Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Windows "Workstation" 2008 - Vista Done Right?

If you've been paying attention to the various industry news outlets you've no doubt come across the story about the Microsoft engineer advocating Windows Server 2008 as a "workstation" OS. According to him, if you make the right tweaks - installing the Desktop Experience feature, adding a few missing utilities, tuning the scheduler - you can turn Server 2008 into a fairly convincing Vista knock-off, one that's faster and more scalable than the original.

Curious, we decided to see for ourselves just how well Server 2008 stacks-up to Vista with Service Pack 1. To make the comparison as even as possible, we disabled all of the UI goodies on Vista (i.e. set the Visual Effects to "Adjust for Best Performance") and installed the Desktop Experience feature under Server 2008. We also enabled SuperFetch and the Indexing services on the Server 2008 installation (both are disabled by default) and adjusted the "Processor scheduling" option to favor Programs (i.e. the way it's set under Windows Vista).

For hardware, we reused our Dell XPS M1710 test bed (Core 2 Duo T7200 at 2GHz, 2GB RAM, 80GB 7200RPM disk) from our previous Vista testing projects. Both OS were configured to use the entire disk as a single partition, and we installed the same device drivers under each version.

The actual test scenarios involved a straight execution of the OfficeBench test script (in a 10-iteration loop) as well as a separate multi-process workload package featuring the ADO, MAPI and WMP Stress workload generation objects (executing continuously for 10 minutes in a 3x3x3 multi-instance configuration).

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Given all the press surrounding Vista Service Pack 1 and the supposed parity of the SP1 and Server 2008 kernels, we were expecting to find little or no performance delta between the two platforms. So we were understandably surprised when repeated test runs showed Windows Server 2008 outperforming Windows Vista w/SP1 by a margin of 11-17%.

Clearly, there is more going on within Server 2008 than simply a few boot-time kernel switches. The very tangible performance disparity between our "Workstation" 2008 configuration and Vista, even with Service Pack 1 installed, shows that Microsoft is capable of squeezing more out of the shared "Windows 6.1" code base if/when they choose to do so.

As for what's dragging Vista down (the number of running processes and services was nearly identical across both OS and in each test scenario), that's a bit harder to define. Perhaps the Server 2008 team decided to eschew some of the more desktop-centric and/or consumer-focused (i.e. CPU cycle-sapping) features of the Vista core (DRM comes to mind). Regardless, now that we know how much better things could have been, it'll be that much harder to settle for the sluggishness and bloat of Windows Vista.

Our recommendation: If you have an MSDN account or otherwise have access to a Server 2008 license, check it out for yourself. You may find that Windows "Workstation" 2008 is the Windows Vista you've been waiting for all along.

47 comments:

Kosher said...

It would have been nice to see some graphics performance results. ZBrush, Maya, rendering, and Direct X development, all come to mind when I think of "workstations". So how about it?

Anonymous said...

Even using the betas of Server 2008 I could notice the improved performance over Vista. I thought SP1 would bring the performance up to the same level, but it doesn't seem too.

Anonymous said...

Disabling DRM would give a 30%+ performance boost imho.

10% is akin to them fixing their Direct2D toolkit to Direct3D translation engine to use hardware instead of software rendering emulation. Maybe everything they draw per default in vista in 2D is now native 3D?

Either way, its nice to see that m$ now has a fantastic reason to say 'go buy the $2000 version of our O/S, your games will run 10% quicker!'

Anonymous said...

Does Server 2008 support protected media playback? Just wondering what the differences are.

ritchan said...

This makes me want to run Server 2008... but then I realized that there aren't any Server 2008 drivers for Compal GL31 hardware.

I want to run XP...

dimitris krekoukias said...

I would actually like to see the tests without doing ANY of the desktop tuning for 2008 - just a vanilla install. Curious to see how much all the desktop "features" hurt performance.

D

Anonymous said...

OS X on my intel box is far faster than Vista and a 11-17% increase still wouldn't catch it... unless I have to dev something in .NET for work, I am ALWAYS in OS X... Vista cannot compare.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your efforts. For more clarity, don't use 3D bar charts. It is almost impossible to figure out where the top of the bar is on a 3D bar chart. (Hint, look at where the base is compared to 0.)

Marko Stifanic said...

Tremendous Vista performance improvements can be achieved by using Vlite which is price-wise (and I bet performance-wise too) a much better alternative to using a server OS to the end-user.

Anonymous said...

@OS X Fanboy: Realy? on my Mac ( 2,4 core2duo) it loads 10 times slower!!!Why you lie like this?

Anonymous said...

