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What You Should Know About Benchmarking

Windows XP vs. Vista: The Benchmark Rundown

Knowing that Windows Vista has its SuperFetch feature, it is important to set up your test system to receive maximum performance that is reproducible. This means that you should either make sure SuperFetch works as efficiently as possible, or that it doesn't have a varying impact on your benchmarking. The latter is only possible by returning to a cold memory state before commencing the benchmarking. Cold memory means that SuperFetch doesn't know about applications that it wants to buffer into the main memory. You can accomplish this by reinstalling Vista, or by restoring a system image that you created earlier.

The opposite of a cold memory state is a highly populated main memory. SuperFetch will adapt to usage patterns, proactively putting applications into the main memory, and keeping them there unless the memory is needed by other applications. Please note that this is different from conventional application caching, which leaves application data in the main memory after it is terminated.

In order to make Vista/SuperFetch aware of a popular application, it makes a lot of sense to train the system. This training is important for benchmarking purposes - which we'll talk more about in an upcoming article - but also is appealing to enthusiasts, who would like their systems to run as smoothly and quickly as possible. To train the system, make sure you execute your applications and workload several times before you start measuring performance. This might not have much of an impact on single applications, but benchmarking suites such as SYSmark can show significant differences between the first runs and later repetitions with SuperFetch flexing its muscles.

Our everyday work with Vista became more pleasant as Vista learned about our preferred applications: Microsoft Office Outlook launched noticeably faster, and Skype launched almost instantly. This smoothness, however, doesn't mean that applications run faster. It simply means that they are available much more quickly by relocating frequently accessed files from the slow hard drive into the quicker main memory.

Benchmarking Checklist

  • Tweak the OS: turn off animations and AeroGlass for maximum system performance.
  • Disable User Access Control to prevent it from interrupting certain benchmarks.
  • Have the OS process pending idle tasks
  • Turn off system restore
  • Install all applications, and execute them several times (with restarts in between) to make SuperFetch aware that you want them to be available.
  • Don't use the system after reboots during your SuperFetch training period: this way, Vista gets sufficient idle time to "superfetch" applications.
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