Thursday, May 15, 2008

Vista Performance: It Really Is That Bad

I try to stay away from the rant post, it's too easy and doesn't contribute a lot. But I feel myself succumbing, so at least I'll try and mix in a little useful material with my rant.

I just spent some significant time trying get Vista to behave on my wife's laptop. By behave, I mean not make it impossible for her to surf the web with Firefox because the CPU was pegged most of the time and the HDD never spun down.

First, some facts:

  1. I'm as close to a Microsoft fanboy as you'll find in the Bay Area. They do great stuff. I'm an ecumenical kind of guy, so I also so like Ruby and Flex and Java and Linux (wait 'til my next MySQL post). I.e., I'm not married to Microsoft, but I think they have done some amazing engineering in the last 10 years and it's a pleasure to work with almost all of their late-model products.
  2. This machine, while not blazing by 2008 standards is only a few years old, does have a 3 GHz HT proc, multiple gigs of RAM, nVidia graphics, plenty of hard drive space, etc. In fact, it ranks in the 4.x range on Vista's own "performance estimate" in every category except graphics. Which shouldn't matter because Aero Glass is turned off, and my wife isn't a gamer.
  3. Just to cover all the bases, it's plugged in and not configured to ever step down the processor or anything like that to save power. And there's almost no software on it. It's basically Firefox and MS Office, Grisoft/AVG, whatever Windows Update considers critical, and not much else. My wife runs under a non-admin account because she neither wants nor needs to install or configure anything on it.
  4. An early-ish adopter, I was forced to abandon Vista after seeing it run cripplingly slowly on a 3.5 GHz, 5+ rated desktop. As a developer, watching this machine churn while it tries to decide which UAC prompt to throw next wasn't acceptable, since I had XP on the same box (dual-boot) and could measure that XP was easily 25% faster. But the wife liked Vista's look and feel, actually preferred it to XP, so cool, didn't think perf would be a big issue for her.

Ok, so the performance was all gone to heck. I checked all the obvious background tasks that could be going nuts, virus scans, disk indexing and all that. Found a few services and tasks that had caused problems before and disabled all of them. Can't imagine why they're running by default. What ever happened to configuring services to run based on their actually being needed by something the user wants to do?

The killer this particular time was the 'network location awareness service' and the DNS caching service. First, NLA. According to MSDN (full info here), this service is 'vital for computers or devices that might move between different networks.' First, I'm not sure I believe that; so far, the computer seems to work better without it. The little icon (and service) that would take 5 minutes to realize the machine was actually on the Internet (you know the icon) is now dead, and apps connect right away. Funny how that works.

Just for the sake of argument, let's pretend that it really is 'vital for computers moving between different networks.' Here's a clue: (1) it doesn't take much monitoring for the machine to realize it's always on the same network in my house, so (2) shut this stupid service down, (3) if another network is detected or the old one is unavailable, maybe then spin this beast up and (4) monitor your own resource usage -- if the service starts using 50%+ of the CPU all the time, for whatever reason, and the network isn't ever changing, why not shut it the #$% down at that point?

I could make the same argument for DNS cache. Although it boggles the mind how a service this simple could ever be using a real percentage of a modern CPU. I turned it off. I guess Comcast will hate me now for making an extra 25 lookups a day.

I'm not going to get into the argument that there shouldn't be lots of services on the machine -- after all, most of the myriad services have little performance impact and at least in Vista are supposedly less likely to compromise security. Although I would prefer a 'configure to run after deciding it's useful and not harmful' self-management approach.

I just wonder, if a pristine machine like this one, well configured etc., scoring generally 4 in the Vista perf scale, and whose only sin is being 2005 vintage, gets mucked up this badly from such mild use, there are truly some problems with Vista, both for home users and businesses, that are more serious than I would have believed.

Ok, so I promised I'd try and offer a little useful info. Once again, for the sake of SEO

Some possible fixes for Really Bad Perf in a basic Vista machine:

  • go into the task scheduler and get rid of tasks you don't want to run;
  • look at the Network Location Awareness and DNSCache services (I'm not gonna say kill them unless that's what your particular machine needs ... but look at them);
  • if you haven't quashed Aero already, turn it all off and see if that helps;
  • and if you're running Vista Ultimate, and you don't actually ever use Media Center, go and kill all the tasks and services related to MC because Vista isn't smart enough to notice that you don't need 'em, and I've caught them hogging a ton of resources.

Last, not to get into the 'uphill to school both ways thing,' but a 700+MB working set with no user apps running??? You just want to say, "Man, have some self respect and get on a treadmill once in a while..."


shunjie said...

A few months back I got my hands on a brand new HP laptop, 1.8ghz core 2 duo running Vista and have it compile my Flex codes. Ironically, it compiles SLOWER than my 3 year old 1.4 ghz single core xp, and the RAM stays at 80% all the time. I feel its crap. Now its just Mac for me.

wisher said...

Since I'm frequently switching from a network to another I can't kill that service, it would be painfull. However I realized that the connect to network windows sometimes freeze, thanks for explaining what makes it freeze.
On the other side I think you first should do a clean install of Vista, to avoid crapware being installed and then let super-fetch and disk-indexing work for a few days. After that your system will be really responsive.

Jamie said...

I see a business opportunity for a "Vista tune-up" configuration wizard that interviews the user about their needs and disables or tweaks stuff that makes Vista slow.

El Torro said...

I run Vista on my laptop, purchased earlier this year. It's a 1.66 GHz dual core with 2 GB RAM. I have many programs on it, but all 'serious' work programs (no games) and use it throughout the day. It works well; it's not desktop-fast, but more than enough for a laptop and very, very stable. I have done nothing as far as tweaking is concerned, except for:
(1) Removed McAffe and installed AVG 8 Free. McAfee is a resource hog.

(2) Installed Diskeeper 2008 Pro. Vista's defragger just doesn't cut it, and if fragmentation increases, my system goes to the dumps. Diskeeper keeps the drive tidy and file access is quick. Vista accesses the drive a lot, so it's good to keep it defragmented.

(3) Installed Opera for browsing. I find IE7 to be sluggish, Opera is blazing fast by comparison and uses less resources.

That's about it. I think i am lucky that the laptop has stable drivers too.

Kevinul said...

I see, and Windows Vista's team has done some good, but tip the balance towards the "bad" a bit. You'll see little appreciation of Vista, and more of "I hate Vista/Microsoft".

I wonder what thay are doing, and I hope they've noticed their world wide customers of what the heck their problems are.

Dale said...

Enjoyed the post, and I going to "sit on the fence" with my reply (ie. I kind of agree with you, but don't)

My background, spent the best part of 30 months as a Vista Beta TAP tester, and was involved in the SP1 test program.

We'll disgree on NLA. NLA is used by Windows Firewall to determine what network you are on. If you are a member of a Domain, Windows Firewall will give you a Domain profile.

We'll agree on Aero Glass. Think it was Corey Hynes who said something like "You'll run it for 10 ten minutes, then shut it off".

Performance. Yes it is more resource hungry. SP1 does improve things though.

For a corporate environment, give me Vista. There are plenty of benefits to make it worth it (UAC for a start).
For a home user, Windows XP please. I'll even settle for Windows 2000, in a pinch.

My current work machine? Dual processor 3.0ghz, 2gb ram, Dell machine running Windows 2000.
The sitting on fence part? Have not noticed a whole lot of usability difference between Vista and Windows 2000.

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