and resume times, read the Fast Boot/Fast Resume for the Windows Platform white paper.

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