@anonymous: You da liar. And you're dumb.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with Vista's performance as it is today, of course I buy reasonably fast hardware and I am not a performance tweaker..

Anonymous said...

Gotta love that the comments were all thoughtful and comparative until some fanboy walks in and talks up his Mac.

Macs cause violence and smugness. You pay a $100-400 dollar premium for being able to be smug and smell someone else's farts (your farts don't smell as nice a Steve Jobs).
On that note, I have to confess that I have respect for Jobs, so the fart bit isn't a dig at him. Just his legions.

Anonymous said...

Just as Windows Server 2003 (aka Windows Workstation 2003 when configured like this blog is talking about with 2K8) was and still remains probably the fastest OS Microsoft has put out in a long long time. 2K8 is fast, but on the same hardware, 2K3 is still faster.

Even so, it's nice to see people coming to realize that 'server' operating systems do most everything better.

Brandon Paddock said...

This is just absurd. Windows Server 2008 and Vista SP1 are exactly the same code (except, obviously, for the server-only components).

Compare the damn binaries yourself, and stop making ridiculous claims like this.

Daniel Melanchthon said...

I was just wondering if you followed benchmarking best practices regarding SuperFetch:

Measuring Performance in Windows Vista
http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/system/sysperf/Vista_perf.mspx

If not your test isn't very useful.

Cheers!
Daniel

Anonymous said...

You don't need MDSN accoutn or anything for checking out 2008. Just go to www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008 and click on "Trial". Its open for everyone.

xerces8

Anonymous said...

Brandon Park, stop being a dumb-ass. They're just posting results, not making wild claims.

P.S. I say bring on the Mac comments!

Yuhong Bao said...

"Just as Windows Server 2003 (aka Windows Workstation 2003 when configured like this blog is talking about with 2K8) was and still remains probably the fastest OS Microsoft has put out in a long long time. 2K8 is fast, but on the same hardware, 2K3 is still faster."
However, note that the performance gap between XP and Server 2003 is probably much smaller, because it is less modular than Vista/Server 2008.

Anonymous said...

"Disabling DRM would give a 30%+ performance boost imho."

How, exactly? Be precise.

Daniela said...

Vista is better technologie. The system is more stable. Mircosoft supported the product longer.

Anonymous said...

Ok Jokes over where is my copy of ME...

Anonymous said...

WOW!. I took the plunge last night and 2008 is absolutely fantastic.

I did not expect it to be such a marked difference from Vista x64 SP1.

This thing feels like a totally different OS. Not exaggerating.

Try it peeps. It is worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to bet that the difference you see is due to the "Previous Versions" feature. It's enabled by default on Vista but disabled on Server. Vista SP1 and 2K8 are based on the same codebase so there shouldn't be any marked difference in how they behave internally.

Trebuin said...

Here's a detailed bench of 2008 vs Vista vs XP, 32-bit vs 64-bit:

http://forum.notebookreview.com/showthread.php?t=242891

Server said...

Vista x64 with SP1 is a fantastic system from MS. The support is very important.

Fl├╝ge Peking said...

Due to safety-problems we run Linux (Suse) on our server.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it better not to care about all these fucking licenses and use a pirated version of Windows? ;)

Anonymous said...

It is important to understand the license implications of any OS. Comments like using a pirated OS, make it hard to understand why you bother searching the forums for information to help improve user capabilities and understanding new technologies. If you want free, go post in a BeOS forum

Dustin said...

"If you want free, go post in a BeOS forum"

Or become a pirate and reap the rewards of using a mainstream OS without paying for shit you'll never even use. I'd be running my LEGAL copy of XP if Vista wasn't crammed down our collective throats thanks to "compatibility" problems.

AB1 Computers said...

Have just installed 2008 but driver support seems to be limited due to it being built around x64 core. I can't get wifi at the moment. If anyone has a wifi card that work could you please let me know. www.aberdeencomputerrepair.co.uk

Anonymous said...

"Vista SP1 and 2K8 are based on the same codebase so there shouldn't be any marked difference in how they behave internally."

It isn't uncommon for M$ to detune the consumer versions of the OS. Even though they run the same codebase, the consumer version is run in a less optimal mode. Even the different versions of Vista do this.

iceman9 said...

this is such a great thing! the vista version squeezes the machines moolah, but why use vista, when all you can do to do basic stuff to make works things done.

Irene Fornaciari said...

What do you mean?

willpower101 said...

He said "mac os on my intel box" Meaning he didn't buy apple crap but made a hackintosh. I've done the same to build a video editing monster and it's fantasic, so clean and thanks to a journaled os, never needs defragged. It's also nice to have no dlls scattered all over the drive and also a UNIX TERMINAL at your fingertips!

