Visual Tour: 20 Reasons Why Windows Vista Will Be Your Next OS

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POWER & PERFORMANCE

2.
New Sleep mode plus fast start-up and shutdown

According to Microsoft, its new Sleep mode combines the fast resume rate of Windows XP's Standby mode with the data protection and low-power consumption of XP's Hibernate mode. When it enters Sleep mode, Windows Vista stores the contents of system memory to the hard disk, just as Hibernate did. It also maintains the memory state for a period of time and then automatically progresses to hibernate when the battery charge or settings dictate. Microsoft's name for the transition to hibernation is Hybrid Sleep. By leaving the system memory up at least for the short run, Sleep facilitates a much faster resume behavior.

The hastening of Vista's shutdown and start-up processes is directly related to the new Sleep mode. That's because the new default turn-off process is Sleep. On a desktop PC whose BIOS properly supports the new Sleep mode (I have computers purchased in 2003 that do), the screen turns off immediately, the hard drive works for a few seconds and the power light goes off somewhere between the five and 15 seconds. Vista comes back on almost instantly, in about one second.

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Windows Vista's new consumer-electronic-like on/off button on the Start menu.

All of the above describes the way desktop PCs work with Vista very well -- and I like it. But I've found that the notebook PC experience is less obvious, less beneficial and might be confusing. On notebooks with Vista Beta 2, Hybrid Sleep is turned off and the Power Options setting of Hibernate after 18 hours is turned on by default in all power plans. When I tried to work this way, I found that my notebooks were running in what appeared to be Windows XP Standby mode, chewing through their battery charges much more quickly than I had expected. Had I done that in preparation for air travel, I would have been disappointed to discover that I had used up something like 30% of my battery charge before I got to work. It's probable that today's notebook hardware just doesn't support Vista's new Sleep and Hybrid Sleep modes properly, however. My guess is that notebook hardware developed from the ground up for Vista will see notable advances in battery charge life and user convenience.

Even without all the Sleep stuff, a straight shutdown takes only about five to 10 seconds. That's true of systems that have lots of apps installed on them and also of ones that don't. Microsoft is delivering faster shutdown with Windows Vista. Will everyone's PC shut down that fast? No. Will older Vista installations maintain that level of performance? I doubt it. But it's markedly faster than any previous version of Windows, and a welcome improvement.

Start-ups from a fully turned-off state are not dramatically faster in Vista Beta 2 than they are in Windows XP. A little faster, yes. Not enough faster to write home about. This is probably why Microsoft is promoting the Sleep state.

3.
SuperFetch

How's this for "privacy" invasion, with a twist to the positive. Vista's new SuperFetch feature is a memory-management technology that keeps close track of applications you use the most frequently and preloads them into memory, speeding the start-up time for those applications. SuperFetch is date-aware, and is even able to differentiate between programs launched on weekdays or weekends. SuperFetch doesn't result from clean-sheet thinking. The idea has been around for a while, but this level of implementation is definitely new to Windows. On the average Windows system, the advantages of the technology may not be all that noticeable. Mix in the next performance trick in Vista's arsenal, ReadyBoost, and perhaps you'll see a change.

4.
ReadyBoost

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Windows ReadyBoost uses USB memory to boost performance

(Click image to see larger view)

More memory under Windows means that more applications can run without creating slow swap files on the hard drive. RAM is much faster than your disk. With USB memory sticks (and other types of portable memory) becoming increasingly prevalent and inexpensive, Microsoft has decided to give you the option to harness this type of memory to speed up your PC. When combined with SuperFetch, this technique delivers significantly faster application loading. ReadyBoost works with USB 2.0 drives, Secure Digital cards and Compact Flash cards. It also works with Seagate's 2.5GB, 5GB and 6GB Pocket Hard Drives, which use a USB connection but are actually tiny external hard drives. And while all of these memory options are slower than RAM, they're unencumbered by other chores and in most cases faster than your hard disk. Data stored on your USB-connected memory in conjunction with ReadyBoost is encrypted, to prevent unauthorized access to your data. You can also remove your memory device at any time, without loss of data or other negative effects. Of course, any performance gain you might have seen will also be removed.

5.
Hybrid Hard Drive support with Windows ReadyDrive

Of all the power and performance technologies Vista will enable, the most interesting is the hybrid hard drive, developed by Samsung and Microsoft. Hybrid hard drives combine flash memory with a conventional hard drive. The advantages of hybrid hard-drive technology include extended battery life for notebooks, faster application and data load times and faster resumes from Vista's Sleep mode.

The flash memory in a hybrid drive becomes a buffer for newly created data storage that allows the hard drive to power off until the flash memory fills up again. So instead of spinning all the time, hybrids are able to save considerable battery life by shutting down the power-hungry platter motor.

Early versions of the hybrid hard drive have been announced by Seagate and others. Most come with 256MB of flash.

At some point, flash memory may become the dominant form of end-user storage. It's not hard to imagine using a large chunk of flash memory as your only form of mass storage. In fact, Sony recently announced its new Sony Vaio UX90 notebook PC with a 16GB flash drive. Buyers will be paying a roughly $345 premium for the flash drive over the same model Vaio with a traditional hard disk. In March of this year, Samsung Electronics announced a 1.8-in., 32GB NAND flash drive for mobile applications. Flash is faster, lighter and more reliable and uses less power. So far, though, it's not bigger or less expensive.

6.
New power management features give you excellent control

Although it's a bit hard to get to and the user interface expects you to modify an existing power plans (previously known as schemes) instead of creating a new one, Windows Vista's power management features are both greatly expanded and nicely configurable. The Power Options Control Panel offers a boatload of new settings for controlling everything from PCI Express power management settings to what the Start menu's default On/Off button does. You get thoughtful settings for wireless adapter, Sleep, power buttons and notebook lid, processor, display, and multimedia settings. And the dialog that controls these appears to be fully extensible, so OEM PC and device makers may be able to add their own settings for forthcoming hardware.

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Vista's new Power Options Control Panel is highly configurable.

(Click image to see larger view)

As great as the new settings are, devices need drivers that are designed for Vista to allow them to take full advantage of the operating system's more advanced power management environment. So a lot of these changes are difficult to test in advance of the release of Vista. But the apparent changes look very promising.

For engineering-level information about Vista power management, please see this Microsoft Web page.

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