Thursday, March 01, 2007

Vista is slow. How to make it tolerable, the perfomance penalty of antivirals, and OS X rules

Coding Horror is a Windows guy. So when he says that the default configuration of Vista is substantially slower than XP, you know there's a problem. It turns out, however, that you can configure Vista to behave a bit like OS X, in which case it's about as fast as XP. Until you add anti-viral software, then it's slow again.

I particularly appreciated the comments on antiviral software. I'm surprised this doesn't get more attention, any serious geek has loathed the performance drag and bugginess of antiviral software ever since it came out. I had to retire my mother's Win 98 box, for example, not because it was too slow to run Firefox, but because it was too slow to run Norton Antivirus. One of the reasons OS X is faster and more stable than XP is because you can use it quite safely without antiviral software. Here's more from CH (emphases and annotations mine):
Coding Horror: Choosing Anti-Anti-Virus Software

... For best performance, the first thing I do on any new Vista install is this:

1. Turn off Windows Defender
2. Turn off Windows Firewall
3. Disable System Protection
4. Disable UAC

I've had friends remark how "slow" Vista feels compared to XP, but when I ask them whether they've disabled Defender or UAC, the answer is typically no. Of course your system is going to be slower with all these added security checks. Security is expensive, and there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. [jf: I'd say OS X is still a free lunch. For now.]

You might argue that three out of these four security features wouldn't even be necessary in the first place if Windows had originally followed the well-worn UNIX convention of separating standard users from privileged administrators. [jf: I'm amazed that some people run OS X as an admin. There's no reason I can think of to do that. It's just dumb.]...

... If you're really serious about security, then create a new user account with non-Administrator privileges, and log in as that user. This isn't the default behavior in Vista, sadly. Post install, you get an Administrator-But-Not-Really-Just-Kidding account which triggers UAC on any action that requires administrator privileges.

...Vista is probably the first Microsoft operating system ever where you can actually work effectively as a standard, non-privileged user. As a standard user, you get all the benefits of UAC, Defender, and System Protection.. without all the performance drain. [jf: This is how OS X works, except escalation to admin privileges is available when needed at the cost of entering a username and password. It's no bother, I rarely switch to my admin account.]

... Speaking of retrograde, band-aid, destroy all my computer's performance security, the one security feature Vista doesn't bundle is anti-virus software. And nothing cripples your PC's performance quite like anti-virus software. This isn't terribly surprising if you consider what anti-virus software has to do: examine every single byte of data that passes through your computer for evidence of malicious activity. But who needs theory when we have Oli at The PC Spy. Oli conducted a remarkably thorough investigation of the real world performance impact of security software on the PC. The results are truly eye-opening:

Percent slower: Boot CPU Disk

Norton Internet Security 2006 46% 20% 2369%
McAfee VirusScan Enterprise 8 7% 20% 2246%
Norton Internet Security 2007 45% 8% 1515%
Trend Micro PC-cillin AV 2006 2% 0% 1288%
ZoneAlarm ISS 16% 0% 992%
Norton Antivirus 2002 11% 8% 658%
Windows Live OneCare 11% 8% 512%
Webroot Spy Sweeper 6% 8% 369%
Nod32 v2.5 7% 8% 177%
avast! 4.7 Home 4% 8% 115%
Windows Defender 5% 8% 54% [jf: Microsoft's product. I bought this on the theory Microsoft would be most likely to limit performance hits]
Panda Antivirus 2007 20% 4% 15%
AVG 7.1 Free 15% 0% 19%

The worst offenders are the anti-virus suites with real-time protection. According to these results, the latest Norton Internet Security degrades boot time by nearly 50 percent. And no, that isn't a typo in the disk column. It also makes all disk access sixteen times slower! Even the better performers in this table would have a profoundly negative impact on your PC's performance. Windows Defender, for example, "only" makes hard drive access 54 percent slower...

...I've never run any anti-virus software. And Mac or Linux (aka UNIX) users almost never run anti-virus software, either. ..
I don't agree with removing antiviral software from an XP box, though I do disable antiviral realtime software when I need to do major database work. Sooner or later some goof-up happens, and before you know it the machine is a spambot. I do think that Windows 95 or 98 users might be able nowadays to go without, a lot of viruses won't run on such old machines and OSs.

I may end up switching my Parallels Win2K VM to Vista Lite if I can get a cheap license, so it's nice to have this recipe at hand.


  1. I have a E6600 overclocked to 3.6ghz (400x9) cooled with a custom water kit, 2 gigs of ram running @ 1120mhz (8.3gigs/sec of bandwidth) (ddr-560) on a Asus striker extreme. Vista x86 Ultimate installed on two 10k rpm Raptor 36gig harddrives running in raid-0. Vista runs like crap compared to XP.

  2. I'm running an older system: P4 HT processor @ 3.6 Ghz, 2 gig of ram, geforce 6800 XT with 512 mb ram.
    After upgrading to Vista from XP pro, I had noticed a significant loss in overall performance. Because of this, I looked into what was causing the drain and disabled/edited most of the new vista features. My findings afterword were that it ran exactly the same as XP pro had.