For comparison, my 10.5.4 Leopard restarts in 28 seconds flat if ahci isn't on and comes back up to everything I was working on last. Although, I haven't restarted it EVER since this test just b'c 99% of things done to the OS update immediately without the need to ever restart. (very much like certain flavors of linux.)

MAC OSX 10.5.4
e2180 2.0 OC'd to 10x350mhz/3.5ghz
gigabyte ga-p35-ds3L
512mb ddr3 8600gt
2gb mushkin ram

q9300 on the way :)
(did i mention leopard utilizes quad core like no other?)

zetone said...

No offense, Mac guys, but these days, the Mac is not a tool anymore, is a just a gadget.

Will PS run better on current Macs than in current PCs? No! Someone took care of that. Can't tell you who... important person!

I'm not a fan of Vista (personally I thing it sucks! the "Emo generation OS").

DX10 support is available under XP as well (google for it). Better security? Learn how to lock down your XP. USB drives as physical memory? C'mon!

Win2008 on the other hand is a great toy. I've been using it for 6mo. (including the hardware assisted actualization: Hyper-V) and I'm a big fan of it.

Anonymous said...

Guys...go to spec.org and search around at the results. People have been making a few claims here, but the main claim is:

Windows server systems run faster than their mainstream systems

This has been extended through to server 2003 vs. XP both in the comments here, and partially by the tester of the "workstation" site.

While there are not actually any worthwhile published benchmark results of server 2008, there are MANY results from 2003 available at spec.org. After comparing many different alike systems, with similar compiler versions and hard disk speeds, you can rather well conclude that systems benchmarked with XP pro, XP pro X64, or Server 2003 run at about the same speed. There may have been a slight difference when it comes to integer math, but floating point was not perceptibly different.

There is a smaller but also worthwhile pool of results from vista, and honestly...the results are quite comparable between XP64 and vista. There aren't enough results to compare against vista SP1, so I can't really say anything about that.

The majority of the results are from SUSE linux, and this flavor of linux very consistently runs the fastest. There is a small pool of RedHat linux, and interestingly, RedHat runs about as fast as the windows systems.

Please keep in mind that the spec.org benchmarks are PROFESSIONAL quality benchmarks, where it's people's full time job to ensure that the results are truly representative and comparable among systems, whereas most of the other benchmarks posted do not have this guarantee.

davarciforum said...

I don't have a problem with Vista's performance as it is today, of course I buy reasonably fast hardware and I am not a performance tweaker..

Anonymous said...

anyone can tell windows 2008 has the same stupid errors like vista? ie forgetting the folder views all the time, no matter of how it's set (tried all the 'tricks') or ignoring everything i set.

i need an OS where I am the boss and not the damn OS ti think what I want!

joelpt said...

Students can get a free legal copy of Windows Server 2008 Standard from Microsoft at http://www.dreamspark.com

in addition to a number of other MS software packages.

Anonymous said...

Judging by the performance (yes I have had it since it was called Windows Server "Longhorn"), I guess I better stick with Windows NT Workstation 4.0 then.

Jared said...

Any chance these benchmarks could be refreshed for Windows 7 Beta 1 and/or Windows 2008 Server R2?

Thomas said...

i would wait for the stable release of windows 7 - the beta looks (and also feels!) very nice. The Vista Version is overloaded with features you never need. Try the beta of Windows 7 on there homepage.

u64 said...

There's lots of missing Editions that Microsoft doesnt release. With nLite etc we can build them ourselfs :)

W2003sp2Pro
(NT5.2 instead of XP NT5.1)
Should push our gaming fps even
more ahead of Vista/Win7, hehe

desktop games said...

I'll try Server 2008 and see for myself. Don't trust anyone...

Jon Melvin said...

I have run w2k, w2k3, and w2k8 server. w2k3 faster than w2k. w2w2k8 is fastest. Loads Word 2007 twice as fast as w2k3 on the same box. Feels much faster than Vista. Is a great workstation os as well as having **critical** server-only features: Allows development of .net software for multiple websites, has software raid, routing and remote access, allows multiple RDP users. Well worth the extra $$ (0 if you have MSDN). Windows server works well on dell notebooks as well. w2k8 drivers seem to be the same as Vista drivers.

Joe said...

I installed Server 2008 before knowing there where all these discussions. I had the media and the license, and had previous good experience with server 2003, which felt very nice and stable. I found myself installing desktop experience and then found this forums and websites dedicated to this matter. I was trying OS X, tried Linux in the past, and all I can say, is that Server 2008 as workstation is great! Installed on my Vaio laptop in x64 version. Found all drivers, including webcam. Best OS ever from MS.